“Access to safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right of women, irrespective of where they live. The underlying causes of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion today are not blood loss and infection but, rather, apathy and disdain towards women.” Unsafe Abortion: The Preventable Pandemic, World Health Organisation
“Without reproductive health and freedom, women cannot fully exercise their fundamental human rights, such as those relating to education and employment.” The Right To Reproductive and Sexual Health, United Nations
For those of us living in Australia, it is easy to take our right and ability to access safe abortion and reproductive services for granted. Millions of women in the developing world cannot say the same, and increasingly, conservatives and fundamentalists in the US are stripping their own citizens of the right to access abortion…
In 2009 President Barack Obama overturned the conservative and dangerous anti-abortion ‘global gag rule’. The ‘global gag rule’ is a law that prevents US funds for international development going to clinics or organizations that perform abortions, provide information or counseling about abortion, or even mention abortion as an alternative to women with unplanned pregnancies. The flow on effect of the rule is significant and far-reaching, restricting access to family planning advice, HIV/AIDS clinics, birth control, gynecological and a host of other women’s health services, endangering the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of the poorest women across the world. Originally passed by Reagan in 1984, the ‘global gag rule’ was overturned by Clinton and then reinstated by Bush before being overturned by Obama.
For thirteen years, Australian had it’s own brand of the ‘global gag rule’. In 1996, in return for Senator Brian Harradine’s support for the sale of Telstra, Australia’s Howard government instituted a rule preventing Australian foreign aid going to non-government organizations or clinics that offered abortion or abortion-related services, even if abortion was legal in that clinic’s country. It wasn’t until 2009 that Australia’s Labor Rudd government overturned that particular rule.
It should be noted that the ‘global gag rule’ directly contravenes World Health Organisation guidelines on women’s reproductive health. Importantly, studies show that legal restrictions on abortion and prevention of access to safe abortion practitioners do not reduce the incidence of abortion.* According to the WHO an estimated 20 million unsafe abortions are done each year, resulting in the death of 68,000 women and complications in millions more.** 97% of these are conducted in developing countries, but if American conservative senators have their way, perhaps that percentage will start to change…
Just a couple of days ago Michigan House passed an extremely anti-choice bill, after only 20 minutes of debate. Amongst other things, the bill bans abortion after 20 weeks, mandates how a fetus must be disposed of, and imposes exorbitant insurance policies to be purchased by businesses conducting abortion, which will result in numerous clinics closing their doors restricting thousands of women access to a service that they have a constitutional right to.
This comes on the heels of the Mississippi House passing a bill that requires doctors to look for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion, a requirement that will likely require women to have an invasive transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion. An invasive and medically unnecessary procedure, it is essentially state-sanctioned rape. The other by-product of the Mississippi Bill is that it will essentially shut down the only abortion clinic in the state, forcing women to travel outside of Mississippi to have an abortion. Too bad for those who don’t have the means or ability to travel.
All of this is, of course, less than 40 years after the landmark Roe vs. Wade case that, for the first time ever, deemed abortion a fundamental constitutional right. So it seems that in the US, as conservative elements lose the power to restrict women’s reproductive rights overseas, they have been turning to their own backyards, endeavoring to restrict their own women from accessing their constitutional right.
Tony Abbott, the pro-life Leader of the Opposition, once called the amount of abortion procedures performed in Australia a “national tragedy”. Let’s make sure that the trend towards restricting our reproductive rights doesn’t follow in Australia.
To take a cue from Rep. Lisa Brown in her speech to the Michigan House: And finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.
And if you haven’t seen this video, you should most definitely give it a watch.
* ‘Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Incidence, Trends, Consequences, and Challenges’ Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada by Iqbal Shah and Elisabeth Ahman, December 2009
** ‘Unsafe Abortion: The Preventable Epidemic’ World Health Organisation Journal Paper by David A Grimes, Susheela Singh, Mariana Romero, Bela Ganatra, Friday E Okonofua, Iqbal H Shah, October 2006