The Assault On Planned Parenthood: A Long Campaign Against Reproductive Rights

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, a move deemed necessary to ensure no taxpayer dollars were used on abortion despite existing federal legislation which prohibits funds granted under Title X from paying for such services.

This vote, a “culmination of a multi-year effort that involved parallel action by top Republicans and conservative media operatives,” relied on the work of anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, President and founder of Live Action, an organization through which she sought to “take out Planned Parenthood” ahead of the 2012 Presidential election by teaming up with disgraced far-right activist James O’Keefe to produce a series of undercover ‘sting’ videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff “willing to assist sex trafficking and exploitations of minors and young women.”

Rose’s elaborate production was eventually exposed for the lie it was — manipulated segments of video spliced to create exchanges which never occurred, or to misrepresent things which were said.

Even so, the ruse was – and still is – championed as a credible exposé within the complex network of organizations which make up the greater anti-abortion lobby, with the disproven allegations repeated by influential anti-abortion leaders including Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue: a militant organization infamous for their relentless campaign against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, one which only ended after Scott Roeder, an Operation Rescue fanatic, pursued Tiller to his church and shot him to death as Sunday services began.

A longtime admirer of Rose’s efforts – Rose was named Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year in 2008 for her then-early campaign against Planned Parenthood – Newman helped Live Action’s (now former) research director David Daleiden, business partner of Rose and close friend of O’Keefe, establish a new operation from which to launch a fresh assault against Planned Parenthood, providing “consultation services” and both “financial and material support” to the Live Action off-shoot Center for Medical Progress.

In addition to Newman’s professional guidance and financial support, both Rose and Daleiden were students of Mark Crutcher, president and founder of Life Dynamics Inc., a radical anti-abortion operation whose “professional counter-intelligence … intelligence-gathering” methods – including the covert recording of abortion providers and subsequent manipulating of audio/video to fabricate criminal wrongdoing – have become the activists’ MO.

Much like Rose’s failed 2011 Live Action ‘sting’, Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress string of videos are heavily-edited, with exchanges intentionally doctored to grossly misrepresent the context of conversations in order to satisfy a narrative being sold. In this case, that Planned Parenthood is trafficking fetuses, “selling baby parts,” for profit.

The sophisticated, coordinated pre-election rollout and subsequent reaction by conservative media and lawmakers mirrors that of 2011, right down to another procedural vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Though passing the House in 2011, nothing became of the vote, and the renewed effort was defeated in the Senate.

And just as Planned Parenthood was cleared of the allegations levelled in 2011, the current round of increasingly-hyperbolic accusations have already been thoroughly, and repeatedly, disproved.

In full accordance with the law – one which has long-enjoyed broad bipartisan support – women who undergo an abortion can choose to donate usable tissue toward science. Fetal tissue is unique and provides a crucial form of stem cells without which public health advances – the eradication of polio, for instance – would not have been possible.

Planned Parenthood is not selling fetal specimens, which, it’s important to note, are acquired with the full consent of those terminating a pregnancy, be it a medically-necessary referral or an elective procedure. Nor do clinics profit from the donation of fetal tissue.

Despite claims to the contrary, abortion services are not the driving force behind Planned Parenthood, nor are they performed for monetary gain (profit) or as a means of facilitating ‘immoral’ and ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (abortion on-demand as a recreational activity).

Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of high-quality, affordable health care to both men and women across America. In addition to the sexual health and reproductive services — screening and treatment for STIs, low- or no-cost reversible contraception (condoms, birth control, IUDs) and emergency contraception (Plan B), family planning and counselling, including pregnancy guidance and support, pre- and post-natal care, access to adoption services, and sexual education — Planned Parenthood offers a range of general health services, such as screening for breast and cervical cancer, and public immunizations.

Abortions account for only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities, and the most recent comprehensive report on induced abortion in the United States found 92% of all abortions occur within the first 13-weeks of pregnancy — only 1.2% occur at or after 21-weeks.

