Tag Archives: reproductive choice

Deadly backstreet abortions to rise with Trump restrictions

Thousands of women will die from unsafe abortions and millions will have unwanted pregnancies following President Donald Trump’s decision to ban U.S.-funded groups from discussing abortion, activists said this week.

Trump reinstated the so-called global gag rule, affecting U.S. non-governmental organizations working abroad, to signal his opposition to abortion, which is difficult to access legally in many developing countries due to restrictive laws, stigma and poverty.

“Women will go back to unsafe abortion again,” said Kenyan campaigner Rosemary Olale, who teaches teenage girls in Nairobi slums about reproductive health. “You will increase the deaths.”

The East African nation has one of world’s highest abortion rates and most abortions are unsafe and a leading cause of preventable injury and death among women, government data shows.

Globally, 21.6 million women have unsafe abortions each year, nine out of 10 of which take place in developing countries, according the World Health Organization.

The gag rule, formally known as the Mexico City Policy, prevents charities receiving U.S. funding from performing or telling women about legal options for abortion, even if they use separate money for abortion services, counseling or referrals.

It will hit major reproductive health charities, such as International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International, as the United States is the world’s largest bilateral family planning donor.

Unless it receives alternative funding to support its services, MSI estimates there will be 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths during Trump’s first term that could have been prevented.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for women and also very necessary public health intervention,” said Maaike van Min, MSI’s London-based strategy director.

MSI has been receiving $30 million per year in U.S. Agency for International Development funding to provide 1.5 million women in more than a dozen countries with family planning services.

It will have to cut these services unless it finds other donors, the charity said.

“Women won’t be able to finish their education (or) pursue the career that they might have, because they don’t have control over their fertility,” said van Min.

“Aid is under pressure everywhere in the world and so finding donors who have the ability to fund this gap is going to be challenging.”

INHUMAN

Women who live in remote areas without government services will suffer most, van Min said, highlighting mothers in Nigeria and Madagascar where MIS has large programs.

“If they don’t now control their fertility, they are at high risk for maternal mortality,” she said. “I remember this lady who had had too many pregnancies and she came up to me … in this village and she was like: ‘Can you make it stop?'”

Other important health services are also likely to be cut, said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director for the Center for Reproductive Rights advocacy group, recalling the large number of facilities that closed down in Kenya after President George W. Bush came to power in 2001 and reinstated the gag rule.

“They refused to adhere to the global gag rule so they lost quite a substantial amount of funding,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“They were also forced to drastically reduce other services that they were providing, including for survivors of sexual violence (and) for HIV.”

Abortion rates across sub-Saharan Africa increased during the Bush administration, according to a WHO study.

“It’s really unfortunate that the lives and the health of so many women are subject to the whims of American politics,” Opondo said. “This is really unethical, if not inhuman.”

Reporting by Neha Wadekar; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ros Russell. This report is from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.

Activists predict abortion to be hot topic in 2016 campaigns

With a deeper-than-ever split between Republicans and Democrats over abortion, activists on both sides of the debate foresee a 2016 presidential campaign in which the nominees tackle the volatile topic more aggressively than in past elections.

Friction over the issue also is likely to surface in key Senate races. And the opposing camps will be further energized by Republican-led congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood and by Supreme Court consideration of tough anti-abortion laws in Texas.

“It’s an amazing convergence of events,” said Charmaine Yoest, CEO of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life. “We haven’t seen a moment like this for 40 years.”

In the presidential race, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a longtime defender of abortion rights and has voiced strong support for Planned Parenthood — a major provider of abortions, health screenings and contraceptives — it is assailed by anti-abortion activists and Republican officeholders.

In contrast, nearly all of the GOP candidates favor overturning the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Some of the top contenders – including Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – disapprove of abortions even in cases of rape and incest.

“We may very well have the most extreme Republican presidential nominee since Roe – a nominee who’s not in favor of abortion in any possible way,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. The organization, which supports female candidates who back abortion rights, says it is en route to breaking its fundraising records. A similar claim is made by some anti-abortion political action groups.

