Tuesday, December 18, 2018
BBC News (Dec. 18, 2018): El Salvador court frees woman jailed under anti-abortion laws, by BBC News:
A woman who was jailed for attempted murder under El Salvador's strict anti-abortion laws has been freed.
Imelda Cortez, 20, says she became pregnant by her stepfather who sexually abused her for many years. Doctors suspected she had tried to perform an abortion after she gave birth to a baby girl in a latrine in April 2017. The child survived, but Imelda Cortez was arrested and spent more than 18 months in jail as she awaited trial. Prosecutors argued that her failure to tell anyone about the pregnancy and seek medical help after giving birth constituted attempted murder, which carries a possible 20-year sentence in El Salvador.
On Monday, however, a court ruled that Cortez, who was unaware that she was pregnant, had not sought an abortion. Cortez's lawyers said that to avoid a harsher sentence, she had admitted to neglecting her newborn baby, which carries a one-year jail term. The court ultimately decided to dismiss that offense and told Cortez she was free to go home.
"This sentence... represents hope for women who are still in prison and are also being tried for aggravated homicide," defense attorney Ana Martinez told reporters following the verdict.
El Salvador is one of several countries in the world where abortion is completely banned and carries heavy penalties. While the country is not alone in Latin America in having a total ban on abortions, it is particularly strict in the way it enforces the ban: doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too could face long sentences in jail.
Human rights groups are calling this enforcement of the ban a criminalization of miscarriages and medical emergencies, with more than 100 people convicted in El Salvador since 2000.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
AP (Nov. 12, 2018): More women in poor countries use contraception, says report, by Ignatius Ssuuna and Rodney Muhumuza:
A report released this week states that modern contraception is effectively expanding and becoming more commonplace in developing countries throughout the world.
The report--issued by Family Planning 2020, a U.N.-backed international advocacy group--cites that there are 46 million more users of contraception in the world's 69 poorest countries in 2018 than there were in 2012.
Access to modern contraception helped prevent over 119 million unintended pregnancies and averted 20 million unsafe abortions between July 2017 and July 2018, although populations continue to soar across Africa and other low income countries, the report said.
'The best way to overcome this challenge of rapid population growth is by giving women and girls (the) opportunity to decide how many children they want to have,' Beth Schlachter, executive director of Family Planning 2020, told The Associated Press.
Many of the countries included in the report are in sub-Saharan Africa. The birth rate in this part of the world is about 5.1 births per woman, according to a recent U.N. global population report. "Over half of the global population growth between now and 2050 will take place in Africa, according to U.N. figures." Despite the growing fertility rates in Africa, contraceptive use is growing fastest in this region of the world as well.
Options for various contraceptive methods--including short-term, long-lasting, emergency, and permanent--have significantly expanded in many of the countries analyzed in the report.
Many millions of people who wish to delay or prevent pregnancy, however, still do not have adequate access to birth control. Lack of information--including perceived side-effects of medications as well as societal disapproval--deter many from finding the right contraceptive method for them.
The goal of Family Planning 2020 is to bring contraception to "120 million more women and girls in developing countries by the year 2020." Donors have committed millions of dollars to meet this goal.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
The Guardian (Nov. 12, 2018): Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail, by Nina Lakhani:
In the wake of fetal personhood, or similar, ballot measures being proposed and passed throughout the U.S., it's important to look to other countries where abortion is criminalized to see the effects of living in a world where abortion and those who seek or perform them are punished.
A survivor of habitual sexual abuse by her grandfather has been imprisoned in El Salvador since April 2017 on charges of attempted murder. Last April, Imelda Cortez, then 20-years-old, gave birth to a child fathered by her rapist. She experienced intense pain and bleeding before the birth, which caused her mother to bring her to the hospital. The doctors there suspected an attempted abortion and called the police. The baby was born alive and well, but Imelda has never been able to hold her, as she's been in custody since her time in the hospital last year.
Authorities conducted a paternity test, which confirmed Imelda's claims of rape, yet her grandfather has not been charged with any crime. Imelda's criminal trial began this week and a decision from a three judge panel is expected next week.
Abortion is illegal in all circumstances--no exceptions--in El Salvador. The strict ban has led to severe persecution of pregnant people throughout the country, often most heavily affecting impoverished, rural-living people. Most people accused of abortion simply experienced a pregnancy complication, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
This pattern of prosecutions targeting a particular demographic suggests a discriminatory state policy which violates multiple human rights, according to Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives at the New York based Women’s Equality Centre. Cortez’s case is a stark illustration of how the law criminalises victims.
Abortion has been criminalized in El Salvador for 21 years. While a bill was drafted nearly two years ago--with public and medical support--aiming to reform the system and relax the ban to allow the option of abortion at least in certain cases (for example, rape, human trafficking, an unviable fetus, or threat to a pregnant person's life), it remains stuck in committee and is not expected to make it to vote.
