Monday, October 16, 2017
Devex (Oct. 3, 2017): In West Africa, youth ambassadors serve as family planning advocates, by Christin Roby:
In West Africa, young people are receiving training from health professionals and becoming community-based family planning advocates. They use their skills to initiate conversations with their local ministries of health to demand access to contraceptives, reproductive health services, and to ensure they each have a voice in future reproductive policies.
West Africa has the world’s lowest contraceptive prevalence rate accompanied by the world’s highest fertility rate. While the world averages 2.4 children per woman, African women average 4.7 children. West Africa surpasses even the African average with five children per woman, and a 17 percent modern contraception prevalence rate as compared to the global rate of 64 percent.
These initiatives are part of a larger project by the nations that make up the Ouagadougou Partnership (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo). This Partnership has a goal to provide 2.2 million more people in the region better access to family planning methods by 2020. The youth ambassadors especially aim to reach rural communities that don't often have much knowledge about contraception or family planning.
Experts hope that introducing effective family planning methods into more communities will enable young mothers-to-be to space their births, so as to reduce potentially negative health consequences. Young men are important to the conversation as well, and educating them on the risks of un-spaced births and the health complications that young pregnant women face--especially those under 18 years old--is imperative.
By empowering the youth to advocate for themselves and their communities, these groups--such as Strengthening Civil Society Engagement for Family Planning in West Africa--hope to facilitate cooperation between religious and community leaders. Bridging these spheres is important in order to account for various cultural contexts when considering reproductive rights advocacy and establishing new health services programs. Youth ambassadors have effectively organized trainings within mosques and churches and are beginning to open a line of communication about safe sex practices, discussion of which is often considered taboo.
International health experts are optimistic that the West African model will expand contraceptive use and effective family planning and improve reproductive health in the region.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
UN Ambassador Flounders to Explain U.S. Vote Against Rebuking the Use of the Death Penalty to Target LGBTQ People
Think Progress (Oct. 4, 2017): Haley tries, fails to explain UN vote against rebuking use of death penalty to target LGBTQ people, by Zack Ford:
The United Nations approved a resolution on Friday, September 29 condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. The text of the resolution called for the death penalty to be banned "as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations."
The United States, however, voted against the resolution, along with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Only 13 out of 47 countries on the Human Rights Council voted against it.
A spokesperson for the State Department cited "broader concerns" about the resolution as the reason for the negative vote, specifying disagreement with the resolution's "approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances." UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took to twitter to claim that the vote was not one for "the death penalty for gay people," claiming that Friday's vote was the same as the U.S.'s vote on the same issue under the Obama administration. In 2014, however, the Obama administration abstained from the death penalty resolution, which is distinct from actively voting "no." Additionally, the language regarding same-sex relationships was a new addition to the resolution.
The rest of the resolution’s calls to action refer to how the death penalty is implemented, not whether it should be. It simply calls upon states that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory way and to take all possible precautions to protect the civil rights of people who are facing that punishment.
The controversy surrounding this vote highlights the United States' isolation on the death penalty compared to the rest of the democratized world. Many studies have found the death penalty to be applied in a discriminatory manner across the world where it is still implemented, especially against racial minorities and economically-vulnerable people. In the U.S., 55% of those awaiting execution today are people of color, according to the ACLU.
While the resolution encouraged countries to sign a protocol that aims at abolishing the death penalty, it did not require it.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The Portugal News Online (Sept. 14, 2017): Portugal Is European County with Fewest Abortions:
Portugal held a national referendum in 2007 that resulted in the legalization of abortion of pregnancies of up to ten weeks. Abortions must be performed in a facility licensed to perform the procedure. Figures from 2015 indicate that abortions were at their lowest level in that country since 2008, the first year that they were legal. Every year there have been fewer abortions than the year before. Portugal's retiring health director Francisco George has cited the small percentage of abortions per 1,000 live births as evidence of the success of Portugal's abortion laws.
Abortion used to be against the law in Portugal, a reality that resulted in grim health consequences for women in need of safe termination procedures. George remarked that the decriminalization of abortion "has improved the health conditions for women."
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Tribunal Constitucional de Chile (Aug. 21, 2017):
A Chilean court has upheld a law decriminalizing abortion in cases of rape, fatal fetal impairment, and when a woman's life is in danger. A group of conservative senators representing more than a quarter of the members of Senate challenged the law's constitutionality.
The decision is grounded in international human rights treaties. With these rights in mind, and in view of the effect of pregnancy on women, the court concluded that the criminal law should be used only as a last resort.
Regarding the "threat to the woman's life" criterion, the Court has decided that only assessment of the physician attending the woman is necessary in order not to delay the provision of care.