That 20-week mark is a crucial point of contention for anti-abortion activists who, unable to overturn Roe v. Wade, have sought to outlaw the procedure beyond 20-weeks, often without exception — meaning in the case of rape or incest, even if the victim is a child, the pregnancy must, by law, be carried to term.

Beyond the 20-week limit, activists push lawmakers to enact TRAP laws: impose redundant and wholly irrelevant requirements on abortion providers and clinics to regulate them out of service.

It’s the network of anti-abortion organizations who organize and finance the activist campaigns, and which reward the politicians who enact the legislative changes demanded.

Though hardly as influential north of the border, this cabal spans across Canada, sharing resources, swapping speakers, providing on-demand ‘experts,’ and partnering in campaigns  – including the effort against Planned Parenthood – with organizational allies.

Both Live Action and Operation Rescue are revered by Canada’s anti-abortion activists, and two prominent figures – Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), representing the “educational arm of the pro-life movement” and Alissa Golob, Executive Director of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Youth, representing the “political arm of the pro-life movement” — the pair behind the graphic #no2Trudeau anti-abortion campaign – recently shared a stage with Operation Rescue’s President, one of the old hands working the strings behind the curtains of the series of video ‘stings;’ controlling the dance of the new, fresh-faced anti-abortion marionettes.

Newman was a keynote speaker at this year’s CLC Youth Banquet (Rose had the honour in 2010), a companion event to the annual March For Life on Parliament Hill. Buried among the litany of hyperbole and flat-out lies about abortion and the medical professionals who provide them – absurd allegations found in the hysterical, low-budget pseudo-documentary Bloodmoney, a film championed by CLC, CCBR and their anti-abortion affiliates, and treated as gospel by Golob – Newman tipped his hand on the upcoming strategy against abortion providers.

As reported by those in attendance:

Because abortion is an immoral activity, Newman and his fellow pro-life activists suspected other immoral activity would also take place in and around the abortion industry and Operation Rescue aimed to uncover and expose malfeasance and criminal activity. “The job is to point out the true villains … to put them in orange jumpsuits and put them behind bars.”

Ironic that Newman chose the following quote to motivate the CLC audience: “In times of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A more fitting Orwell citation, and perhaps the most succinct summary of the ongoing quest to not only destroy Planned Parenthood, but to rescind advances in public health and personal freedoms gained through the liberalization of sexual and reproductive rights: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

Abortion rates are lowest where the procedure is legal — where laws regarding the practise are the least-restrictive and women have relatively-easy access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Of course, the most effective anti-abortion strategy is contraception; a woman need not seek to terminate an unintended pregnancy if she’s able to prevent the pregnancy from the start.

It’s telling, then, that those dedicated to the cause of ending abortion are the ones working to ensure demand for the procedure never fades.

For instance, in 2009, Colorado launched a state health initiative specifically targeted at combating the soaring rate of teen pregnancies. Funded entirely by a private donor over 5-years, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low- or no-cost to women across 68 family-planning clinics.

The result was astounding: By 2013, the teen-birth rate plummeted by 40%; the abortion rate dropped even further, falling a full 42% from its previous demand.

As noted in the New York Times:

The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control is a powerful tool to prevent it.

Still, when presented with the irrefutable data, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for the Colorado branch of Focus On The Family – a powerful organization within the anti-abortion Religious Right – rejected the findings.

“What we have seen over many years is that access to contraception does not equal fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions,” Earll told the Denver Post. “Availability of contraception leads to increased sexual activity, which leads to unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

And thanks in part to lobbying by Focus On The Family, rather than continuing to fund the proven-effective program, the Republican-controlled state Senate killed the program this past May.

It’s this factsbedamned ideology which drives the anti-abortion coalition, and which leads its members to adhere to an increasingly-nonsensical script.