November 13, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 22, 2018
The Guardian (Oct. 17, 2018): Queensland parliament votes to legalise abortion, by Ben Smee:
Abortion will become legal in Queensland after the Australian state’s parliament voted to support new legislation and erase a 119-year-old “morality” section of its criminal code.
Loud cheers in the legislative assembly chamber on Wednesday evening brought an end to a 50-year struggle by women’s groups in a state once notorious for its conservative politics.
Abortion was codified as an “offence against morality” under the Queensland criminal code, which the current premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said in parliament was written before women had the right to vote.
Both the Labor and the Liberal National party granted their members a conscience vote, and most expected a close result. In the end, the laws passed 50-41.
Abortion will become legal until 22 weeks gestation, and after 22 weeks with the approval of two doctors. Safe access zones will restrict protesters and people who harass patients from coming within 150 meters of abortion clinics. Doctors under the law may refuse to treat a woman on moral grounds, but will also be legally required to refer patients to another medical practitioner.
Children by Choice, the all-options counselling service, was at the forefront of debates about abortion in Queensland for decades.
“Children by Choice has been fighting for this important reform to cruel and archaic laws since 1972 and we are so proud of all of the people who have advocated on behalf of Queenslanders who couldn’t advocate for themselves,” Children by Choice manager Daile Kelleher said.
The anti-abortion group Cherish Life put out a statement vowing to continue its campaign and to target Queensland members of parliament who supported the new laws at the next state election.
Friday, October 19, 2018
FIGO.org (Oct. 16, 2018): International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Speaks Out on Violence Against Women:
The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (Fédération Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique - FIGO) is a global organization that represents national societies of obstetricians and gynecologists. FIGO is meeting for their XXII World Congress in Rio de Janeiro this week. Early in the week FIGO announced, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), a Global Declaration on Violence Against Women, citing stark statistics of the violence women suffer and the wide-reaching effects of such harm, including on reproductive health and safety.
The organizations found that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Most of this violence is committed by intimate partners. Circumstances of unrest, armed conflict, and displacement exacerbate the statistics. Women in South Sudan, for example, experience intimate partner violence at a rate double the global average.
WHO estimated that women who have been physically or sexually abused by a partner are 16% more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.They are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and, 1.5 times more likely to acquire an STI, and in some regions, HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence.Health services are critical for supporting survivors to heal, recover and thrive. If accessed in time, health services can prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of HIV, STIs, following rape. Unfortunately, these services are often not available and survivors lack access to basic, lifesaving care.
The Declaration on Violence Against Women announces members' dedication to, among other things, promoting women's health and rights, including sexual and reproductive rights. It announces concern over the "global public health problem" of violence against women and how it affects women physically, mentally, and sexually as well as how the violence affects the children of surviving women.
The Declaration concludes with several calls to action, urging delegates' governments to ratify CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and ensure the treaty's thorough implementation. It also calls for strengthened health systems, better allocation of budgets and resources to prevent and respond to violence, and the promotion of widely-available health services. The Declaration further advises obstetricians and gynecologists to "advocate for strategies to address violence against women in their communities, towns, cities or countries and [to] collaborate with civil society and voluntary organizations, particularly women’s health and rights organizations, which advocate for women affected by violence"
The World Congress continues to meet through the end of this week.
Thursday, October 11, 2018
The Atlantic (Oct. 11, 2018): When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Rarely Die. But They Still Suffer, by Olga Khazan:
On Thursday, The Atlantic published a piece surveying nations that maintain bans on abortion, in light of the belief that abortion is expected to become further restricted with Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
Khazan writes that legal experts believe the majority-conservative court likely won’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but rather will chip away at abortion rights by narrowing the circumstances in which a woman can obtain the procedure. Still, abortion rights advocates fear that increasing restrictions will force low-income women into desperate situations and increase the rate of self-managed abortion, in which interest has spiked in recent years as access to safe and legal abortion erodes in many states.
If other countries provide guidance, Khazan writes, "abortion restrictions won’t reduce the number of abortions that take place." According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is legal are similar to those in countries where it’s illegal, and in countries where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 deaths each year.
But, Khazan observes, doctors have gotten better at controlling bleeding in recent decades, and there has also been a major revolution in how clandestine abortions are performed thanks to medication abortion (mifepristone and misoprostol).
Mifepristone and misoprostol have made Brazil's rate of treatment for severe complications from abortion decline by 76 percent since 1992. In Latin America overall, the rate of complications from abortions declined by one-third since 2005.
Meanwhile, in El Salvador abortion is illegal, but one in three pregnancies still ends in abortion. Many women there who want to abort their pregnancies, Khazan finds, obtain misoprostol on the streets.
"Those who have internet access and reading skills can look up information about how to take it properly."
Federal prosecutors in El Salvador are known to visit hospitals and encourage doctors to report to authorities any women who are suspected of self-inducing their abortions. But because federal prosecutors are only visiting public hospitals and not private hospitals, poor women are much more likely to be reported for their illegal abortions than rich women.
