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.
Friday, April 20, 2018
Human Rights Watch (April 16, 2018): A Backward Step for Reproductive Rights in Chile, by José Miguel Vivanco:
Last year, under former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Chile's Congress passed reproducive health reform that lifted a 28-year blanket ban on abortions in the country. While the reform did not make abortion wholly available, it removed the ban under three circumstances: when the pregnant person's life is at risk; if the pregnancy is a result of rape; and if the fetus is deemed "not compatible with life outside the womb."
Even with the reform--upheld as constitutional in August 2017--several barriers remained in place even under these circumstances. For example, doctors and whole hospitals could invoke a right not to perform abortions on the basis of conscience. If they chose to invoke this right, though, the original reform required a stated reason for abstaining and also required those abstaining to register as such in a timely manner. The goal of this rule was to ensure continuity of coverage at a hospital, so that pregnant persons qualifying for an abortion would not be denied one due to lack of access.
Under current Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, the requirement of providing a reason for objecting to performing abortions, along with the requirement of assurance of continuity of coverage, were dropped completely.
These rule modifications were issued by the Health Ministry and have international human rights groups concerned that the reproductive health of women and girls will not be protected in Chile.
For example, a person pregnant with a non-viable fetus, or a pre-teen rape victim, might find themselves unable to receive an abortion, because the local hospital does not want to potentially offend politicians or invoke the wrath of anti-abortion groups. As such, the only potential abortion-provider in a given town has chosen "on the basis of conscience" not to provide them and will not be required to justify that decision. Human Rights Watch recommends that
The Chilean government should review and amend the rules to ensure that access to legal abortion is protected. Otherwise it risks letting conscientious objection be used as a pretext to deny important newly recognized rights of women and girls.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
ReliefWeb (April 6, 2018): Bringing reproductive health care to Syria’s underserved Al-Tabqa, Report by European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations:
Seven months ago, the Syrian city Al-Tabqa was re-taken from the Islamic State. Displaced families are returning to the city in droves, and the population has increased close to 200% over the last year.
Basic critical health care is still lacking in the city, though. Recently, UNFPA supported the development of a new health clinic, which opened in January 2018. 460 women received treatment in the first two weeks of the clinic's operations, including one 30-year-old Syrian woman's delivery of twins.
Under the control of ISIL, contraceptives and other reproductive care were unavailable to women. The new clinic continues to face challenges in its liberation, too, as access to Al-Tabqa for those who wish to return or relocate has been hampered by destroyed infrastructure and lingering landmines. Various agencies are working to improve these conditions, but in the meantime, the Al-Tabqa clinic has managed to become fully-equipped, staffed, and ready to help serve the estimated 6,800 pregnant women in need of care.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Irish Times (Apr. 10, 2018): Pharmacists push to provide free contraceptive scheme, by Pat Leahy & Priscilla Lynch:
Ireland's Minister for Health Simon Harris has already established a women’s sexual health group in his department to formulate proposals on a program of free contraception for women.
The Irish government intends to implement a plan for a “massive increase in the availability of contraceptives – condoms basically”. However, changes to the way that oral contraceptive pills are provided to women would require legislation.
Pharmacists have directly provided the morning-after pill without the need for a prescription since 2011 – a move that was strongly opposed by general practitioners (GPs) in Ireland at the time. It is expected that the new IPU proposals will face similar strong resistance in the GP community.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
The Himalayan Times (Apr. 2, 2018): Sex, reproductive health education showing impact, by Himalayan News Service:
Government health centers established to provide sex and reproductive health education to teenagers in Nepal's Sindhuli District (located approximately 130 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu) are proving highly effective.
The Nepali government's Family Health Division (FHD) set up health centers aiming to provide necessary guidance and counselling to teenagers on sex and reproductive health. The FHD established these centers with financial and technical aid from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). As many as 24 health centers provided sex education while 30 secondary schools were developed as information centers. Trained health workers and teachers provide sex education to youths at these centers.
“Initially, the youths seemed reluctant to talk about reproductive health but now they share their curiosities and problems without hesitation,” said assistant health worker Nisha Baral at Sitalpati Health Post in Sindhuli.
UNFPA Sexual and Reproductive Health Program Officer Manju Karmacharya said three health centers in 2015 and two in 2018 were certified for conducting the sex education program effectively.
The Nepali government is preparing to set up at least 13 health centers in each District across the country in the near future. As many as 1,034 health facilities across the country are currently providing sex and reproductive health education.
Friday, March 23, 2018
JURIST (Mar. 22, 2018): UN human rights committee to Poland parliament: reject anti-abortion bill, by David Zwier:
This week, Poland's parliament will debate the bill "Stop Abortion," which would ban abortion in cases of severe fetal anomaly. Currently, this is one of only three bases on which a person can terminate a pregnancy in Poland. Poland is known to have some of the most restrictive abortion laws throughout Europe.
A committee of experts under the UN Human Rights Council has urged the parliament to reject the bill, citing that such restrictions will threaten women's equality and autonomy as well as violate their rights to privacy and health while also putting pregnant persons at risk of cruel and inhuman treatment. Forcing the continuation of a pregnancy, they say, violates an individual's fundamental human rights.
In 2016, Poland rejected a bill outright outlawing abortion, in part many believe as a response to protests over it. The UN experts have not received a response to their recent communications regarding the current pending legislation.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
ThinkProgress (Jan. 25, 2018): It’s now easier for trans people to update birth certificates in Russia than in many U.S. states, by Zack Ford:
Last month, Russia established new procedures to allow transgender persons to obtain gender-affirming medical documentation without undergoing surgery. Previously, the only way for a trans person to officially change their gender identity was through the submission of a "medical certificate on gender/sex change" to a civil registry office where individual civil servants would determine whether or not to change the applicant's listed identity. The Russian Ministry of Health signed the new order in January, and it went into effect on February 2, 2018.
Although Russia is regularly condemned for its anti-LGBTQ reputation, this new procedure is considered more progressive than those in the United States, which often require transgender patients to undergo surgery before their gender identity will be officially recognized.
The U.S. does not have uniform procedures on how to update gender on a birth certificate or other official documentation. "According to the Transgender Law Center...there are only 17 states that offer clear policies for changing birth certificates and do not require surgeries for recognition." 18 states have policies specifically mandating surgical requirements as a prerequisite to the paperwork. Governor Chris Christie twice vetoed bills in New Jersey that would have eliminated such requirements. The U.S. courts have so far produced inconsistent and unpredictable results for trans persons seeking policy changes.
Russia is not the only country making gender identity documentation more accessible. India and Nepal recognize transgender persons by issuing papers that identify them as a "third gender." Sweden, which practiced forced sterilization well into the 20th century, eliminated its surgical requirement for transgender people in 2013.
Gender reassignment surgery, meant to align a person's gender with their reproductive organs, often results in the patient losing their reproductive ability. Requiring surgery to recognize a trans person's gender is increasingly considered an unacceptable and illegal form of forced sterilization throughout the world. Furthermore, such procedures are often financially prohibitive, making gender alignment surgery, and thus--in the U.S. at least--obtaining legal documentation that recognizes one's gender, inaccessible.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against surgical requirements in a French case. The Court cited Article VIII of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to respect for "his private and family life."
Although Russia still faces intense discrimination against its LGBTQ community, Tatiana Glushkova of the Transgender Legal Defense Project is optimistic that the new procedures eliminating the need for surgery before trans persons can obtain proper medical certificates will “significantly improve the situation of trans people in Russia."
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.