The opinions of two physicians are required in an assessment of whether a case is one of "fatal fetal impairment." The Court warned against "decisional paralysis" in such cases, since delay can pose a danger to the patient.
Finally, in cases of rape, a child under the age of 14 must have an abortion before 14 weeks of gestation, while an older patient has under 12 weeks of gestation.
Even though it remains under in the Inter-American human rights systems whether artificial legal persons have the right to conscientious objection, the Court, intending to promote freedom of conscience and religion, ruled that hospitals and clinics may lodge institutional conscientious objections to abortion.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
openDemocracy.net (Aug. 15, 2017): Reproductive Rights on the Move: Refugee Women in Greece Struggle to Access Contraception, by Zoe Holman
Refugee women are struggling to maintain control of their bodies and reproductive choices as a result of practical and cultural challenges within their transitional lives. A recent study has identified that while 60% of women in pre-war Syria used some form of contraception, only 37% of married Syrian women currently living as refugees in Lebanon do the same.
Often, statistics like this exist because refugee women are not comfortable or reasonably able to use the common forms of contraception available in their relocated states. Injectable contraceptives are popular among refugee women, as they're more conducive to women on the move, but they are not always widely available in every country. Contraceptive pills--often more easily accessible--are not always a realistic choice for a woman without a regular routine or stability.
The lack of contraception among refugee populations can lead to more unwanted and challenging pregnancies as well as dangerous, often illicit, attempts at abortion. Seeking an abortion in a foreign country, even where it is legal, is an intimidating prospect for a refugee woman and often logistically prohibitive.
Of particular concern to many migrating women is the exacerbated risk of sexual violence and the resulting threat to a woman's reproductive autonomy.
The director of the Eritrean Initiative on Refugee Rights says that women emigrating from Eritrea can expect to be raped at least twice before reaching Europe. With this known risk in mind, many women take potent doses of contraceptive before starting their journey to lessen the risk of an unwanted pregnancy from sexual violence. This can lead to longterm damage and reproductive difficulties in the future.
In Greece, a study of nine refugee camps found that insecure conditions left many women at constant risk of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced prostitution, forced marriage and trafficking. Perpetrators, it said, have included volunteers and fellow refugees.
Despite the UN noting that reproductive health is a crucial element to mental and social well-being, conflict-ridden regions still receive 50% less funding for reproductive services than non-conflict zones. Thus far, the international outcry to increase funding for safe contraception and sexual healthcare for refugee and migrant women has gone largely unanswered.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
New York Times (Jan. 27, 2017): Duterte’s Free Birth-Control Order Is Latest Skirmish With Catholic Church, by Aurora Almendral:
The Philippines, where six million women have no access to contraceptives, delivers free birth control to indigent women through a program that also offers prenatal care and mandates that sex education be taught in schools and that companies provide reproductive health services to their employees. The program has been billed as "pro-life, pro-women, pro-children and pro-economic development."
But the Catholic Church has long fought the implementation of the program, going so far as to block key components of it via petitions filed in the Supreme Court. Unable to implement the program, the Health Department's budget has been slashed. Sex education in schools remains substandard, based in abstinence-only rhetoric. The Philippines is the only country in Asia where rates of pregnancy among teenagers increased.
President Duterte's administration is coming back strong against the court's decisions, vowing to uphold the law and eliminating some of the decisions' ambiguous wording. Two archbishops have acknowledged defeat.
One commentator, contrasting Duterte's clash with the church with President Donald Trump's reinstatement of the Reagan-era global "gag rule" forbidding foreign NGOs from receiving U.S. family planning funds if they perform, counsel or refer women for abortion services or advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws where they work, sees the policy of the United States, not the Philippines, as the real threat to women's health.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Huffington Post (Oct. 21, 2016): To Protect People Fleeing Mosul, Undo Iraq’s Anti-Shelter Policy, by Lisa Davis:
The battle for Mosul will result in a humanitarian crisis, but the need for shelter will go tragically unmet in Iraq. A major cause of the problem is the inexplicable policy of the Iraqi government that forbids local women's organizations from providing shelter to displaced persons. "Those who defy this policy," writes Davis, "by running safe houses for women escaping violence or shelters for families displaced by war, operate under government harassment and police raids."
Local groups in Iraq are well positioned to provide the aid and shelter that international groups, lacking information, connections and other important resources, cannot. The problem is not so much an explicit ban in Iraqi law but a misinterpretation of it. Many local officials believe only the government can run shelters. There is a also a deep-seated bias against shelters as places where groups of "immoral women" reside without male oversight. It is feared that opening shelters will encourage women to abandon their families.