In Brazil, where abortion is also illegal, about 250,000 women are hospitalized from complications from abortions, and about 200 women a year die from the complications. About 300 abortion-related criminal cases were registered against Brazilian women in 2017.
In Ireland prior to the repeal of its criminal abortion ban, women would travel to England to get the procedure—often using a fake English address so they could get the procedure for free under the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Others, Khazan writes, "would order abortion pills from Women on Web, a Canada-based service that ships the pills to women in countries where abortion is illegal."
Whether a self-induced abortion is dangerous likely depends on where a woman gets her pills and what kind of information is available to assist her. Irish women’s outcomes were better than the Brazilian women’s possibly because they had access to regulated services like Women on Web. Brazilian customs officials, meanwhile, confiscate shipments of medication abortion into the country, forcing women to turn to the black market.
The American market for abortion drugs will boom under a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, says Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University law professor, but it will also become more difficult to penalize abortion providers for illegal abortions, since with medication abortion there is no doctor, only the woman. In that case, Oberman says, “everything I saw [in Ireland] will happen here”: the hospital reports, the prosecutions, the jail sentences.
Many states have already prosecuted women for doing drugs while pregnant or for otherwise allegedly harming their fetuses. Overwhelmingly, those punished tend to be poor women and women of color.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
BBC News (Oct. 4, 2018): Irish Parliament Debates Bill to Legalise Abortion, by Deirdre Finnerty:
The Irish parliament is debating legislation to legalize abortion services nationwide. It is the first time the Irish parliament has addressed the issue since the Eighth Amendment - a near total constitutional ban on abortion - was removed by referendum in May.
Irish Health Minister Simon Harris hopes abortion services will be available in Ireland starting in January.
Known as the Regulation of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, the legislation allows for abortion services to be provided "on demand" up to the 12th week of a pregnancy, and in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality or where the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger.
Harris has said that abortion would be made available free of charge.
Introducing the bill in the Irish assembly, Harris said the referendum was a resounding affirmation of support for right of women to make choices about their lives.
"More on women's health, women's equality, more on continuing to shape an inclusive and equal society," said Harris.
Separate legislation will be introduced at a later date to allow for "safe access" zones - designated areas that prevent protests around abortion providers.
The Irish government must work with doctors to implement services and provide training and support. Dr. Mary Favier, founder of Doctors for Choice, told the Irish Times that planning for abortion by the Department of Health had been "a shambles."
"There's been no clinical lead appointments. There's been no technical round tables established. There's been effectively no meetings held," she said.
Mike Thompson, a general practitioner in east Cork, told the BBC that the government's proposed timeline of January 2019 was "ambitious" and "challenging."
"Unless there is a clear and robust guideline, no GP will provide the service. It has to be safe," Dr. Thompson said.
Earlier, anti-abortion doctors said they did not wish to be forced to refer a pregnant woman seeking a termination to another doctor. A bill allowing for doctors to opt out of providing a medical or surgical abortion if they do not wish to perform the procedure was introduced in the Irish parliament earlier this year. The legislation requires that doctors refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor who will perform the abortion.
The health minister said that conscientious objection was one thing, but refusing to refer women wishing to terminate their pregnancies to other doctors was quite another.
It is unclear how a small number of doctors objecting to providing abortion care will affect the rollout of abortion services in Ireland.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Sierra (Sept. 18, 2018): Climate Activists Say Women Are Key to Solving the Climate Crisis, by Wendy Becktold:
Last week, San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). The three-day conference brought together heads of state, policy makers, scientists, and leaders from civil society to discuss clean energy and averting catastrophic climate change. One of the recurring topics focused on the necessity of investing in women's rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, in combating climate crises.
Decades of research indicate that investing in women's rights can dramatically contribute to addressing both development and climate challenges around the globe. In particular, access to education and robust reproductive rights strengthens opportunities for women worldwide. Supporting women is proven to translate to more sustainable development including the promotion of clean energy over fossil fuels.
"Access to reproductive health services is...key to reducing pressure on natural resources." A lack of access to contraception, for example, leads to many millions of unplanned pregnancies, which in turn can prevent women from creating the productive and sustainable systems they would otherwise be able to contribute to. Better education can also reduce birth rates and further improve the livelihood of women around the world.
In poorer parts of the world, women produce 60-80 percent of food crops. Providing women with better education and resources such as access to small business loans (like their male counterparts often have) could could reduce the number of people who go hungry around the world by 150 million.
Many summit conversations at the conference, in addition to countless side events, highlighted the shared frustrations of women around the world.
Some climate activists found the summit’s emphasis on high tech solutions exasperating. 'There’s often a focus on techno fixes,' said Burns [of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization], 'when for years, we’ve been saying that investing in women’s human rights is how we can address climate change. There is still this huge disconnect between the rhetoric and the solutions that are coming from feminists and frontline voices.'
"Women are also disproportionately affected by climate change," in part because global warming reaches the impoverished first and most people living in poverty are women.