In 2010, when the Canadian Paediatric Society recommended adolescent health care providers counsel patients on emergency contraception – specifically, Plan B, which does not abort a pregnancy, but prevents it – Golob (as noted above, CLC activist and co-founder of the #No2Trudeau campaign) was incensed. She claimed health care providers mentoring their patients with regards to reproductive options was “a recipe for enabling child rapists to continue sexually assaulting young girls behind their parents’ backs.”

She questioned the “highly suspicious” motives of the Canadian Paediatric Society, claiming doctors would be “profiting off minors who are more than likely going to return because they have some kind of STD, pregnancy etc.”

In a 2012 interview, when asked how sex education “affects the youth’s understanding of sexuality, chastity, and contraception,” Golob responded:

“Sex education that promotes contraception, inevitably promotes promiscuity and abortion. Former abortionist Carol Everett said in the documentary Blood Money, ‘We had a whole plan to sell abortions and it was called sex education. Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values, and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us. We would give them a low dosage birth control pill they would get pregnant on, or a defective condom. Our goal was three to five abortions from every girl between the ages of 13 and 19.’

Furthermore, a study done in 1999 by the British Journal Education and Health found that government policies that focus on providing family planning, or contraception and abortion, have failed to have any impact on teenage pregnancy rates. Despite the millions of pounds spent in government initiatives over the last four decades pregnancy rates among teenaged girls aged 13-16 have remained steady, while abortion rates have gone up.”

Keep in mind, it’s Golob and her associates who travel across Canada to ‘educate’ Catholic students on issues regarding sex, contraception, and abortion. (Abstinence only!)

Her organization is also one leading the charge against the Ontario government’s new sex-ed curriculum. One only need visit CLC’s website to see just how astoundingly inaccurate and wholly irresponsible their claims are in their push for abstinence-only education — dangerous misinformation which is prevalent throughout the site, such as the promotion of ‘reparative’ therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality, the presentation of long-debunked health claims regarding birth control and abortion, and the dissemination of anti-vax propaganda to discourage Catholic School boards from implementing the HPV vaccine program.

Planned Parenthood’s Canadian branches, on the other hand – in addition to the exceptional counselling services offered – are working to ensure youth are provided the opportunity to benefit from evidence-based, age-appropriate sexual education.

Lauren Dobson-Hughes, President of Planned Parenthood Ottawa (PPO), says her organization is a proud supporter of Ontario’s new curriculum, which “matches what we’ve been teaching for some time.”

“Through our classroom sessions or our Insight Theatre program, PPO’s sex ed is innovative, interactive and engaging. It covers everything from LGBT issues to STIs, consent, sexting, puberty, and healthy relationships … We not only teach the facts, we teach them in a way that’s meaningful. It’s no good knowing the theory if you’re scared to apply it to real life situations.

At the end of every sex ed session, there’s a question box. This is where youth submit their questions anonymously, to be answered in front of the class. And when youth feel safe, they ask questions like this:”

(Actual questions from sixth- and seventh-graders, as evidenced by photos from a PPO session):

If someone you are texting asks you for a picture, how do you let them know you don’t want to?

Is masturbation normal?

What if it doesn’t fit?

Is one boob supposed to be bigger?

Can you get an STI from kissing?

What do I do if one of my friends thinks being gay is wrong?

If someone masturbates are they still a virgin?

What would be a polite way to say no?

What is the appropriate age for sex?

As was the case in 2011 when – citing the U.S. Congressional investigation stemming from Rose’s ‘sting’ – Canadian anti-abortion activists and their allied MPs set out to strip International Planned Parenthood Federation of funds granted through the Harper government’s Muskoka Maternal/Child Health initiative, the network of anti-abortion operations have latched onto the most recent fabrication, and they have Dobson-Hughes’ organization in their crosshairs.

The recent years’ increasingly-contentious environment regarding sexual and reproductive health had already cut into PPO’s funding, and now, in addition to demanding an investigation, opponents have begun intimidating known PPO donors into rescinding their financial support.

Recently, PPO was forced to turn away a woman a woman whose abusive partner was trying to force her to end her pregnancy.

