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.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
New York Times (May 3, 2016): Fewer Surrogacy Options as Nepal Joins a Trend, by Rachel Abrams:
Nepal has banned surrogacy after serving as a robust surrogacy destination for hopeful parents from around the world. Nepal became a popular destination especially for gay couples after India decided to bar gays from have children via surrogacy there. Developing countries like Nepal, India and Thailand have one by one restricted or prohibited surrogacy to respond to concerns that surrogacy is akin to human trafficking and that surrogates in those countries are exploited by couples who cannot afford surrogacy in the United States. They may also be exploited by agencies and few protections if an agency refuses to pay or the surrogate becomes ill or is injured. Complicating the debate is the fact that surrogates in these countries can earn much, much more than other employment options afford them.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Irish Examiner (Mar. 20, 2016): Asylum Seeker Refused Abortion Sues State, by Ann O'Loughlin:
An asylum seeker who arrived in Ireland pregnant as a result of a kidnapping and rape in her country of origin but was refused an abortion in Ireland has sued the state for trespass, assault and battery, negligence, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff has also brought deprivation of constitutional rights and human rights claims.
Her child was delivered by cesarean section.
A judge hearing the matter has allowed the case to proceed anonymously.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Center for Reproductive Rights Press Release (Apr. 1, 2016): Case of Illegal Detention and Death of Woman at Hospital Heads to High Court of Nigeria:
With support from the Center for Reproductive Rights, an advocacy group has filed suit in the case of a woman illegally detained by a hospital to which she was admitted after suffering complications in the course of a cesarean section at another hospital. Folake Oduyoye was discharged after two months but was locked in a guarded ward that lacked toilet facilities and mosquito netting because she could not pay her bill in full. Oduyoye eventually died from post-partum sepsis and pneumonia.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the detainment was illegal, unconstitutional, and in breach of Oduyoye's rights, along with financial reparations and a public apology.
The Center has been working to end the mistreatment of women in maternity hospitals.
Monday, May 2, 2016
The Journal IE (Mar. 30, 2016): The Horrific Case Involving a Young Pregnant Brain-dead Woman May not Be a One-off, by Kate Butler:
Two years ago, the Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution resulted in a judicial circus act as the court wrestled to define the rights of the 15-week-old unborn fetus carried by a brain-dead pregnant woman reposing in an Irish hospital. The fetus was highly unlikely to survive. The woman's family was forced to bring a petition to the High Court asking it to order that the woman's artificial life support be terminated.
The court held that it was in the best interests of the unborn child to authorise the withdrawal of life support, and said that maintenance of life support would deprive the mother of dignity in death and subject her father, her partner and her young children to “unimaginable distress in a futile exercise.”
Butler notes that this case is not a "one-off." Indeed, new legislation in Ireland grants individuals autonomy to employ advanced healthcare directives to choose the course of their end-of-life care, except if the individual is a pregnant woman. The legislation requires medical professionals to refuse the wish of a pregnant woman to refuse life-prolonging care. Those same professionals have no discretion in the matter. They must refer the case to the judiciary.
Butler is concerned about how the Irish Constitution's guarantee of the right to life of the unborn will apply in cases where the fetus has a greater chance of survival if the brain-dead woman is kept on life support.
The ambiguities . . . are not accidental or due to some governmental oversight. They are intentional. This new legislation makes that clear.
Butler is calling on the new government to launch a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Independent (April 12, 2016): The UK's abortion shame: Northern Ireland urged to stop prosecuting women under abortion ban, by Sioban Fenton:
Northern Ireland is under pressure for recent criminal prosecutions of women for abortions. Earlier this month, a 21 year old woman pled guilty to procuring her own abortion and received a three month suspended sentence. She became pregnant at age 19 and could not raise the money to to travel to England to have a legal abortion. Instead, she purchased medication over the internet to self-induce an abortion. She was reported to authorities by her housemates.
A second woman is due to stand trial in Belfast on April 27 for helping her daughter access pills to induce an abortion. Local media has reported the prosecutors are considering bringing two additional cases for illegal abortions.
Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the UK's 1967 Abortion Act, does not apply there. Instead an 1861 act criminalizing abortion remains in effect, and abortions are only legal if a woman's life or mental health is in danger. As a result, many women travel to England for abortions if they can afford the travel costs.
The UK has been criticized by the UN Human Rights Committee which has recommended that Northern Ireland's abortion law be amended. Leading MPs also have criticized the prosecutions and advocate ending the criminalization of women. MP Liz Kendall stated:
We must end the criminalisation of women in Northern Ireland who, often in desperate circumstances, decide to terminate their pregnancy. Currently, women wishing to terminate a pregnancy are either forced to travel to other parts of the UK, or, if they don’t have the money, attempt an abortion themselves, putting their safety at risk. That is no choice. Women in Northern Ireland should have access to safe abortions, in hospitals or clinics, like women in the rest of the UK.
In an effort to highlight the inequality of Northern Ireland's current law, Claire Bailey, Deputy leader of the Green party has said she is considering proposing legislation that would allow the prosecution of men under a new criminal offense of "reckless conception."
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Social Europe (Apr. 6, 2016): The Polish Church and Government Open New Attack on Women's Reproductive Rights, by Gavin Rae:
In Poland, which has one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe, Catholic officials are urging more restrictive regulation. Currently, abortion is available in only three instances: (1) there is a high probability that the fetus will suffer severe and irreversible damage or have an incurable life-threatening disease; (2) continuing a pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health; or (3) the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act. As in other countries with restrictions on abortion, wealthy women travel to other countries to terminate their pregnancies, and poor women resort to unsafe, backstreet procedures. The new law is an attempt to end nearly all abortion in Poland by limiting it to cases where the pregnant woman's life is directly threatened by continuing the pregnancy. The proposal also increases the jail time for those who perform abortions from two to five years and imposes penalties on anyone who disseminates information about abortion options abroad.
The Catholic church is prominent in the push for the new law. The ruling party leaders are staunch Catholics who received influential church backing in the last elections. They are determined to use their power to enshrine Catholic doctrine in national policy. The move is a reflection of a regime that is becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
BBC (March 18, 2016): Chile Lawmakers lift abortion ban introduced by Pinochet:
Last week, Chile's lower house of Congress approved a bill that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, health risk to the mother, and instances where the fetus is not viable. The bill, which is supported by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, needs to pass the Senate to become law. Chile is one of seven Latin American countries that ban abortions in all circumstances. The other countries are El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Surinam.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
RH Reality Check (Feb. 18, 2016): Pope Francis Suggests that Contraception May Be Acceptable for Catholics Fearing Zika Virus, by Jodi Jacobson:
The Zika virus, now found in 34 countries, may cause microcephaly in infants born to recently infected women. Some countries, including El Salvador, have responded to the recent increase in microcephaly by advising that women avoid pregnancy for up to two years. Last week, Pope Francis responded to questions about Zika virus, saying that it may be acceptable for Catholics to use contraception to avoid pregnancy when fearing possible infection.
Asked during a press conference whether abortion or birth control could be considered a “lesser evil” in response to the Zika virus, which appears to be linked to birth defects, the Pope replied that he believes abortion is a crime and is never acceptable, but that the use of modern birth control (“artificial contraception” in church parlance) may be permitted in exceptional circumstances.
Abortion “is an evil in and of itself” the Pope claimed. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” he said, referring to prior circumstances in which the church has sanctioned the use of birth control, such as in the 1960s, when nuns were subject to rape as a weapon of war in the Belgian Congo.
The Pope's statements may encourage Catholic countries to make contraceptives more readily available, thus avoiding increased birth defects due to Zka virus.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
New York Times (Feb. 9, 2016): Chinese Who Violated One-Child Policy Remain Wary of Relaxed Rules, by Kiki Zhao:
Before China dismantled its one-child policy, couples who violated it often could not surmount the hurdle of obtaining the registration document (hukou) necessary for their second child to attend state schools, receive health care, marry, open a bank account or even buy train tickets. Now that hukous have been declared a right of all citizens and the one-child policy has been lifted, parents are still worried that they will be required to pay a fine for violating the one-child policy when it was the law. Municipal governments throughout China have not been clear or uniform in their messages about whether fines will be imposed retroactively.