The conversations at the GCAS highlighted how integral reproductive rights and support of women's opportunities are to innumerable issues. The ripple-effect of guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights, the research shows, extends far past simply being able to plan a pregnancy; such support builds up communities around the globe, reduces poverty, and has the power to fight behemoth challenges like climate change as well.
September 19, 2018 in Conferences and Symposia, Contraception, International, Miscellaneous, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Scholarship and Research, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 13, 2018
BBC News (Sept. 13, 2018): NI women may not be able to access abortion pills in England, by Emma Vardy:
Women from Northern Ireland who travel to Britain for abortion care may not be able to access abortion pills. On average, each week 28 women travel from Northern Ireland to England for abortion care because, unlike the rest of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.
England allows women to take medication abortion at home, but patients may have to prove residency before being able to do so.
Northern Irish Labour MP Stella Creasy has backed access to the pills for women in NI. Speaking in the Commons, she said: "In Scotland there is a residency test for the abortion pill, which if it is copied in England would deny women coming from Northern Ireland this choice of procedure.
"Let's get on and give our Northern Irish sisters the right to access healthcare and abortion at home, just as our sisters around the rest of the UK have."
The Department for Health only has the power to approve English homes as a place patients can legally take the abortion pill, according to Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women and Equalities. However, Ms. Atkins said the definition of what "home" means is yet to be clarified.
"Officials are working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to determine protocol which will set out criteria for which places should be covered by the term 'home'... We will look at how the (early abortion pill) schemes are working in Scotland and Wales and learn from the experience there."
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion is illegal in most circumstances. Previous attempts to change the law were blocked within the Northern Ireland Assembly, but there may now be enough support among Assembly members to overturn the ban. However, the devolved NI government has not sat since power-sharing collapsed in January 2017.
In June, UK Supreme Court judges said that Northern Ireland's abortion law violates human rights and called the current ban "untenable."
Ms. Atkins said: "We call upon those representatives in Northern Ireland to get their act together and get the Assembly working again so that Northern Ireland people can make their decision."
Saturday, September 8, 2018
The New York Times (Sept. 6, 2018): India Strikes Down Colonial-Era Ban on Gay Sex, by Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, and Suhasini Raj:
India's Supreme Court unanimously struck down a ban on consensual gay sex, a remnant of the country's colonial past and one of the oldest bans of its kind. The Court called the law "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary."
The Court's decision came after weeks of deliberation, years of legal arguments, and decades of activism. Human rights advocates in India and around the world celebrated as India joined the growing list of countries granting full rights to gay-identifying people. Similar laws have been overturned in the United States, Canada, England, and Nepal, among others.
In 2009, a court in New Delhi had ruled that the law could not be applied to consensual sex, but religious resistance to this decision followed by an appeal led to the restoration of the full law in 2013. The court deferred at that point to the Parliament and claimed the law only applied to a "minuscule fraction of the country."
In 2016, activists rallied five brave plaintiffs identifying as gay and lesbian Indians who alleged their rights to equality and liberty were violated under the law (Section 377). Eventually, more than two dozen additional Indians joined the case while it was pending before the Supreme Court.
The September 2018 decision struck down the prohibition against gay sex, and the Court also made illegal all discrimination based on sexuality, extending "all constitutional protections under Indian law" to gay people.
The law was written in the mid-19th century and applied to "unnatural sexual acts." The law, which criminalized people who engaged in "intercourse against the order of nature," remains on the books to apply to cases of bestiality, for example, but now no longer can be used against consensual sex. “'History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights,' Justice Indu Malhotra said."
Menaka Guruswamy was one of the lead attorneys representing the petitioners. This decision is a "huge win" she said. The lawyers' arguments centered on the legal issues but also embraced pleas to the Justices to recognize the humanity of those who have been affected by Section 377 for decades.
The law is notably a vestige of British colonialism. Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, is generally permissive of same-sex relationships, but levels of tolerance were eviscerated under British rule. The British leaders implemented Section 377, which imposed a life sentence on those in violation. While the law has been greatly limited, India remains a conservative country in many ways, and fundamentalist groups across religions--Hindu, Muslim, and Christian--protested the decision.
In recent years, though, many more Indians have come out, identifying publicly as gay, lesbian, and transgender. Now that these lifestyles are no longer criminalized, Indian activists hope that many more Indians will come out and be embraced by their country.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Aug. 9, 2018 (New York Times): Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion, by Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño:
After 16 hours of deliberation, Argentina’s Senate narrowly rejected a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday, dealing a painful defeat to a vocal grass-roots movement that pushed reproductive rights to the top of Argentina's legislative agenda and galvanized abortion rights activist groups throughout Latin America, including in Brazil and Chile.
As legislators debated the bill into the early hours of Thursday morning, thousands waited outside the Congress Building in Buenos Aires, weathering the winter cold.
Supporters of the legislation, which would have legalized abortion care during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, had hoped Argentina would begin a sea change in reproductive rights in a largely Catholic region where 97 percent of women live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances.