What’s changed for this election? One factor is the increased polarization of the two major parties. Only a handful of anti-abortion Democrats and abortion-rights Republicans remain in Congress, and recent votes attempting to ban late-term abortions and halt federal funding to Planned Parenthood closely followed party lines.

Another difference: Republicans in the presidential field and in Congress seem more willing than in past campaigns to take the offensive on abortion-related issues. Past nominees George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney opposed abortion but were not as outspoken as some of the current GOP candidates.

“Abortion will bubble over into the general election,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports female candidates opposed to abortion. “If you don’t know how to handle this issue, you will be eviscerated.”

As the campaign unfolds, other factors will help keep the abortion debate in the spotlight.

The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments, probably in March, regarding a Texas law enacted in 2013 that would force numerous abortion clinics to close. One contested provision requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers; another says doctors performing abortions at clinics must have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The Texas dispute will have echoes in other states as social conservatives lobby for more laws restricting abortion. Americans United for Life plans a multistate push for a package of bills called the Infants’ Protection Project; one measure would ban abortions performed because of fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome while another would ban abortions after five months of pregnancy.

Also unfolding during the campaign will be a new investigation launched by House Republicans to examine the practices of Planned Parenthood and other major abortion providers. The panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, says its work will likely continue past Election Day.

The investigation — denounced by Democrats as a partisan witch hunt — is among several congressional and state probes resulting from the release of undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists. They claim the videos show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law; Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing and says the programs in question at a handful of its clinics entailed legal donations of fetal tissue.

Cruz is among many Republicans who have already passed judgment on Planned Parenthood, calling it “an ongoing criminal enterprise.” He welcomed the endorsement of anti-abortion activist Troy Newman, who helped orchestrate the undercover video operation.

Donald Trump, who leads the GOP presidential polls, has been harder to pin down on the issue. He describes himself as “pro-life” and open to defunding Planned Parenthood, while acknowledging that he held different views in the past.

Planned Parenthood’s leaders say a majority of U.S. voters oppose efforts to cut off its federal funding, most of which subsidizes non-abortion health services for patients on Medicaid. Planned Parenthood’s political action fund hopes to spend a record amount – more than $15 million – on election-related advocacy.

The fund’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, contends that some GOP presidential hopefuls, including Cruz and Rubio, may have hurt their general election prospects by making strong bids for anti-abortion votes in the primaries.

“They’ve gone so far out on the limb that they won’t be able to crawl back,” she said.

National polls over the years show the American public deeply divided on abortion. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Dec. 22 found 58 percent of U.S. adults saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 39 percent saying it should be illegal in most or all cases. Forty-five percent viewed Planned Parenthood favorably; 30 percent unfavorably.

Abortion and Planned Parenthood are likely to surface as divisive issues in several of the races that will decide control of the Senate.

New Hampshire features an intriguing race between two women. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, a supporter of abortion rights, hopes to unseat GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte, who is endorsed by anti-abortion groups and favors halting Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.

Other key Senate races likely to feature sharp divisions over abortion include those in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin and the crucial presidential battleground of Ohio, where GOP incumbent Rob Portman is expected to be challenged by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

Supreme Court will hear first abortion case since 2007

The Supreme Court is giving an election-year hearing to a dispute over state regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s first abortion case in eight years.

The justices will hear arguments, probably in March, over a Texas law that would leave only about 10 abortion clinics open across the state. A decision should come by late June, four months before the presidential election.

The issue split the court 5-4 the last time the justices decided an abortion case in 2007, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to hold the controlling vote on a divided court.

The case tests whether tough new standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them are reasonable measures intended to protect women’s health or a pretext designed to make abortions hard, if not impossible, to obtain.

Texas clinics challenged the 2013 law as a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The high court previously blocked parts of the Texas law. The court took no action on a separate appeal from Mississippi, where a state law would close the only abortion clinic, in Jackson.

States have enacted a wave of measures in recent years that have placed restrictions on when in a pregnancy abortions may be performed, imposed limits on abortions using drugs instead of surgery and raised standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them.