“I never want to have to do that again,” laments Dobson-Hughes, whose organization does not provide abortion services. What they do offer, however, is confidential, unbiased counselling for those seeking sexual and reproductive guidance.

Case in point, as detailed by Dobson-Hughes:

Summer was 17, and heavily pregnant when she saw Planned Parenthood’s counsellor. Summer hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, but growing up in the rural North, she didn’t have the access to contraception she needed. She had received no pre-natal care, had not seen a doctor through her entire pregnancy, and had no financial support. Planned Parenthood’s counsellors worked with Summer, ensuring she got a midwife, helped her access assistance for housing, and connected her with cultural support from her community.

And in the end, that’s who loses the most. As fundamentalist culture-warriors position themselves the moral gatekeepers of society, demanding government “stay out” of their lives while seeking to dictate how others’ lives are lived, it’s people like Summer who bear the brunt of the fallout.

It’s the students who ask “Is it OK to say no?” whose questions go unanswered; adolescents who wonder “Is my body normal?” who are left without resources, and without reassurance.

In America specifically, it’s the lowest-income who cannot otherwise obtain cancer screening or pre- and post-natal services who are left without; it’s those whose only affordable access to contraception and STI screening is through their local Planned Parenthood clinic that are deprived.

Still reeling over the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, forced to watch as their opponents’ victory was celebrated across the world, America’s social conservatives are grasping for relevance, desperate to recover the political influence – reclaim a status – they once boasted.

That they are doing so at the expense of some of society’s most-vulnerable ultimately speaks to the emptiness of their moral crusade.

How you can help:

Donate to Planned Parenthood Ottawa  HERE
Donate to Planned Parenthood USA  HERE

Speak out. Reproductive rights are human rights — If you support a woman’s right to choose, do so with pride and without reservation.

Address This Code

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on May 25, 2015.

In 2013, Kimberly Hall, Director of Women’s Ministry at All Saints Presbyterian Church, wrote an open letter to teen girls who, in her view, were tempting her sons into “impure thoughts” through social media.

“If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole family,” wrote Hall. “The reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons … You don’t want the world to see you primarily in this sexual way, do you? If you post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind), or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – it’s curtains.

“I know that sounds so old-school, but we are hoping to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls … young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds clear, and their thoughts praiseworthy.

“Girls, it’s not too late … run to your accounts and take down the closed-door bedroom selfies that make it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension.

Hall’s missive went viral, and she was lauded as wise and courageous for her temerity in telling this generation of young women how impure they’ve revealed themselves to be; nothing but harlots out to tempt the moral convictions of proper, decent young men.

Rather than helping her sons develop a “strong, moral compass” to navigate relationships, to respect and regard female peers as more than objects of sexual desire, Hall places the onus for her sons’ thoughts and actions on the girls with whom they interact.

Despite Hall’s suggestion, this is not simply “old school” — it’s rape-culture. A mentality so pervasive it’s regularly excused as a norm, most recently demonstrated by a pair of controversies surrounding school dress codes, where uncovered shoulders, a hint of thigh, were deemed “too distracting” for male students who, evidently, cannot achieve academic excellence in the vicinity of female flesh.

In New Brunswick, 17-year-old Lauren Wiggins was given detention for her floor-length halter dress and subsequently suspended for protesting the school’s dress-code double-standard.

Days later, a Guelph-area principal was forced to apologize for advising female students to “dress cool, not skanky.”

Such attitudes not only demean the girls, but they insult their male peers by treating them as incapable of controlling their behaviour.

And by policing attire rather than working to modify improper reactions/interactions, a dangerous, blame-the-vicim mentality is perpetuated.

If we want girls to develop a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect, we must allow them to become comfortable with their bodies; to experiment with different styles, learn what they feel comfortable wearing, including how much – or little – skin they feel confident in baring.

Comprehensive sexual education, as is set to begin across Ontario this fall, can help girls develop this confidence and learn to be the sole keepers of their bodies while, along with their male counterparts, acquire the skills needed to foster healthy friendships and relationships, understand consent, and judge the appropriateness of behaviours — including what a woman’s dress does or does not invite.