In the end, 38 legislators voted against legalization, 31 voted in favor, and 2 legislators abstained.
Opposition in Argentina hardened as Catholic Church leaders spoke out forcefully against abortion from the pulpit and senators from conservative provinces came under intense pressure to stand against legalization.
While the bill's failure is considered a major setback for the activists who backed it, analysts said the abortion rights movement has already brought change to Central and South America in ways that would have been impossible just years ago.
On Wednesday, demonstrators rallied in support of the Argentine bill in Uruguay, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, where they gathered in front of the Argentine Embassy in Santiago, chanting and wearing the green handkerchiefs that became the symbol of Argentina’s abortion rights movement.
Recently, activists in Argentina scored a victory with the passage of a law that seeks to have an equal number of male and female lawmakers.
"If we make a list of the things we’ve gained and the things we’ve lost, the list of things we’ve gained is much bigger,” said Edurne Cárdenas, a lawyer at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina that favors legalized abortion. “Sooner or later, this will be law.”
In the region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Mexico City allow any woman to have an early-term abortion.
For Argentina, the debate over abortion has tugged at the country’s sense of self. It is the birthplace of Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, who recently denounced abortion as the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics program. Recently, though, the country has begun shifting away from its conservative Catholic roots. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed. Francis, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, called that bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
The organized movement that pushed the failed bill started in 2015 with the brutal murder of a pregnant 14-year-old girl by her teenage boyfriend. Her mother claimed the boyfriend’s family didn’t want her to have the baby. As debates about violence against women on social media grew into wider conversations about women’s rights, young female lawmakers gave a fresh push to an abortion bill that had been presented repeatedly in the past without going anywhere.
In June, the lower house of the Argentine Congress narrowly approved a bill allowing women to terminate pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current law allows abortions only in cases of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger. While the measure failed in the Senate this week, it made some inroads: among the senators who voted for it was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who as president had opposed legalizing abortion.
“Society as a whole has moved forward on this issue,” said Claudia Piñeiro, a writer and abortion-rights activist in Argentina. “Church and state are supposed to be separate, but we’re coming to realize that is far from the case,” Ms. Piñeiro said as it became clearer that the push for legalization would lose.
“That will be the next battle.”
Monday, August 6, 2018
Aug. 3, 2018 (New York Times): Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion, by Manuela Andreoni & Ernesto Londoño:
The death of Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho on May 16, a 31-year-old mother of three who underwent an unsafe illegal abortion, illustrates the high stakes of the fight over reproductive rights that is taking place before Brazil’s Supreme Court during a rare two-day public hearing that started this past Friday.
The nation's high court is considering whether Brazil’s abortion laws — which forbid terminating pregnancies with few exceptions, including cases of rape and instances in which the mother’s life is in peril — are at odds with constitutional protections.
The hearing, which continues Monday, is unlikely to lead to the immediate legalization of abortion care, but reproductive rights activists in Brazil hope the hearing will set off a national debate on the issue, draw attention to the risks hundreds of thousands of women take each year as they resort to illegal abortions and ultimately pave the way to overhauling the existing law.
During the first day of arguments, a majority of the 26 speakers argued for decriminalizing abortion. Though the national Ministry of Health did not take an official position on the issue, Maria de Fátima Marinho, representing the ministry before the court, stated that unsafe, illegal abortions create public health challenges, leading to overcrowding of health care facilities as well as preventable illness and death.
The hearing is being held as Brazilian lawmakers take steps to adopt even more restrictive laws and abortion rights groups across the region face a strong backlash after attaining victories.
Brazil’s top court has ruled narrowly on abortion cases in recent years, signaling an inclination to expand access, but it has stopped short of making sweeping legal changes related to the issue.
In March 2017, the Socialism and Liberty Party and Anis, a women’s rights group, filed a petition asking the court to rule that abortion care within the first twelve weeks of gestation should not subject the pregnant person or the abortion provider to prosecution.
They argue that abortion laws written in 1940 violate protections conferred by the 1988 Constitution, including the right to dignity, equal protection, and access to health care.
A ruling in favor of proponents of decriminalization would be the first step toward legalizing abortion in a nation of 210 million people where an estimated one in five women have terminated unwanted pregnancies.
Estimates of the number of abortions performed in Brazil each year range from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Each year, more than 250,000 women are hospitalized as a result of complications from abortions, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry. In 2016, the last year for which official figures were available, 203 women died as a result of illegal and unsafe abortions.
Since 2000, 28 countries and regions have expanded abortion rights. Last year, lawmakers in Chile lifted the country’s total prohibition on abortion, and next week the Senate in Argentina will vote on a bill that could legalize abortion there.
The Supreme Court hearing prompted Ladyane Souza, a lawyer in Brasília, to publicly disclose that she had an abortion two years ago, even though doing so means she could be prosecuted.
“It’s very cruel to submit women to dealing with this all alone, underground,” Ms. Souza, 22, said. “During that time, I wanted very much to talk to my mother, because I felt it would have been easier if my mother knew, if my friends knew, but I was afraid of being prosecuted.”
