October 6, 2015 — In an opinion piece for Foreign Policy in Focus, columnist Nathalie Baptiste marks Sept. 28 as the day of action for abortion-rights supporters by discussing the "difficult global climate" they face, writing, "Whether it's a total ban or laws that make it virtually impossible to obtain an abortion -- like in certain states in the U.S. -- abortion rights are under attack in every part of the globe."
She cites the most recent data from the Center for Reproductive Rights, stating, "Every year 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions -- most of them in the 66 countries that ban the procedure outright or the 59 others who limit its application to a strict set of medical circumstances."
Abortion Bans, Globally
Baptiste writes about the abortion restrictions in Catholic countries, including the abortion ban in El Salvador, where "suicide is far and away the leading cause of death for pregnant women and girls between the ages of 10 and 19," accounting "for 57 percent of all deaths in that group." She writes, "Women suspected of having an abortion, even those who miscarry, can be thrown in jail."
Baptiste also points to the abortion bans in Ireland, where a woman, "who was suffering a miscarriage, died from blood poisoning after being denied an abortion," and in Haiti, where an abortion ban makes women who have taken medication abortion -- which is "easily purchased" despite the ban -- afraid to seek out medical help if complications arise.
Baptiste also cites similar bans "in conservative Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Yemen; Buddhist-majority countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand; and many other Christian or animist-leaning states, such as Uganda, South Sudan, and Papua New Guinea."
U.S. Restrictions Hamper Abortion Access Around the World
Baptiste continues, "Even women who live in countries where abortion is legal often face obstacles to obtaining safe abortions -- thanks, in part, to the United States."
According to Baptiste, "anti-choice lawmakers have sought to erode abortion access ever since" the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, "particularly with two federal amendments passed shortly after the ruling." One amendment, called the Hyde Amendment, "prohibits federal funds from being used to finance most abortions, which limits access to federal workers insured through the government, as well as to poorer people who rely on Medicaid and other federal health programs for care."
Meanwhile, the second amendment, called the Helms amendment, "prohibits the use of U.S. foreign aid to 'pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning,' or even to provide standard counseling services that could be construed to 'motivate or coerce any person to practice abortion' -- a provision which, in practice, limits support for a range of family planning services." According to Baptiste, "The [Helms] amendment, which essentially exports anti-choice policies from the United States, has dangerous repercussions in the developing world."
She quotes CRR's Aram Schvey, who said, "'The administration has continued to treat the Helms amendment as though it were a total ban, and maintained a de facto blanket prohibition on the use of foreign assistance to support safe abortion services.'" Baptiste cites Schvey's argument that "'[s]ome of the most vulnerable women overseas, including, for instance, those who have been raped in situations of armed conflict, or who face a life-threatening pregnancy -- are less likely to be able to access care as a result of this U.S. policy, undermining our foreign-policy goals of promoting gender equality and global health.'"
According to Schvey, the amendment "primarily affects disenfranchised and vulnerable poor women in those poor countries." Schvey states, "The inability of women to access safe abortion services is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year, and many more injuries," adding, "In contrast, safe abortion is extremely safe -- and carries a much lower risk of injury than childbirth."
Planned Parenthood Defunding Efforts Target U.S. Abortion Access
Baptiste also writes about abortion restrictions in the U.S., where antiabortion-rights state lawmakers "have been wielding their power to make abortion access as difficult as possible" by enacting "creative" restrictions such as "[mandatory delays], mandatory counseling, and requiring abortion clinics to follow unnecessarily strict rules." She cites data showing that "[a]s of 2013, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 lived in states that have four or more abortion restrictions."
According to Baptiste, "The problem has exploded anew at the federal level ever since the misnamed Center for Medical Progress released heavily edited 'sting' videos of Planned Parenthood employees talking about fetal tissue donations." She writes that while "every independent investigation has cleared the organization of any wrongdoing," conservative lawmakers are "calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood ... and threatened a government shutdown unless Congress votes to strip millions of women of their access to contraception, breast cancer screenings, pap smears, HIV tests, and other health services."
Baptiste concludes, "Whether it happens here or abroad, denying a woman the right to choose what's best for her own body is a human rights violation -- and it's not only happening in poor or religiously conservative countries with anti-choice policies" (Baptiste, Foreign Policy in Focus, 10/2).