Facing reality, some local officials have been forced to enter into agreements with local organizations to provide shelter. But more needs to be done. Advocacy groups are calling for the government to permit private shelters to operate without fear of reprisals.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
IrishCentral (Sept. 19, 2016): Former Irish President McAleese Calls on Pope to End Contraception Ban, by James O'Shea:
A "Scholars Statement" that includes the signature of former president of Ireland Mary McAleese (1997-2011) calls on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to bring its ban on contraception to an end. The statement cites the "[t]he damage inflicted particularly on the poor, on women, on children, on relationships, on health, on society and not least on the church itself" as a compelling reason to end the ban but more importantly notes that the ban has no basis in divine law.
McAleese's participation in the statement stems in part from her upbringing. She has eight siblings and at least 60 cousins, all 69 produced by her mother and her mother's siblings. Growing up, McAleese and her siblings were dissuaded by her parents from having such a large family. Her parents, she concludes, and all Catholics who have blindly followed the 1969 encyclical to be fruitful and multiply, have been "infantilized and robbed" by the church.
Today, the vast majority of Catholics worldwide ignore the contraception ban.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
New York Times (Aug. 30, 2016): Chinese Women Head Overseas to Freeze Their Eggs, by Carolyn Zhang:
A growing number of single Chinese women are traveling abroad to freeze their eggs. They want the option to become mothers even if busy careers and the lack of a stable partner cause them to delay having children. Single women need to travel because China tightly controls access to assisted reproduction. Infertility treatments for unmarried women are completely banned, making travel abroad necessary. Even heterosexual couples must present proof of their marriage, proof of infertility, and a license to give birth. Reproductive rights in this domain are trumped in China by concerns that reproductive technologies will have a negative impact on its population policies and will create a black market for human eggs. It is also against China's moral code for unmarried women to bear children. Nonetheless, the interest among unmarried women is high. Brokerage firms have begun matching them with clinics abroad. Continuing the trend, some American infertility clinics have opened offices in Chinese cities.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
News Deeply (Jul. 18, 2016): Zika Spotlights Latin America's Reproductive Rights, by Christine Chung:
There is a disconnect between the World Health Organization's advice to women in Zika-threatened countries to refrain from reproducing and the fact that those same countries deny women reproductive choice as a matter of law. Critics of the advice, including the United Nations working group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, are calling for making contraception and safe abortion more widely available in Latin America. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, failing to do so ignores the necessary human-rights response to the Zika epidemic.
The statistics are stark:
Approximately 22 percent of women of reproductive age across Latin America have unmet needs for effective contraception. The region already has the highest rate of unintended pregnancy in the world – some 55 percent of pregnancies – due to the lack of access to reproductive healthcare and high incidences of sexual violence. Honduras, for example, has the highest rate of rape in the region, but maintains a total ban on abortion and emergency contraception.
Restrictive reproductive laws primarily affect women living in poverty. Reproductive justice requires that governmental response to Zika place women and children at the center of the policy discussion.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Reprohealth Law (June 15, 2016): Forced Sterilization Case Against Bolivia: Expert Testimony by Christina Zampas:
We continue to follow the story of I.V. v. Bolivia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' first case of forced sterilization (see previous post here). Brought against Bolivia by an immigrant woman from Peru, the case alleges multiple violations of the American Convention on Human Rights by doctors who claim they obtained her consent to sterilization during a cesarean section. The doctors claimed the patient needed to be sterilized because a future pregnancy would be dangerous.
An expert on forced sterilization, Christina Zampas brought to bear the United Nations' and the European Court of Human Rights' standards on the subject, including numerous cases against Slovakia concerning the forced sterilization of Roman women. Her position is that sterilization for the prevention of future pregnancy cannot be justified on the ground of medical emergency:
Even if a future pregnancy might endanger a person’s life or health, alternative contraceptive methods can be used to ensure that the individual does not become pregnant immediately. The individual must be given the time and information needed to make an informed choice about sterilization. The provision of information, counseling and sterilization under the stressful conditions of childbirth are not only a violation of the right to information but also violate the right to privacy, physical integrity and human dignity and are a gross disregard for an individual’s autonomy, rising to the level of inhuman and degrading treatment.
Zampas also urged the court to recognize the multiple layers of discrimination underlying sterilizations in circumstances like those faced by I.V. and justified by "medical necessity." The decision to sterilize, usually made by men, is often informed by stereotypes that cast women as incapable of rational reproductive decision making.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
AfricLaw (June 3, 2016): Uganda: Why the Constitutional Court Should Rule on the Right to Health, by Michael Addaney:
Responding to the shocking statistic that thirteen women giving birth in Uganda die each day due to circumstances that could be prevented (e.g., severe bleeding, infection, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labor), Michael Addaney notes that universal human rights could play a role in addressing the crisis. The current obstacle, he notes, is the political question doctrine, which forbids courts from deciding certain cases because the question lies in the province of elected officials.