Ms. Carvalho’s relatives opted to bury her in a cemetery several miles from her hometown after local residents reacted with outrage and scorn to details of her death. They held a low-key ceremony as her remains were deposited in an unmarked grave in a small hillside cemetery.
“I wish she had survived, so she could have been arrested and learned to be responsible,” Ms. Barbosa, her aunt, said.
Saturday, July 28, 2018
July 26, 2018 (teleSUR): Chile: 3 Women Stabbed in March to Legalize Abortion, by teleSUR:
Three women in Santiago, Chile were stabbed during a march to demand, legal, safe, and free abortion care by a group of hooded attackers who assaulted the protesters. Around 40,000 women marched in the demonstrations.
The three injured women received medical attention and are currently in stable condition.
There is a concerning trend of violence and harassment against pro-choice activists in South America. In Argentina, the country's Senate is debating a bill to legalize abortion within the first 14 weeks. Several videos showing men threatening women for carrying their staple green handkerchief, a symbol of the abortion rights movement in Argentina, have recently surfaced. Some of the women have been threatened with rape.
“This is terrorism; I don’t want to call it any other way. When a group wants to intimidate another to keep them from expressing their ideas freely,” says Macarena Castañeda, spokesperson for the Mesa de Accion por el Aborto, one of the groups leading the fight for access to legal, safe, and free abortion care in Chile.
The hooded attackers also injured a security officer. According to the police, several attackers are currently detained.
In Chile, former military dictator Augusto Pinochet criminalized abortion in all its forms in 1989. That law remained in place until 2017 with the approval of a bill proposed by then-president Michelle Bachelet that decriminalized abortion in three cases: rape, a risk to the mother's life, and disability. Those exceptions only comprise 3% of all abortions in Chile, according to abortion rights groups.
Abortion remains mostly illegal in Latin America. Only in Uruguay and Cuba is it entirely legal, as well as in the Mexican capital of Mexico City.
Friday, July 27, 2018
July 25, 2018 (ABC News): 'Handmaid's Tale' march for Argentine abortion rights, by Debora Rey, Associated Press:
Demonstrators wearing red cloaks and white bonnets like the characters from Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" demonstrated Wednesday in Argentina in favor of legalizing abortion. They silently marched with their heads bowed through the streets of Buenos Aires until they reached the Palacio del Congreso, the Congress building. During heavy rain, one of the demonstrators read a letter by "Handmaid's Tale" author Margaret Atwood, who voiced her support for the effort led by Argentine feminist groups.
Argentina's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved a bill that would legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The Argentine Senate will vote on the measure on August 8. President Mauricio Macri has said that despite his personal opposition to abortion, he would not veto the bill if approved by the Senate.
Earlier this year, Atwood clashed with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti, who has said that she is anti-abortion.
Atwood tweeted to Michetti: "Don't look away from the thousands of deaths every year from illegal abortions. Give Argentine women the right to choose!"
Argentina currently allows abortion only in cases of rape or risks to a woman's health, but abortion rights advocates say doctors and judges often block women from carrying out the procedure.
A 2016 report by Argentina's health ministry estimated that between 370,000 to 522,000 Argentine women undergo illegal abortions each year. Thousands of women are hospitalized for complications.
The report found complications from unsafe, illegal abortion as the main cause of maternal death in Argentina.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
AllAfrica (Jul. 6, 2018): South Africa: Social Development Co-Hosts Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference, Press Release:
The Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Rhodes University, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (South Africa), and the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, in partnership with South Africa's Department of Social Development will co-host the Abortion & Reproductive Justice: The Unfinished Revolution III conference at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa from July 8 - 12, 2018.
The conference is the third in a series that began in Canada in 2014 and continued in Northern Ireland in 2016. This year's conference aims to focus the conversation and scholarship on jurisdictions where abortion access is highly restricted. It will provide a platform "for delegates to explore, identify, share and pursue learning and research opportunities on a range of issues relating to abortion and reproductive justice in context, including access to abortion, activism and abortion politics."
The conference aims to contribute to the vision of universal access to reproductive justice and will be broken down into three parts: workshops, knowledge sharing, and action discussions. It will include the voices of a Youth Committee to speak to issues particularly relevant to young people.
The conference's presence in South Africa is notable, as, despite abortion being legal in the country, experts estimate that half the abortions that take place in South Africa are illegal due to lack of access to abortion providers.
The South African Government's position on abortion and reproductive justice is predicated on the understanding that the decision to have children is fundamental to women's physical, psychological and social health and that universal access to reproductive health care services includes family planning and contraception, termination of pregnancy, as well as sexuality education and counselling programmes and services.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
BBC News (Jun. 16, 2018): Sinn Féin votes to change Northern Ireland abortion policy, by Jayne McCormack:
Sinn Féin party delegates in Northern Ireland have voted to change the party's position on abortion at a conference in Belfast. Members comprehensively backed a leadership motion stating that women should have access to abortions within "a limited gestational period." The party can now support a law due to be brought before the Irish parliament, which is expected to allow abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The decision comes shortly after a referendum in the Republic of Ireland removed a constitutional amendment which effectively outlawed abortion. Sinn Féin had previously backed making abortion available in circumstances like fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or sexual abuse.
