09.19.11 – In May, the U.N. Committee against Torture reviewed the Republic of Ireland’s initial periodic report. The Committee’s concluding observations reiterated the European Court for Human Rights’ concerns expressed in its judgment in the case of A, B, and C v. Ireland , to which the Center for Reproductive Rights, and their partner, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief.
Abortion is banned in Ireland except when a woman’s life is in danger, and the Irish legislature has failed to establish criteria in legislation for when this exception for life-threatening conditions applies. The Committee expressed concerns over Ireland’s lack of effective and accessible procedures to establish “whether some pregnancies pose a real and substantial medical risk to the life of the [pregnant woman].”   Furthermore, the Committee found that, legislation being vague, both woman and provider being at risk of criminal repercussions along with the absence of an appeal process, may “raise issues that constitute a breach of the Convention.” The Committee specifically cited concerns for vulnerable populations, such as minors, migrant women, and women living in poverty.
The Committee urged Ireland to adopt a clear legal framework with respect to the scope of legal abortion, and to ensure adequate procedures are in place  to challenge differing medical opinions and to provide “adequate services for carrying out abortions” in the state.
The Center welcomes this initiative and urges Ireland to take immediate action to implement the U.N. Committee’s recommendations and expand access to safe and legal abortion.

11.07.11 – (PRESS RELEASE) Today, an international human rights body condemned Peru for violating the human rights of a young woman seeking legal abortion services in the country and ruled that the government must ease its restrictions on abortion.

In a groundbreaking decision issued in L.C. v. Peru—a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partner organization in Peru PROMSEX—the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ruled that Peru must amend its law to allow women to obtain an abortion in cases of rape and sexual assault; establish a mechanism to ensure the availability of those abortion services; and guarantee access to abortion services when a woman’s life or health is in danger–circumstances under which abortion is currently legal in the country.

“Once again, the U.N. has made it clear that denying access to essential medical services, including abortion, constitutes a violation of human rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This young woman’s case illustrates the horrifying consequences when governments deny women access to the full range of reproductive health services that is their right. We will continue to press Peru to safeguard the reproductive rights of women not only on paper, but intheir daily lives.”

The case revolves around L.C.*, a 13-year-old rape victim, who was left seriously disabled after state health officials denied her a potentially life-saving abortion.

Over the course of four years, she was repeatedly raped by different men in her neighborhood. When she discovered that she was pregnant, she threw herself from the roof of a building—but the suicide attempt failed. The broken spine she suffered from the fall could have been repaired, but doctors refused to perform surgery because the procedure could harm her pregnancy. Peru currently allows abortion in cases where the woman’s health and life are at risk. But it was only after L.C. miscarried that doctors were willing to perform the necessary surgery. The enormous delay dramatically diminished the success of the intervention, and L.C. is now quadriplegic as a result.

“This decision makes clear that as a matter of human rights, governments have a responsibility to dispel the harmful belief that an embryo should be valued over her life and well-being,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Forcing a woman to continue a  pregnancy that puts her physical or mental health at risk is purely discrimination.”

CEDAW’s ruling specifically establishes violations to the right to health without discrimination, the obligation to eliminate gender stereotypes and the right to access an effective remedy. It also orders the Peruvian government to provide adequate reparation and compensation to L.C. as well as rehabilitation measures.

The ruling reinforces a landmark decision in the Center for Reproductive Rights’ 2005 case K.L. v. Peru.  In that case, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found in favor of a 17-year-old who was forced to carry to term a pregnancy with fetal abnormalities incompatible with life, establishing that denying access to legal abortion violates women’s most basic human rights.

*The initials used are a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the client.


geoffrey york

KAMPALA— From Monday’s Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Nov. 06, 2011 9:16PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 06, 2011 9:32PM EST

Health activist Denis Kibera has seen women bleeding to death from illegal abortions. He has seen women dying after quack doctors used crude equipment to kill their fetuses.

The solution, he believes, is to decriminalize abortion and bring it into safe clinics and hospitals. Yet as a Christian in Uganda, he would never dare to say so publicly. “I’d be targeted by religious people,” he said. “I’d be attacked.”

The top bureaucrat in Uganda’s health department, Asuman Lukwago, is also in favour of legalizing abortion. But he, too, would never say so in public in this heavily Christian country, where abortion is a taboo subject. “People would hate me.”

Around the world, an estimated 67,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year, including about 1,500 in Uganda. Thousands more are maimed or permanently injured, mainly because the criminalization of abortion forces them into the hands of dangerous backroom practitioners.