Reforming rape-culture, retiring the fetishization of sexual or moral purity – real or perceived – and developing equal standards to which men and women are held may seem a daunting task, but in some instances, much progress can be made by making clear these two simple truths: There is more to a man than his sexual desire; more to a woman than a moment’s attire.

 

In The Fight Against Sex Crimes, We’re All In This Together

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on November 12, 2014 

Late last week, amid the growing scandal surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, buried under the reprehensible politicking and partisan bickering over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations on Parliament Hill, was a remarkable moment of bravery and candour from well-known political commentator and former Parliament Hill staffer Ian Capstick.

A regular contributor to CBC’s Power and Politics media panel, Capstick, while discussing a history of troubling culture experienced by many on the Hill, revealed that as a young staffer he was repeatedly sexually harassed by one MP, and sexually touched by another. Both perpetrators were men, and in neither case did he report the abuse.

Echoing the sentiments of many who posted to the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag – a movement started jointly by retired Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette justice reporter Sue Montgomery – Capstick remained silent due to a sense of powerlessness.

“You feel absolutely without power,” Capstick explained, “to be able to report somebody who is 30 or 40 years your senior, and is perhaps at a status where you just simply, as a 21-year-old, can’t challenge that person.”

Asked by host Evan Solomon what prompted him to divulge such a personal, clearly painful, experience, Capstick cited Zerbisias and her online movement, noting “the bravery of women who have had to go through much, much worse than I ever have,” and that telling their stories allowed for “a very different style of conversation.”

Indeed, what has emerged as a light amid the deluge of trauma is the empowerment of sexual assault survivors — the coming forward, and coming together, of those who’ve long shouldered a common, deeply private burden, and the collective shedding of shame, defiance of stigma, and reclamation of power.

What’s been created is a rare opportunity for constructive dialogue: to discuss boundaries, educate on consent, and shed light on unwelcome behaviours that are often overlooked, seen by many as harmless, not because they’re acceptable, but because they’ve become so commonplace.

This cannot happen, however, when the terms of discussion are dictated by a small, but passionate, segment who, through sweeping assertions that “all men” are equally predatory and are de facto responsible for the behaviour of everyone sharing the gender, unwittingly marginalize an entire group of victims: male survivors of sex crimes.

Men, too, are victims, and are often met with a greater skepticism when allegations of assault – especially at the hands of a woman – are made.

Case in point: Most-“liked” comments under a recent report of an ex-NFL cheerleader’s indictment on charges of raping a minor: “Headline should read: Teen’s Fantasy Fulfilled!” “Raped by NFL cheerleader! Where were they when I was young?” “ Kids have it too good these days!”

Man or woman, gay or straight, old or young, independent or disabled — no survivor is responsible for having been victimized, nor is he or she culpable for whatever societal grievance abusers use to justify their crimes.

A Y-chromosome shouldn’t be an original sin for which carriers must forever repent. No, all men are not responsible for the actions of some.

But all men do, indeed, have a part to play in fighting rape culture, combatting everyday, casual sexism, fostering equality, and teaching their sons – the next generation of men – to do the same.

A deeply ingrained, outdated patriarchal culture can only be uprooted through a collective, unified effort; there can be no substantive change without unwavering, persistent efforts from both sides of the gender divide.

The atmosphere which empowered Capstick to share his experience is precisely the environment needed to advance beyond hashtag-activism toward real-world change. We must shift from talking past each other and begin talking to talking to each other – allowing for input, welcoming questions, listening to concerns – and base the merits of any contribution on its substance rather than the gender of the contributor.

Only then can the seeds of change finally begin to take root.

At The G8, Refusing To Be Silenced On Women’s Rights

A Monday gathering of Canadian and international women’s rights experts on Parliament Hill was intended to discuss Canada’s role in the maternal and child health initiative at the upcoming G8 summit; To voice their concerns over the erosion of gender equality and women’s rights in foreign policy under Stephen Harper, and address the omission of abortion rights in the maternal health initiative.