However, the party will now back a policy put forward by the Sinn Féin leadership that is broadly in line with the new Irish law, which is expected to make abortion available to women within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancies.
Sinn Féin's Northern Irish leader Michelle O'Neill opened the debate and told delegates: "No one is saying members can't have a conscience and you're entitled to have your viewpoint respected, but there is a difference between personal views and our role as legislators."
Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland, meaning that it is the only region of the UK or Ireland where abortion is illegal unless there is a serious risk to a woman's life or health. Abortions in cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormalities are not automatically legally permitted to be carried out.
At the conference on Saturday, the party's leadership had backed a motion stating that women should have access to abortions within a "a limited gestational period."
The motion by the party leadership did not specify the 12-week period, but refers to making abortions available through a general practitioner-led service "without specific indication for a limited gestational period."
Mrs O'Neill denied that this gives the Sinn Féin leadership blanket authority to eventually back abortion in line with the 24-week period provided by the UK's 1967 Act, arguing it allowed the party flexibility in case legislation brought before the Dáil (Irish parliament) eventually reduces the time limit to 10 weeks.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning government since the collapse of power-sharing between Sinn Féin and the DUP in January 2017.
Friday, June 15, 2018
Vox (Jun. 14, 2018): Argentina’s historic vote to decriminalize abortion, explained, by Emily Stewart:
On Thursday, June 14, Argentina's lower legislative house voted 129-125 on a bill that would decriminalize abortions up to 14 weeks into a pregnancy. The bill is part of "a broader women’s rights movement, Ni Una Menos — meaning 'Not One Less' — directed at stopping violence against women, including murder."
Abortion is currently illegal in Argentina except in cases of rape or life and health-threatening circumstances. Even in these scenarios, abortions are difficult to obtain and there may be not guidelines or clear legal requirements for providers, according to Shena Cavallo, a program officer at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Half a million women sought illegal abortions in 2016, and abortion-related deaths are one of the top causes of maternal mortality in Argentina.
Over the past 13 years, six different bills decriminalizing abortion have unsuccessfully come before Argentina's Congress. Activist groups like the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion and Catholics for the Right to Decide Argentina, have helped to gain the momentum for the current bill, contributing to the greater Ni Una Menos movement.
The Ni Una Menos movement, started in 2015, is a campaign against gender-based violence. It began in Argentina after a surge of media reports of women being killed by their husbands, boyfriends, or partners, and it has spread across multiple Latin American countries. Argentina has a history of public protest — it is not uncommon for major city streets and roadways to be shut down for hours or days because of protest — and multiple Ni Una Menos marches have taken place. This new wave of feminism has spurred more women to speak out about a variety of issues, including abortion. Activists see illegal abortion as another way of keeping women oppressed.
While Argentine President Mauricio Macri has not stated public support for the bill, he has encouraged debate over it and also said he would not veto it if it reaches his desk.
Although the more conservative Senate is expected to reject the bill, advocates consider this recent vote a win and will continue to fight for abortion legalization and the overall protection of women throughout Argentina and Latin America.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Los Angeles Times (Jun. 11, 2018): Trump administration moves to block victims of gang violence and domestic abuse from claiming asylum, by Evan Halper:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned precedent that created a basis for survivors of domestic violence in foreign countries to receive asylum in the United States.
As Attorney General, Sessions' review of an earlier case that granted a Salvadoran woman asylum as a victim of physical and emotional abuse by her husband, including rape, is binding. A federal appellate court, though, has the power to overturn Sessions decision, and immigration advocates anticipate immediate challenges to the decision.
To establish asylum in the United States, applicants must "prove that they have a reasonable fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership in a particular social group." Under the Obama administration, in 2014, a Guatemalan woman fleeing domestic violence was granted asylum after the immigration appeals board ruled that victims of domestic violence constituted, in some cases, "a particular social group."
Advocates estimate that tens of thousands of U.S. asylum applicants annually fall into this precedential category targeted now by Sessions and the Trump administration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees "warned that such action would violate international agreements the U.S. has entered into concerning refugees and would subject victims to being returned to situations in which their lives are in danger." The American Bar Association has also joined in voicing its concern that this ruling will further endanger those most vulnerable.
Sessions has stated through this decision that the United States will not offer help to women suffering from and living in fear of domestic violence, rape, and death, as their situations constitute only "private crimes" that their home governments should be able to manage. He has cast doubt on well-founded assertions that police in the home countries of these women "often don't respond to reports of domestic violence" and rejects that, as such, these women constitute "a distinct group in need of protection by the U.S."
"The attorney general’s skepticism that victims of abuse lack effective recourse in their home countries runs counter to reports published by the U.S. Department of State on human rights conditions in those countries."