The new case concerns the last category. In Texas, the fight is over two provisions of the law that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2013. One requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers. The other allows doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Twenty-two states have surgical center requirements for abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Eleven states impose admitting privileges requirements on doctors who perform abortions in clinics, the institute said.

The measures go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety because the risks from abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed, are minimal, the institute said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is one of several states that have enacted “sham laws” to restrict access to abortion.” This law does not advance women’s health and in fact undermines it,” Northup said.

There is no dispute that the law has had a significant impact on Texas clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the clinic law. More than half of those closed when the admitting privileges requirement was allowed to take effect. Nineteen clinics remain.

Northup said the effect of the law has been to increase wait times for women in the Dallas area from an average of five days to 20 days.

The focus of the dispute at the Supreme Court is whether the law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. If allowed to take full effect, the law would leave no abortion clinics west of San Antonio and only one operating on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.

The state has argued that women in west Texas already cross into New Mexico to obtain abortions at a clinic in suburban El Paso.

In its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court ruled that states generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places an undue burden on women. Casey was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates because it ended up reaffirming the constitutional right to an abortion that the court established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2007, a divided court upheld a federal law that bans an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and opened the door to new limits on abortion.

Kennedy was one of three authors of the Casey opinion and he wrote the majority opinion in 2007.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown an edge for abortion rights. Fifty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in January and February.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 15-274.

Republicans push anti-abortion bill through House on Roe v. Wade anniversary

With thousands of abortion protesters swarming the city in their annual March for Life, Republicans muscled broadened abortion restrictions through the House on Jan. 22 after a GOP rebellion forced leaders into a retreat on an earlier version.

By a near party-line 242-179 vote, the House voted to permanently forbid federal funds for most abortion coverage. The bill would also block tax credits for many people and employers who buy abortion coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

A White House veto threat and an uncertain fate in the Senate mean the legislation has no realistic chance of becoming law. But on a day when crowds of anti-abortion demonstrators stretched for blocks outside Capitol windows – and hours after the embarrassing GOP stumble on another abortion measure – the vote let party leaders signal that the Congress they now command is at least trying to end abortion.

The GOP’s passage of one bill and the abrupt derailment of another forbidding most late-term abortions underscored the party’s perilous balancing act of backing abortion restrictions crucial to conservatives while not alienating women and younger voters wary of such restrictions.

Obama, out West to promote his State of the Union economic agenda, embraced the same 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion that the protesters were vilifying.

He said the decision in the Roe v. Wade case “reaffirms a fundamental American value: that government should not intrude in our most private and personal family matters.” He said the House-passed bill would “intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have today.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio praised the marchers in a written statement that also seemed to acknowledge discord among Republicans.

“This march is part of a longer one, and our destination is clear: to secure and protect the rights of every unborn child. When there is disagreement, we should pause and listen closely. When there is movement, we should rejoice, and the House’s vote to ban taxpayer funding of abortion is cause for doing so,” he said.

Even so, the GOP sidetracking of the late-term abortion measure sparked grumbling from politically potent allies.

In a sharp statement that singled out Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and others, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias criticized GOP dissenters on the late-term bill and warned, “Some of these lawmakers may ultimately conclude that they were ill advised to sacrifice the trust of their pro-life constituents so egregiously.”

Ellmers, who has had a strong anti-abortion voting record, was among those who had objected to portions of the late-term abortion bill. Her spokeswoman, Blair Ellis, declined to comment.

Dozens of protesters visited her Capitol Hill office on Jan. 22 to protest her role in scuttling that measure.

On the House floor, a debate that has raged virtually every year for decades was emotional, as usual.

“Abortion is not health care. It’s a brutal procedure that ends lives of unborn children,” said Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa.

“I urge my colleagues to stand with the hundreds of thousands of people out on the Mall right now by voting for this bill,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Democrats said such talk showed that Republicans were willing to subjugate women’s rights to political pandering to the crowds outside.

“Women’s rights should not be theater, it shouldn’t be drama,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.

The debate took a turn for the personal when Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., referred to “hypocrites on the other side of the aisle who have counseled their own girl friends to have abortions. It’s legal.”