But rather than taking into consideration the issues brought forward by those in attendance, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth offered some raw advice in an effort to silence further debate on the abortion issue.

“We’ve got five weeks or whatever left until G-8 starts. Shut the fuck up on this issue. Let it roll out. I hope I’m not proven wrong, but I have every confidence that it will include family planning and so on … and I hope I’m right. It’s just, if you push it, there will be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women’s health in this country.”

The threat of potential ‘backlash’ validates the suspicions already percolating throughout various Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), that in criticizing the Harper government you run the risk of having your organization defunded. In fact, over the past two weeks alone, many women’s rights groups have already been stripped of their funding:

-Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW)
-Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)
-Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail (CIAFT)
-New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition,
-Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec
-Alberta Network of Immigrant Women,
-MATCH (30 year old organization fighting for equality for poor women),
-Centre de documentation sur l’éducation des adultes et la condition feminine
-Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFEAS)
-Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH)
-Womenspace Resource Centre (Lethbridge, AB)
-Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy (FemJEPP) in Nova Scotia

The rescinding of federal funds from these organizations strikes an eerie resemblance to George W Bush’s infamous Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which prohibited all federally funded NGOs from performing, promoting, or advocating for abortions in other countries. This poorly conceived policy is supported and promoted by the religious right, where ideology always comes first and scientific fact is often ignored.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated during her appearance at the G8 foreign minister’s meeting, “if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health; and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning, and access to legal, safe abortion.”

In what it bills as ‘The Preventable Pandemic,’ the World Health Organization (WHO) compiled a sobering report on the “urgent public-health and human-rights imperative” of unsafe abortions. The report sheds light on the fact that “unsafe abortion remains one of the most neglected sexual and reproductive health problems in the world today,” providing stunning statistics to back up the assertion. The report estimates about 68 000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, 97% of which occur in developing countries. In Africa alone, over half of all maternal deaths come as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Death isn’t the only consequence of so called ‘backstreet’ abortions; morbidity, or permanent injury, including haemorrhage, sepsis, infection, and trauma to the uterus and abdominal organs is a common occurrence. The report states that when access to safe abortion is made more difficult or illegal, women’s health rapidly deteriorates. By contrast, women’s health rapidly improves when abortion is made legal, safe, and easily accessible.

The WHO report also details the impact unsafe abortions have on the medical system, noting “treatment of abortion complications burdens public health systems in the developing world. Conversely, ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services lowers medical costs for health systems. In some low- income and middle-income countries, up to 50% of hospital budgets for obstetrics and gynaecology are spent treating complications of unsafe abortion.”

“The cost per woman to health systems for treatment of abortion complications in Tanzania is more than seven times the overall Ministry of Health budget per head of population. Estimates from Uganda comparing costs of treatment of abortion complications with costs of providing safe, elective abortion show the potential resource-savings to health systems. Post-abortion care offered in tertiary hospitals by physician providers was estimated to cost health systems ten times more than elective abortion services offered by mid- level practitioners in primary care.”

Perhaps the most compelling argument for the inclusion of access to safe abortion in the G8 maternal health initiative deals with the sensitive issue of rape. It’s undeniable that rape is used as a weapon of war, and women and young girls are targeted as a means to punish others. Some people in South Africa hold the belief that intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV, so children are preyed upon and victimized, many becoming pregnant as a result. Why should these victims, having already been traumatized, be forced to carry the child of the man who raped them? More importantly, why should children who are impregnated following a rape, be subjected to a full pregnancy at the tender age of 11?

In Canada we’re fortunate to have the freedom of choice; When a woman is faced with a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy, she has a full range of options available to her. The fundamental advantage of a pro-choice policy is safe access to abortion when necessary, but not necessarily an abortion. It means protecting and preserving life in the vast majority of pregnancies, while providing safe access to a service that, in various circumstances, is medically necessary.