Friday, May 25, 2018
May 24, 2018 (The New Yorker): Ireland’s Vote on Abortion Is a Referendum on the Nation’s Future, by Margaret Talbot:
On Friday, Irish voters will decide whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the country’s constitution, which bans abortion under nearly all circumstances. The vote will help expose how much the Catholic Church’s hold in Ireland has weakened, following years of revelations about child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and about the Church’s mistreatment of “fallen women,” who had become pregnant out of wedlock (in 2013, Ireland’s Prime Minister at the time, Enda Kenny, issued a state apology for the Church-run Magdalene Laundries, where such women were confined as unpaid workers, often in drudgery and cruelty).
Though the Yes side—those who want to eliminate the Eighth Amendment—can count on the support of many of the country’s leading politicians and is still ahead in the polls, the gap seems to be narrowing. The most recent polls show that almost one in five voters are still undecided, a figure that raises the spectre of a surprise victory for those who want to keep abortion illegal.
The vote is also an opportunity for tech companies to show how transparent they can be about political advertising and how much they can protect themselves against foreign interference (American anti-abortion activists are among those trying to influence the outcome of the vote). Google announced earlier this month that it would refuse advertising related to the referendum. Facebook said that it would bar such advertising by foreign groups.
Friday’s vote will be a test of whether women in Ireland will continue to be coerced and shamed if they do not want to carry their pregnancies to term. The Eighth Amendment, which has been in place since 1983, has not stopped abortion in Ireland. Making the procedure illegal never has—and that is worth remembering, not only in Ireland but in the United States, where the Trump Administration has given new impetus to those who would like to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Between 1980 (when abortion was not legal in Ireland but was less restricted than after the amendment) and 2016, 168,703 Irish women and girls obtained abortions in England and Wales, according to the United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care. In 2016, the latest year for which such statistics are available, the number was 3,265. This is almost certainly an underestimate, since it only includes women and girls who give Irish addresses when they show up at hospitals in Liverpool and other English cities. The number also leaves out a smaller group of Irish women who go to countries other than England, such as the Netherlands. And it does not count women who obtain abortion-inducing pills on their own.
In 1992, the Irish legislature passed an amendment that made it legal for women to travel abroad for an abortion. This outlawing-and-outsourcing arrangement has come at an enormous cost to Irish women. In November of 2011, a woman named Amanda Mellet, a charity worker living in Dublin with her husband, had a routine scan for her first pregnancy. It revealed that, at twenty-one weeks, the fetus had a chromosomal disorder that kills ninety-five per cent of babies in utero and had heart defects that made survival impossible. A midwife informed Mellet that she had two choices: continue the pregnancy or “travel,” which, as she told the Washington Post recently, brought to mind “Ireland’s history of spiriting deviant women away in conditions of secrecy and shame.”
To Mellet, the journey she made to Liverpool for the abortion felt like a banishment that deliberately denied her the care and the counselling that she should have had in her own country. She flew home twelve hours later, still bleeding. “Not only did we have to make this horrible decision about what to do in the case of a fatal condition,” she told the Post, “we had to leave the country like criminals, speak in euphemisms to hospital staff in Ireland, pay thousands to end a pregnancy, all the while my heart breaking at having to say goodbye to my darling baby girl.” In a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on Mellet’s behalf, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled, in June, 2016, that the state had violated Mellet’s rights to freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, as well as her privacy and equality before the law.
It is not just the most terrible cases that should be considered when thinking about the Irish ban on abortion—or about the American pro-life movement’s push to ban the procedure here. If Irish voters set aside the amendment, Irish legislators will be able to enact new laws that will likely make abortion freely available to women in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, with restrictions thereafter—a framework similar to that of many other countries in Europe. That will certainly provide safety and dignity for women in tragic predicaments. But new laws will also help women in more commonplace ones, who aren’t prepared, for any number of reasons, to bear a child, and who should not be forced to do so. It will allow women, in other words, the ordinary autonomy that all men have.
Polls in Ireland close at 10PM local time on May 25th.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
The New York Times (April 26, 2018): Supporters of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban Foil Efforts to Soften It, by Elisabeth Malkin:
El Salvador remains one of six Latin American countries with a total ban on abortion after the Legislative Assembly failed to debate and vote on a measure that would have relaxed the ban in two circumstances: when the mother's life is in danger and in the case of a minor becoming pregnant as a result of rape.
In El Salvador, abortion is criminalized and punishable by up to eight years in prison for both doctor and patient. Human rights groups around the world have a lobbied for a change in the harsh policies that sometimes criminalize women who have late-term miscarriages. These women have historically been charged with abortion or even aggravated homicide.
Advocates aiming to soften the total ban had been lobbying for months, but their efforts were unsuccessful when the former, left-wing-led national legislature adjourned last week without voting on the proposals. A new Legislative Assembly convenes this month, dominated by conservatives who are not expected to revive the debate or offer reform proposals.