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a doctor who opposes abortion rights, once urged a patient he was dating to seek an abortion. His aides did not return phone and email requests for comment.

Outside, thousands of demonstrators trudged up Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court in protest of the justices’ legalization of abortion exactly 42 years ago. Some wore religious garb while others carried signs with messages ranging from “I am a voice for the voiceless” to “Thank God my mom’s pro-life.”

No. 4 House GOP leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told the crowd that her 7-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, has intensified her commitment to the anti-abortion fight.

The approved bill would permanently block federal money for nearly all abortions – a prohibition in effect for decades but one which Congress must renew yearly. Rape and incest victims and women whose lives were in danger would be exempted.

The bill would also bar individuals and some employers from earning tax credits for insurance plans covering abortion that they pay for privately and obtain through exchanges established under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It would also block the District of Columbia from using its money to cover abortions for lower-income women.

The vote came hours after GOP leaders indefinitely abandoned a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, retreating in the face of a revolt by women and other Republican lawmakers that left them short of votes.

GOP leaders had planned a House vote on that bill Thursday. But rebellious Republicans complained that while the measure exempted victims of rape and incest, it did so only if those women had previously reported the assaults to authorities.

Republican leaders flinched at the prospect of forcing passage of anti-abortion legislation opposed by GOP women.

Abortion opponents push new bills in state legislatures

Buoyed by conservative gains in the November 2014 election, foes of abortion are mobilizing on behalf of bills in several state legislatures that would further curtail women’s access to the procedure.

On both sides of the debate, activists are highlighting their hopes and concerns in conjunction with today’s 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a nationwide right to abortion.

Coinciding with the annual March for Life in Washington, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had planned a debate today on a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. However, the House leadership decided late Jan. 21 to scrap those plans after objections from Republican women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.

Several proposed bills at the state level may have a better chance of enactment.

Notable among them is a first-of-its-kind measure being drafted in Kansas, with the backing of the National Right to Life Committee, which would ban doctors from using forceps, tongs or other medical implements to dismember a living fetus in the womb to complete an abortion.

Proponents have titled the bill the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act and say it targets a procedure used in about 8 percent of abortions in Kansas. “Dismemberment abortion kills a baby by tearing her apart limb from limb,” said National Right to Life’s director of state legislation, Mary Spaulding Balch, who hopes the Kansas bill will be emulated in other states.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has vowed to fight the bill “every step of the way.” “Kansas women are smart enough to make their own decisions about their families and their lives,” said a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, Elise Higgins.

Among other measures surfacing in state legislatures:

• Bills in West Virginia and South Carolina that would — like the measure in the U.S. House — ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. A similar bill was vetoed in West Virginia last year by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, but Republicans now control both chambers of the legislature and may have better prospects for overriding another veto.

• A bill in Arkansas that would require women seeking abortion-inducing medication to take it in the presence of a doctor. Supporters of the bill say they want to prevent any instances of abortion medication being administered from afar by a physician using video conferencing technology.

• A bill in Mississippi that would increase the minimum waiting time from 24 hours to 72 hours before a woman could obtain an abortion.

• A bill in Missouri that would require pregnant women to get permission from the fathers before having abortions, except in cases of rape and incest.

• Several anti-abortion measures are expected in Tennessee, where voters in November overturned a court ruling holding that abortion was protected by the state constitution as part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy.

According to abortion rights groups, about 230 laws restricting abortion have been enacted nationwide in the past four years.

Activists on both sides of the issue suggest there might be fewer such bills winning approval this year, in part because some conservative states already have adopted the most common restrictive laws and in part because of political caution by GOP leaders in swing states.

“There are some politicians who’d rather not take a position on any controversial issue, especially when they’re looking for higher office,” said Spaulding Balch.

Jennifer Dalven, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, suggested that some of the Republican governors and other GOP leaders eying presidential runs in 2016 may shy away from backing some of the toughest anti-abortion measures.

“Politicians are starting to understand this is politically toxic,” she said. “They can’t win if they are seen as wanting to take this decision out of women’s hands.”