The NGO’s and advocates speaking on behalf of women’s rights understand the importance of a woman’s right to chose. The foundation from which they craft their policy is based on sound research, verifiable data, and direct input from medical professionals. The push for the inclusion of access to safe abortions in the G8 initiative is not based on a political agenda or religious ideology; It’s based on the desire to craft a comprehensive foreign aid policy that will best enhance the lives of women and children in developing nations.

These tireless crusaders for women’s rights must continue to speak out, demanding to be heard. At a time when their voices are more important than ever, they mustn’t surrender to the threats and intimidation from the Prime Minister and his Conservative colleagues. If Harper is genuinely interested in improving the health and welfare of women and children abroad, he’d do himself a great deal of service by heeding the advice of those who’ve dedicated their lives to the very initiative he espouses.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca
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Further reading:
Congo Rape Victims Jailed For Seeking Abortions
Top medical journal chides Harper on abortion funding: “hypocritical and unjust”

Stephen Harper’s Maternal Health Disaster

In what is arguably an effort to win over fundamentalist Christian voters, Stephen Harper’s G8 maternal and child health initiative, as it currently stands, will result in far more preventable deaths than the overall number of lives saved.

In what Huffington Post contributor Jodi Jacobson called an “absurd move,” Harper initially excluded family planning from his G8 initiative. A brief explanation was given by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, telling the House of commons “when we know what we can do by providing clean water, vaccinations, better nutrition, as well as the most effective way is the training of health care workers and improving access for those women, that is what we are going to do.”

Oda’s remarks came a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told a Commons committee that the Conservative government’s maternal health initiative “does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning.”

Facing both opposition and international backlash, Harper back-pedalled on the remarks made by his cabinet ministers, telling the House of Commons “[the Conservatives] are “not closing doors against any options including contraception. But we do not want a debate here or elsewhere on abortion.”

Any hope of an open debate on the issue was crushed when a motion demanding a “full range of reproductive health services” in the government’s G8 initiative was put forward, and ultimately defeated by the Liberals.

Last week, Jennifer Dicthburn of the Canadian Press outlined the “startling statistics about the impact of expanded access to contraception” contained in a report released by Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund. The report concluded, among other things, that “meeting the world’s needs for modern birth control would reduce maternal deaths by 70 per cent, family planning would eliminate two-thirds of unintended pregnancies and three-quarters of unsafe abortions…and spending on contraception would ultimately reduce other health costs for women and their babies – an estimated $5.1 billion annually if wealthy nations were aggressively contributing to the cause already.”

On the issue of abortion, CNN shed light on a study revealing the barbaric methods women in Kenya are forced to turn to in the face of that country’s restrictive abortion laws. The so-called ‘backstreet abortions’ are crude, makeshift medical procedures using foreign objects such as metal wire and knitting needles to put an end to tens of thousands of unwanted pregnancies. ‘Backstreet abortions’, which carry a high risk of infection, injury, and death, are often the only option Kenyan women have due to the lack of access to safe abortions. When it comes to maternal mortality rates in Kenya, it’s no surprise that one-third of all maternal deaths come as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Harper’s actual record on the well being of women and children is questionable at best, and in a scathing piece from The Globe And Mail’s Gerald Caplain details precisely why “evidence counts for nothing in faith-based Tory policy.”

Harper’s lack of credibility on the plight of women and children, combined with his willful ignorance of the scientific evidence backing the importance of contraception and abortion to maternal health, sets the stage for another Bush era ‘no condoms for Africa‘ foreign policy disaster; Conservative political posturing resulting in millions of easily preventable deaths.

This is ‘collateral damage’ in its cruellest form.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca
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UPDATE March 30: From the G8 Foreign Ministers conference, Hillary Clinton: Contraception must be part of maternal health plan

UPDATE April 27: Stephen Harper refuses to include abortion in G8 plan

“There will be no debate, Tories say, putting Canada’s signature maternal-health initiative at odds with policies of U.S. and Britain.”