Now, for the first time, a senior United Nations official is openly calling for the decriminalization of abortion. Supporters say it could trigger a long-overdue debate – even though it is unlikely to bring immediate reforms in religiously conservative countries in Africa and Latin America where abortion is illegal.

The new UN statement is unambiguous. “States must take measures to ensure that legal and safe abortion services are available, accessible, and of good quality,” said Anand Grover, the UN special rapporteur on health, in a report that has galvanized support from women’s groups and health activists.

“Absolute prohibition under criminal law deprives women of access to what, in some cases, is a life-saving procedure,” he said. “Criminalization of abortion results in women seeking clandestine, and likely unsafe, abortions.”

About 25 per cent of the world’s population is living under legal regimes that prohibit all abortions, except those following rape or incest, or when necessary to save a woman’s life, Mr. Grover noted. He described how women suffer “enormous anguish” – or even commit suicide – because of the pressures caused by criminalization.

Human rights and health groups say the UN report is a ground-breaking moment for the abortion issue in the developing world. “This report is the first of its kind in the way that it talks about abortion, because it isn’t constrained by the usual political considerations that are in operation in UN spaces,” said Meghan Doherty, a communications officer at Action Canada for Population and Development, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.

“Now that these arguments have been made publicly and unapologetically, and the report has the UN logo, it has already pushed the discussion forward.”

But in countries such as Uganda, the debate on abortion has yet to begin – even though experts acknowledge the need for reform.

Dr. Lukwago, the permanent secretary in Uganda’s health ministry, practised medicine for 12 years and says he saw hundreds of women dying from illegal abortions. He estimates that unsafe abortions are responsible for a quarter of the 6,000 annual pregnancy-related deaths in Uganda. An entire ward at Kampala’s leading hospital is full of women injured by unsafe abortions, he said.

“I’ve seen girls swallowing aspirin to create toxicity so the baby won’t come out,” Dr. Lukwago said in an interview. “I know illegal abortion kills women.”

He personally believes that decriminalization should be supported, but he doesn’t expect it to happen for generations. “We’re a religious country.”

Religion is a powerful force in Ugandan politics, as it is in many African countries. Churches are key leaders in the controversial Ugandan campaign for an anti-homosexuality law, which would impose life imprisonment or even the death penalty for homosexual acts. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s wife, Janet, is a born-again Christian who praises God on almost every page of her autobiography, and she is reportedly a key supporter of the anti-gay bill. Church leaders often rail against abortion in their Sunday sermons.

About 300,000 abortions are performed annually in Uganda, mostly in dangerous conditions. “I feel so bad when I see a woman bleeding to death, and I know it could be stopped,” said Mr. Kibera, who works for the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development.

He doesn’t see any prospect of abortion being decriminalized – “Not in this generation.”

Moses Mulumba, a Ugandan lawyer who heads a centre on human rights and health, is one of the few activists willing to launch a constitutional challenge against the anti-abortion laws. But he said he would be lucky to find any women willing to be involved in a test case.

“People don’t want to speak about it,” he said. “Many people can talk about it privately, but never on television. We need to open it up and normalize it.”

In his UN report, Mr. Grover acknowledges the difficulty of decriminalizing abortion. He suggests, as an interim step, that governments consider a moratorium on the enforcement of anti-abortion laws.

“This recommendation shows that this is a serious issue that requires immediate attention in order to prevent needless suffering,” said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada. “Even if a state is having problems repealing its laws criminalizing abortion, it should not be prosecuting women for undergoing illegal abortions.”







Sexual And Reproductive Rights: More Than Just Health

Source: AWID



By Sandra Dughman Manzur with Shareen Gokal


Discriminatory laws and the exercise of control over women’s bodies often justified through arguments based in religion, culture and tradition and public morality oppress, subjugate and violate women’s rights all over the world. Using the law to control women’s sexuality and reproductive decisions and actions is the ultimate assertion of patriarchy by States. These laws are often supported by fundamentalist agendas of power and control, and misguided conceptualizations of women’s role in society that are centered on social and biological reproduction.


A Ground-breaking Report


On October 24th, 2011 Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (part of the UN human rights special procedures system) will present, before the UN General Assembly, a ground-breaking reportThe report will make one of the clearest statements to date within the international human rights system condemning the negative impacts that criminal laws and other legal restrictions relating to sexual and reproductive health have over women’s freedom, decision-making process, and autonomy.