In 2011, a non-governmental organization sued Uganda for violating the constitutional rights to health and life by not providing basic minimum maternal health care. The court ruled that the petitioners had presented a political question. Addaney notes, however, that the International Court of Justice has questioned judicial dodging of "political" questions "whenever the rights, interests or status of any person are infringed or threatened by executive action." The Supreme Court of Uganda appears to agree. In 2015, it reversed the ruling of the lower court, holding that "the petition has critical questions that need constitutional interpretation."
Addaney is hopeful that with the evolution of human rights and modern constitutionalism the political question doctrine will see its end.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
New York Times (June 28, 2016), From Uruguay, a Model for Making Abortion Safer, by Patrick Adams:
The scourge of Zika has put pressure on Latin American countries to reconsider their restrictions on abortion. Uruguay in particular presents a picture of what is possible.
In 2002, Uruguay set about to address the problem of the unsafe back-alley abortions that had contributed in large measure to its shocking maternal mortality rate, especially among the poor, and had burdened its health system with heavy costs. A pilot program was initiated in a Montevideo hospital to provide women with factually accurate information about the use of the drug misoprostol, originally developed to treat ulcers, to terminate a pregnancy. Doctors could not prescribe misoprostol for pregnancy terminations or advise women whether or not to use it, but they could legally provide women with factually correct information about its effects.
The women who participated in the program avoided the threat of death from post-abortion sepsis, the hallmark of back-alley abortions. They also presented no severe complications from abortion.
With the program came a change in public perceptions. Abortion, formerly considered criminal, began to be associated with health and human rights. Eight years later, the model was expanded to public facilities throughout the country. Many see the program as pro-life, given that the death of a mother reduces the likelihood of her children's survival.
Pilot program similar to that begun in Montevideo are not operating in Uganda and Tanzania.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Rewire (June 16, 2016): Obama Administration Punts on Helms Amendment, by Christine Grimaldi,
During his address at the United State of Women Summit on Tuesday, President Obama described advancing gender equality as a foreign policy priority, stating that "we’ve implemented a comprehensive strategy to end gender-based violence around the world, from prevention, to treating survivors, to bringing perpetrators to justice."
Yet, activists are frustrated that the administration has failed to take steps to clarify the scope of the "Helms Amendment" which prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion "as a method of family planning." The funding prohibition should not apply to abortions in case of rape, incest or where the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant women, but the Obama administration has failed to recognize and enforce those exceptions. Activist had hoped that the administration would clarify the exceptions by executive action.
An administration official contacted by Rewire confirmed that the Administration's commitment to treating rape survivors would not result in action on the Helms Amendment, stating that there are no "new announcements on that front."
Monday, June 13, 2016
Buzzfeed (June 10, 2016): Ireland's Abortion Laws Breach Women's Human Rights, UN Rules, by Rose Troup Buchanan and Jina Moore:
Last week, the UN Human Rights Committee, found that Irish laws criminalizing abortion violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The case was brought by a woman who could not get a legal abortion in Ireland after she discovered she was carrying a fetus with fatal congenital defects. As a result, she was forced to travel the the United Kingdom to terminate her pregnancy. The Committee found that because Irish law does not permit an abortion in such cases, the woman was forced to choose "between continuing her non-viable pregnancy or traveling to another country while carrying a dying fetus, at personal expense and separated from the support of her family, and to return while not fully recovered." The Human Rights Committee found that denial of an abortion under such circumstances constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and violated the right to non-discrimination and right to privacy and autonomy.
Although, Ireland has an international legal obligation to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee's decision is not directly enforceable by Irish courts. Instead, it will be up to the Irish government to change its laws. This may require amendment of the Irish Constitution, which currently limits abortion to cases where the mother's life is in danger. The Committee has given the Irish government four months to report back on its progress complying with the committee's decision.
Rewire (June 3, 2016): A Sterilized Peruvian Woman Seeks Justice From Americas' Highest Human Rights Court, by Cynthia Soohoo and Suzannah Phillips:
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently heard argument in a case filed by a Peruvian refugee against Bolivia after she was sterilized after undergoing a cesarian section at public hospital. The case illustrates the all-too-common scenario of medical providers making decisions on behalf of women who are deemed "unfit or unable" to make their own choices. In a region where there are widespread reports of forced sterilization, the case is the first time the court will consider whether nonconsensual sterilization is a human rights violation. The case provides an important opportunity for the IA Court to condemn forced sterilization and to adopt clear standards concerning informed consent.