Several of the most sweeping measures passed by state lawmakers in recent years have been blocked by court rulings and remain in limbo. These include a Texas law imposing regulations that could force many abortion clinics to close, an Arkansas law that would ban most abortions after 12 weeks and a North Dakota law that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood: Walker policy forces Fond du Lac health center to close

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin announced on Sept. 26 that it closed its fifth family planning health center — a center in Fond du Lac County — as “a direct consequence of Gov. Scott Walker’s targeted elimination of all state funds supporting preventative patient care at Planned Parenthood in the state budget.”

A news release from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said all of the impacted health centers provided “essential health care including breast and cervical cancer screens, health exams, birth control and testing and treatment of STD’s to women in need of affordable reproductive care. None of the affected health centers provided abortion services or referrals due to state laws that prohibit the use of state funds for anything abortion related.”

Walker and Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature targeted cuts for thousands of low income and uninsured patients at Planned Parenthood because of their opposition to birth control and abortion services provided at three Planned Parenthood locations.

Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said on Sept. 26, “It is disheartening that 36 years of essential health care benefiting more than 36,000 women and men in the Fond du Lac community would be stopped by those with a political agenda. For some of our patients, Planned Parenthood was their only health care provider and a referral source to other community resources providing medical care, health insurance, food assistance and housing support. Knowing the need and value of this care for so many women and families, it is troubling that Gov. Walker would eliminate this essential health care.”

Katherine Meine, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood, added, “Over the years, we have come to know many of our patients on a deeply personal level. From holding the hand of a patient concerned about a lump in her breast or helping a woman understand her diagnostic and treatment options following a positive cervical cancer screen, we have been there with our patients during difficult times. Women’s health matters to us, our patients, their families and the majority in the community and should not be treated like a political game.”

Patient Liza Durkin said the governor “just doesn’t care about people like me when he takes away affordable health care I rely on.” She said her health affairs “shouldn’t be a political issue” for Scott Walker.

Atkinson, in the news release, reminded Planned Parenthood supporters that Walker is facing re-election on Nov. 4.

She said, “This November, we hope people will join with us and vote for Mary Burke, a candidate who shares our values and cares about healthy families and communities.”

Need help?

Fond du Lac patients should call 800-230-PLAN or visit www.ppwi.org to find their nearest health center. Planned Parenthood’s health centers in West Bend, Oshkosh and Sheboygan remain open.

U.S. has no moral authority concerning violence against women

Two unspeakably cruel incidents that recently occurred half a world apart are terrifying reminders of the world’s growing misogyny. 

On May 23, in the upscale environs of Santa Barbara, California, a 22-year-old man went on a deadly stabbing and shooting spree that left six University of California, Santa Barbara, students dead and another 13 young people wounded. The provocation for Elliott Rodger’s attack, as outlined in his 137-page “manifesto” was to punish attractive women for not dating him.

In faraway India, where the rape, torture and killing of women has seemingly become a national pastime, two girls — ages 14 and 15 — were gang-raped, tortured and hanged. The latest (as of this writing) Indian atrocity occurred in a rural area where girls are forced to go outdoors at night to relieve themselves, due to the lack of indoor plumbing. That’s what led the girls outdoors for the final time on May 30.

Indian authorities, who seem reluctant to prosecute male perpetrators, have reportedly responded more tepidly than usual to this case, because the girls were from a low caste. 

In Nigeria, 300 schoolgirls who were abducted for the sin of seeking an education have remained missing since early May. Sympathizers of the girls say law-enforcement officials have declined to make any serious effort to locate them; instead the government has banned protests on behalf of the girls. Many Nigerians fear the girls were sold into sexual slavery — an increasingly common practice.

Here at home, one out of every five American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape (girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims). But including unreported rapes, only about 6 percent of rapists serve time in prison, and 15 out of 16 perpetrators walk free.

More than three U.S. women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Women serving in the U.S. military were more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. 