Moreover, until now, most of the arguments for women’s reproductive and sexual control were formulated, within the UN system, on the basis of risks to the women’s health. With this report there is a historic shift in these arguments away from health-based ones to one that is clearly about respecting women’s agency, bodily autonomy and reproductive and sexual rights.


An Independent Expert on a Mission


Special Rapporteurs are individuals appointed by the Human Rights Council (HRC) to research and oversee specific country situations or themes from a human rights perspective.[iii]Rapporteurs are “experts on mission” who hold all the privileges and immunities granted by the United Nations[iv] and are selected on the basis of expertise, experience, independence, impartiality, integrity and objectivity. They are unpaid, serve in their personal capacities and are not considered UN staff[v].


Special Rapporteurs can – but don’t always – use their special status in effective and innovative ways. As demonstrated by the efforts of Paul Hunt, the former Special Rapporteur on Health, the mandate has the potential to influence issues of concern to women’s rights and human rights within the international system.  Paul Hunt focused most of his mandate on emphasizing that maternal mortality is and should be treated as a human rights issue. He presented the argument in his 2006 report to the General Assembly; it was the main topic of his visit to India in 2007; the central theme of his 2007 statement to the HRC; and a side panel to an HRC session in 2008, amongst other interventions. His persistence resulted in a 2009 resolution by the HRC that recognized maternal mortality as a human rights issue.[vi]


This will not be the first time that Anand Grover, a long time HIV and AIDS activist from India, has made waves using his mandate.  In 2010, in his last annual report, he was lauded by civil society advocates for taking a clear stance on the decriminalization of drugs.  He called for de-penalization and decriminalization of all drug users, the regulation of illicit drugs (similar to what exists for tobacco) and a clear shift in the “war on drugs” policy and other laws with regards to the use and attainment of drugs.


The Urgent Call for States and Non-state Actors to Respect Women’s Decision-making Process within Reproductive Rights


In this report Grover calls on both States and non-state actors to urgently respect women’s decision-making process within the realm of reproductive health and rights. The Rapporteur makes it clear that the use of criminal laws to regulate women’s behaviour during pregnancy is inappropriate, ineffective and disproportionate.[vii] For Grover, the use of force over a woman through the legal system directly affects her human dignity and her ability and freedom to make personal decisions about her sexuality and reproduction.[viii] Criminalization of abortion is the ultimate expression of that interference; it discriminates against, disempowers and stigmatizes women.[ix]


Beyond criminalization of abortion itself, Grover calls into question States that have prosecuted women for their behaviour during pregnancy or held them criminally responsible for the birth of stillborn babies or miscarriages of foetuses.  This has included women being charged with child abuse, attempted murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide for the use of illicit drugs and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, failing to follow doctor’s orders, failing to refrain from sexual intercourse or concealing HIV and AIDS status.[x]


Urgent Call to Decriminalize Abortion


The report makes an urgent call to all governments to completely decriminalize abortion. It emphasizes that criminal laws penalizing abortion and imposing a specific conduct on pregnant women “must be immediately reconsidered.”[xi] Notably, the argument is not made solely on the basis of the risk that unsafe abortion may have on women’s health, but on the fact that the use of laws to force pregnancy onto women is an unjustifiable form of coercion.[xii] In Grover’s words:


“Criminal laws penalizing and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women’s dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health.”[xiii] [Emphasis added]


Statement on the Use of “Public Morality” as a Justification to Violate Women’s Rights


The Rapporteur clearly states that notions of “public morality” are used to create and reinforce negative stereotypes of women and violate their rights. He states that public morality cannot serve as justification for laws intended to control women’s bodies and their decision-making process.[xiv] According to the Rapporteur, society, governments and institutions have a clear obligation to protect the right to health from harmful social and traditional practices[xv] and policies based on these practices.[xvi]


States must also protect women and abortion providers from fundamentalists’ actions against them. These actions include: harassment, violence, kidnappings and murder (religiously motivated[xvii] or otherwise);[xviii] pressure to exclude sexual education in school curricula or restrict information and discussion of alternative sexual orientations; promote “abstinence only” education, or reduce sexual education to images and stereotypes of heteronormativity, focusing on procreation.[xix]


He goes further to mention that comprehensive, evidenced-based education and information is a powerful tool for the critical examination of gender inequalities and stereotypes; a way of “eroding deeply entrenched systems of patriarchy” impeding women’s equal participation in society.[xx]