Friday, June 10, 2016
New York Magazine: Pro-Choice Activists Ask to Be Prosecuted to Prove a Point About Abortion Laws, by Sarah Spellings:
Northern Ireland, the "Oklahoma (and Texas, Utah, Florida) of the U.K.," has a 155-year-old law criminalizing abortion. Now, three women there are fighting the stigma and harshness of the country's abortion laws by distributing abortion drugs in spite of (or, rather, to incite) criminal prosecution in their country in the hope of helping young women with a lack of access to this basic healthcare right.
While in the U.S. pro-choice advocates fight felony charges and fake abortion centers, three women from Derry, Northern Ireland, have turned themselves in for procuring pills to induce abortion and distributing them to young women. They hope to trigger a trial following two high-profile cases prosecuting young women who used this method of abortion.
The three women and 197 others signed an open letter last year revealing that they had procured the drugs for themselves or others and were willing to be arrested. To the women's chagrin, the authorities took no action to arrest them.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation via the New York Times: Closing the Gender Data Gap:
In a posting to the New York Times website, the Foundation reports that "[d]ata powers today’s world, informing decisions about everything from business and government to health care and education. For women and girls, however, basic information about their lives—the work they do, the challenges they face, even the very fact of their existence—is lacking. “When we don’t count women or girls, they literally become invisible,” says Sarah Hendriks, director of gender equality at the Foundation.
The implications of this gender-based data gap and the attendant invisibility of women are grave. Without accurate data on women and girls, governments and organizations are stymied in their efforts to empower women and improve lives, and there is no way to measure progress toward global gender equality goals. Moreover, in the specific context of birth registration, barriers can impede mobility and access to health care and other essential services for mothers and children.
The data gap often starts early, driven by information collection methods that are controlled by men. One example is designating the “head of household,” usually a man, as the provider of information about the family. Another is defining “work” as the typical 9-5 job outside the home. These male-biased surveys fail to capture women’s perspectives, needs and economic value.
The good news is that organizations are testing new ways to gather and analyze data in order to spur politicians to design programs that will improve the political participation and security of women around the world.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Local health care providers and wider contraceptive options increase contraceptive use in many countries
Vox (May 20,2016): What the US can learn from Ethiopia about birth control, by Sarah Frostenson:
The use of modern contraceptives has tripled in Ethiopia since 2005, following a government program to train women health workers to go door to door to deliver birth control.
What's more, women in Ethiopia are having fewer children (the fertility rate fell from an average of 6.5 children per woman in 2000 to 4.6 currently), maternal deaths are in decline, and more women are staying in school longer. Plus, more women are opting for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) instead of more traditional short-term methods like birth control pills or condoms.
Local health care providers can make a big difference in women's access to contraceptives as can providing a range of contraceptive options. Long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) play a big part in increasing effective use of contraceptives in many countries. LARC implants last for 3 years and do not require going to a clinic to take medication or remembering to take a pill. They also allow women to keep their contraceptive use secret. However, LARC use can be prohibitively expensive for low-income women who would otherwise choose them. Some poorer countries are able to provide contraceptives that are donated by NGOs and the international community, removing the cost-barrier for many women.
Use of LARCs is increasing at a faster rate in some poorer countries than in the U.S. About 12% of women in the U.S. use LARC methods. Recent cuts to family planning in the U.S. resulting in closure of local family planning clinics decrease women's options of contraceptive methods and make it more difficult and expensive for them to access birth control. For instance in Texas, 82 of family planning clinics closed following a recent drastic cut in family planning funding. A study found the cuts lead to an increased birth rate for low income women and a "sharp decrease " in use of LARCs.
Monday, May 9, 2016
Care 2 (Apr. 11, 2016): Success! Women Will Finally Get Access to Safe Abortions on Prince Edward Island, by Judy Molland:
In contrast to many jurisdictions in the United States, Canada does not criminalize abortion, the Supreme Court having struck down restrictions on abortion in 1988. Nonetheless, there has been no access to abortion in the province of Prince Edward Island. Women on the island have had to go elsewhere to obtain pregnancy termination services. The government has been sued twice in ten years for not providing access on the island.
After receiving a petition with 18,000 signatures, Premier Wade MacLauchlan capitulated, stating, "We have been advised the probabilities are very low that the province could successfully defend policies that provide a legal, provincially funded medical procedure only if obtained outside of the province." The policy would probably violate the Canadian Charter's Rights and Freedoms provisions and its security-of-the-person guarantee.