Is there any connection between the growing violence toward women and the political “war on women” in the United States? In the last four years, Republican leaders (including here in Wisconsin) have abolished pay equity laws for women, and conservatives have sued to prevent health insurance providers from paying for women’s birth control. Republican leaders “slut shame” women who demand access to affordable birth control and foam at the mouth over use of the word “vagina” in public, even as they seek to put every vagina in America under their control.

The rise of anti-feminism on America’s political right prevents us from convincingly shaking a finger at the atrocities against women elsewhere in the world. 

Once people looked to the U.S. as a leader in justice and fairness. But when it comes to the treatment of women, our nation appears to be heading in the direction of the primitive barbarity of other nations rather than securing and protecting women’s rights.

UN document promotes equality for women. Took heated debate to get there

After two weeks of heated debate, liberal and conservative countries over the weekend approved a U.N. document to promote equality for women that reaffirms the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and endorses sex education for adolescents.

The 24-page final declaration approved by consensus on March 22 by the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women expresses deep concern that overall progress toward the U.N. goal of gender equality and empowerment of women remains “slow and uneven”

The commission said “the feminization of poverty persists” and reaffirmed that equality for women is essential for sustained economic development.

It called for equality, empowerment and human rights for women to be a major plank in new U.N. development goals expected to be adopted next year.

For more progressive countries, there was relief that there was no back-pedaling on international recognition of women’s reproductive and sexual rights and access to health services in the final document.

It calls for “universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, information and education.”

This should include “safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programs for adolescent pregnancy … (and) safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law,” the document says.

Egyptian minister and women’s rights activist Mervat Tallawy, who led the country’s delegation, said the final document reaffirmed all the gains women made at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo and the 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing.

“We will never give in to the prevailing web of conservatism against women in all regions of the world,” Tallawy said to thunderous applause. “We shall not allow fundamentalists and extreme groups to disarm women from their rights.”

“I am speaking for all the women of the world. We will continue to struggle for our rights,” Tallawy concluded to sustained applause that was finally cut off by the chair.

Delegates said the final vote was delayed because Russia at the last minute tried to insert a reference to sovereignty. It did not succeed.

Conservative countries did succeed in blocking any reference to different forms of the family, or to problems that women face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The document recognizes the family as a contributor to the development of girls and women.

U.S. representative Terri Robl welcomed the final conclusions and the commission’s “commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice, which for too long has denied many women and girls the ability to contribute to economic growth and development.”

But she expressed regret that the commission “did not explicitly acknowledge the vulnerabilities confronting women and adolescents as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On the sensitive issue of sex education, the document calls for the development and implementation of educational programs for human sexuality, “based on full and accurate information, for all adolescents and youth … with the appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians.”

Among those expressing reservations about sex education after the document was approved were Qatar, Malta, the Holy See and Pakistan.

The commission also called for an end to early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Qatar asked for a definition of “early.”

Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, said: “The commission recognized that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment and equal pay, and to live free of violence.”

“We have achieved what we came to do against great odds and the determined attempts by the Holy See and a few conservative countries to once again turn back the clock on women’s rights,” Kowalski said.

Nuns question Catholic opposition to Affordable Care Act

The National Coalition of American Nuns, in an open letter released on Jan. 27, questioned why Catholic institutions are challenging the federal Affordable Care Act.

In the letter, the group expressed dismay at opposition to the health care law from the Little Sisters of the Poor-Colorado, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations.

The nuns, in the statement, said, “Spurred on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

The letter went on to state, NCAN strongly supports Reproductive Justice which includes a woman’s right to choose what is best for her body including contraceptives.

“In its endorsement of the Affordable Care Act, NCAN believes that women should not be singled out by any organization or group through its refusal to insure a woman’s reproductive needs. This violates the equality given to all men and women who embrace this country’s laws, which are passed to preserve this very equality.”

The group said, “We support women as moral agents able to make the right choices for their own bodies. We also know that women do not have full membership in churches and societies that keep women and our daughters poor and separated because of their gender. A society or church that disregards a person because of her gender does this to all of its members.”

NCAN’s stated goal is “to study, work and speak out on issues of justice in society and church.” The group was founded in 1969 and it has more than 2,000 members.

On the Web …

http://www.ncan.us