Taking the Report Further


The Rapporteur does not go so far as to unpack “public morality” and demonstrate how political interests and arguments based on culture, religion and tradition are used to limit women’s reproductive health rights and impose narrow notions of morality and rigid sexual norms.  Nor does he have the scope within his mandate to mention the specific countries or groups that commit violations against women’s reproductive and sexual rights or specific examples of violations. Therefore, countries which completely ban abortion like Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Maldives, Vatican City, and others—whose political or religious elites force their values, principles or religious beliefs upon society to maintain the status quo—cannot be specifically mentioned in the report, although its analysis can and must be applied to hold them accountable for their violations of women’s rights.


A Potential Tool for Change


This report is advancement in and of itself.  However, the potential that it has to promote and protect reproductive and sexual health and rights is contingent on how governments, women rights activists and organizations and the international community respond to its findings, conclusions and recommendations. It makes for a strong advocacy tool to hold States to account for their obligations in the realm of reproductive rights and to contribute to the expert analysis and information available in this area.


It would be in the interest of women’s reproductive rights to make the report more accessible, support its findings where appropriate, deepen its analysis further where needed and bring country level violations of the right to health to the Rapporteur’s attention for further action.  Advocacy by organizations working on sexual reproductive rights has been strong in the lead up to the presentation of the report and many will be waiting to see the impact that it will have.  In the meantime, there are opportunities to support the Rapporteur by writing letters, monitoring the media and responding to any backlash that may arise.


Finally, in their communications (urgent appeals, letters of allegations, public and press statements), country visits and thematic studies, Rapporteurs have the unique ability to cause change –and fast. This report is one example of the ground-breaking, courageous steps Rapporteurs take towards the advancement of women’s rights.


Share your thoughts/ideas with us:


How do you think women’s rights organizations in your country can use the report?

[i] For more information see Carmen Hein de Campos (Themis), Mass Prosecution for Abortion: Violation of the Reproductive Rights of Women in Mato Grosso do sul, Brazil, Case Studies on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms, 2011, AWID, available athttp://www.awid.org/Library/Feminists-on-the-Frontline-Case-Studies-of-Resisting-and-Challenging-Fundamentalisms

[ii] For more information see Puyol, Condrac and Manzur, The Death of Ana Maria Acevedo: Rallying Cry for the Women’s Movement, Case Studies on Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms, 2011, AWID, available at http://www.awid.org/Library/Feminists-on-the-Frontline-Case-Studies-of-Resisting-and-Challenging-Fundamentalisms

[iii] Human Rights Council, Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 2008, available athttp://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/docs/Manual_August_FINAL_2008.doc

[iv] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fact Sheet No 27: United Seventeen frequently asked questions about the United Nations special rapporteurs, United Nations, Geneva, available at www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/factsheet27en.pdf, pp. 1 and 15; UN General Assembly, Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, 13 February 1946, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3902.htmlarticle VI, section 22.

[v] See Human Rights Council, Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 2008, available at:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/docs/Manual_August_FINAL_2008.doc, par. 9 and 10.

[vi] Tedd Piccone, Catalysts for Rights: The Unique Contribution of the U.N.’s Independent Experts on Human Rights, Final Report of the Brooking Research Project on Strengthening U.N. Special Procedures, 2010, p. 63

[vii] UN Human Rights Council, interim report prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover, 3  August 2011, A/66/254, available at

http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/254, pars. 38-42. [UN Human Rights Council]

[viii]Ibid, par.15.

[ix]Ibid, par. 27

[x]Ibid, pars. 38 and 40

The States may also use civil laws regarding child abuse or neglect for the termination of parental rights and the removal of the child upon birth; Please see UN Human Rights Councilsupra note 7 at par. 39

[xi]http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/66/254 par. 20; [UN Human Rights Council]; For more information on the Right to Health within the UN system please see: OHCHR and WHO, The Right to Health, Fact Sheet No. 32, Geneva, 2008, available athttp://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/factsheet31.pdf.

[xii] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 12.

[xiii]Ibid, par. 21.

[xiv]Ibid, par. 18.

[xv] For an account of social and traditional practices that violate women’s reproductive rights please see UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, 31 January 2002, E/CN.4/2002/83, available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G02/104/28/PDF/G0210428.pdf?OpenElement

[xvi] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 56 and 57

[xvii] For a better understanding of the way fundamentalist projects work to undermine women’s rights please see Cassandra Balchin, Religious Fundamentalisms On The Rise: A Case For Action, Toronto, 2008, AWID, available at http://www.awid.org/Library/Religious-Fundamentalisms-on-the-Rise-A-case-for-action

[xviii] UN Human Rights Council supra note 7, par. 28

[xix]Ibid, pars. 59-63

[xx]Ibid, par. 63.

For a deeper analysis on sexual and reproductive education see UN Human Rights Council,Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz, 23 July 2010, A/65/162, available at http://www.right-to-education.org/sites/r2e.gn.apc.org/files/SR%20Education%20Report-Human%20Right%20to%20Sexual%20Education.pdf

The Pro Life Campaign was recently granted special NGO consultative status by the United Nations. NGO status allows accredited organisations to formally contribute to the work programmes and goals of the United Nations by serving as technical experts, advisers and consultants. NGOs are also invited to participate in international UN conferences and to make oral and written interventions on issues of concern.

This gives the Pro Life Campaign an important platform to influence the debate at an international level. It allready announced it will “emphasise that Ireland can be an example to other countries in safeguarding the lives of both mothers and babies”.

The PLC recently made a submission to the UN Human Rights Council, which in October examines Ireland’s record on human rights as part of its Universal Periodic Review. Among other things, the PLC called on the UN group to recognise abortion as a violation of human rights and to acknowledge Ireland’s outstanding record of care in protecting the lives of women during pregnancy while at the same time affording legal protection to unborn babies. You can view this submission here.

In the coming months, as a participating NGO, the Pro Life Campaign will join with other groups in bringing further pressure to bear on China over its toleration of the brutal practice of forced abortion.

Reader diary posted by Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada

December 9, 2010 – 8:40pm

Researchers at the World Health Organization have recently documented a substantial 48% decrease in the numbers of unsafe abortion deaths. In 2008, 47,000 women a year lost their lives from complications of unsafe abortion, compared to 70,000 in 2003. But the bad news is that unsafe abortions have not decreased and are still the predominant way that women end pregnancies in developing countries. Abortions appear to a bit less unsafe because more women are turning to safer medical abortion pills to induce their own abortion.

Unsafe abortion deaths are a direct consequence of antiquated and cruel laws against abortion. About 21.6 million unsafe abortions occurred worldwide in 2008, almost all in developing countries where abortion is illegal. (This compares to 19.7 million in 2003, with the rise due to the increasing number of women of childbearing age in the world.) Among women who survive unsafe abortion, an estimated 8.5 million suffer complications, with 1 in 4 needing medical attention.

In contrast, death from unsafe abortion has been virtually eliminated in western industrialized countries that have legalized abortion, and the complication rate is extremely low. When abortion is legalized in a country, there is typically a dramatic decline in maternal deaths and complications due to abortion. This pattern has been repeated numerous times since the 1950’s when abortion was first legalized in former Eastern Bloc countries.

Legal abortion saves women’s lives and improves their health because without it, women risk their safety by resorting to unsafe illegal abortion. The right to abortion also advances women’s equality, liberty, and other human rights, freeing women to pursue an education and career and to participate fully in public life. Access to abortion allows women to better plan and provide for their families, which benefits the entire community and society. Unplanned births of unwanted children can be very crippling to women and families, leading to higher rates of poverty and dysfunction, including child abuse. These factors make the provision of safe and legal abortion a vital public health interest that negates any justification for criminalizing the procedure.

Yet here we are, one decade into the 21st century, and almost every developing country in the world continues to enforce a near-total criminal ban on abortion. Abortion is illegal primarily in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia, as well as a tiny handful of developed countries like Poland and Ireland. However, all countries with more liberal abortion laws still retain abortion as a criminal offence with exceptions, or have enacted further legal restrictions that make it difficult to access.

If the intent behind banning abortions is to stop or reduce them, it’s been a total failure. In 2007, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute found that overall abortion rates around the world are similar, regardless of whether or not abortion is illegal in a country. This is because countries with strict anti-abortion laws have well-developed black markets for abortion. The global average abortion rate for women of childbearing age (15-44) was 29 per 1,000 women in 2003, with the highest number of abortions occurring in countries where it’s highly restricted and in countries with poor access to contraception. Eastern Africa’s rate was 39 per 1,000 women, while South America’s rate was 33. (more…)

1,000 women still die each day from pregnancy and childbirth

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Deaths from complications during pregnancy and childbirth have fallen by a third in the past two decades but 1,000 women still die needlessly every day, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

Women in poorer countries are 36 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than those in the rich nations, the WHO said, announcing maternal mortality figures that remain far above the United Nations’ flagship targets.

“We must do more to reach out to those who are most at risk,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said, calling for more attention to obstetric care in rural areas, conflict zones and among women living with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Some 99 percent of the 358,000 maternal deaths reported in 2008 were in developing countries, and more than half were in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report launched ahead of a summit in New York on the Millennium Development Goals.

For maternal mortality rates to hit the U.N. target, there would need to be an annual decline in deaths of 5.5 percent from now until 2015. The rate of decline since 1990, when there were 546,000 pregnancy-related deaths, was 2.3 percent.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week that tens of billions of dollars per year were required to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as the world has pledged to do.

The four major causes of maternal mortality are severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders and unsafe abortions, according to the WHO figures.

“These complications cause a lot of deaths which can easily be prevented,” Ban told a news conference. “We cannot just accept this intolerable, unacceptable situation where many millions of women die needlessly.”

The overall improvement seen since 1990 was attributed to better training for midwives, improved family planning services and better delivery and post-natal care in hospitals and health clinics worldwide.

World Bank Vice President Tamar Manuelyan Atinc said helping poor families access medical care, including family planning, emergency obstetric treatment and post-natal monitoring, was fundamental to making a further dent in maternal mortality.

By Jodi Jacobson, Editor-in-Chief, RH Reality Check

At the UN, only men will get to decide MDG priorities for women’s and children’s health. Including Bill Gates who is anti-abortion.

Consider this:

Men don’t get pregnant.

Completely preventable complications of pregnancy, labor, unsafe abortion and AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading causes of death and disability among women in countries throughout the world due to lack of political will, lack of funding, and the politicization of sexual and reproductive health by fundamentalist religious and political actors.

Women now make up the majority of those infected with HIV worldwide and over two-thirds of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women and girls continue to face profound discrimination in access to education, employment, and political power in virtually every country (yes, including the United States).  Women continue to experience high rates of sexual violence and coercion, high rates of child marriage, and low rates of access to basic reproductive and sexual health care, including safe abortion.

The health and well-being of newborns, infants, and children rests primarily on women.  In communities riven by poverty, violence and discrimination, the death of a mother too often results in the neglect, deteriorating health, abuse, or death of her child(ren).

Consider also that virtually all of these issues remained invisible–or just plain unimportant–to the largely male power structures in every country for the past several decades, until the global women’s movement gained traction in their fight to put them on the global agenda.

Given these realities, it would seem that appointments to a recently convened United Nations High-level Advocacy Group focused on pushing for progress on the Millennium Development Goals would take pains to put high-level women in charge–at least in equal numbers to their male counterparts–of advocating for maternal health, child health, and HIV and AIDS, as well as those “other things” like economic development, in which women, as all the development literature has repeated ad nauseum for 40 years, are essential actors.

Someone, somewhere, did not get the memo.

A “final” July 1 2010 list of prominent individuals circulated by the United Nations End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign comprising the “Global Advocacy Team” indicates that not one woman has been assigned to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 (to reduce child mortality), MDG 5 (to improve maternal health), or MDG 6 (to combat HIV and AIDS and malaria).

This is, quite simply, astounding.

And yet, its not.  Because in the pattern of all things having to do with women’s health–whether we are talking about Utah or Nebraska, Uganda or the United Nations–there are other truths.  Men continue to control the agenda and to decide how much or how little money and attention will be paid to ending the epidemic of pregnancy- and sexually-transmitted infection-related deaths and illnesses that robs millions of women of their lives and health every year worldwide.  Men continue to decide what priorities will be on the table when they do “pay attention” to these issues, and when they won’t, for reasons of their own political or financial agendas or their own ideological or political affiliations or all of the above, address honestly one of the leading and most preventable causes of pregnancy-related death and illness, that being unsafe abortion. Men continue to decide  whether they will, for the sake of ideology cloaked as “common ground,” push for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that leave women disproportionately vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, leave the issue of safe abortion out of research and international documents, confront other issues like stoning as “adulterers” women who’ve been raped, or “accept” that ending the war in Afghanistan likely means leaving women to the “mercy” of the Taliban.  Men decide whether we can talk about women’s health writ large, or even their sexual and reproductive health writ large, or only about the mommas and the babies. (more…)