Making Gender Justice, Birth Control,
And Abortion Access Health Priorities

Women’s health and life are under fire in the United States and around the world. Here are  issues that health policymakers need to incorporate into health quality. It’s time to stop marginalizing them.

Last week, women’s groups coordinated by the Women’s Media Center and Everyday Sexism, successfully organized a campaign against Facebook rape #fbrape to get advertisers to pull ads off the site unless it pledged to monitor and remove content condoning violence against women. It was successful: the campaign led to an editorial in the New York Times,  and papers and social media nationally and internationally. The campaign’s success suggests organizing other campaigns around gender justice and reproductive rights may pick up steam and make the world friendlier to women.

Delaying “Beatriz” Access to Abortion Unconscionable

Broad international outrage over the forced continuation of one woman’s pregnancy with an anencephalic fetus, i.e. a fetus missing most higher brain structures, in El Salvador, led to an international court ruling that a woman’s pregnancy must be terminated.

Another issue in this case concerns detection of an anencephalic fetus. A routine fetal ultrasound will clearly show a fetus lacking parts of the brain. Because anencephalic fetuses have never lived more than a few hours after they are born, women who learn that their fetus lacks higher brain structures, choose to have an abortion as soon as it is detected. This option was not open to “Beatriz” because abortion for any reason is illegal in El Salvador. In states that block women from speedy abortion access, women will also have to prolong a useless pregnancy like this.

“Beatriz” also had her own health risks, namely lupus and kidney failure, which made her continued pregnancy hazardous. But that carried no weight in El Salvador, nor does it carry much weight with far too many legislators in the United States and elsewhere. That’s worrisome.

“Beatriz” had a cesarean section under general anesthesia at 26 weeks of gestation. The fetus died shortly after the procedure. Broad consensus exists in the ob/gyn and public health community that cesarean section abortions (hysterotomies) are hazardous and that an induced abortion would have been far safer. In fact, in the United States, these procedures are rarely done.

Frances Kissling, President of the Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy, and past-president of Catholics for a Free Choice, had this to say: “ I totally agree that an early abortion should have been performed and the case is an example of extremist anti-abortion medicine…We have every right to condemn the delay, the decision to incur greater risk by performing a hysterotomy rather than use the best technique for abortion in her case. We also should reject the noting of trying to save both woman and fetus, especially when the fetus has no chance of more than minutes of survival. This way of constructing cause and effect is hooey, which results in women’s death and/or suffering.”

The Vast Scope of Reproductive Control Practices

El Salvador and several other countries in Central and Latin America have some of the most regressive policies internationally on abortion. A Foreign Policy post this week points this out. As shown repeatedly, in countries that block access to abortion and contraception, maternal and child health outcomes suffer.

You don’t have to look very far to see that access to birth control and abortion are getting blocked. Legislation on the books and proposed, puts discriminatory hurdles up to women getting contraceptives and abortion. Sadly, federal programs and religious organizations are controlling access. Unscientific, biased regulations, including waiting periods, mandatory fetal ultrasounds that pregnant women must view, and onerous abortion facility construction requirements are just some of the barriers. Efforts to pressure women to continue unplanned pregnancies must be stopped.

The so-called “pro-life” fanatics will stop at nothing to state their case. Just like edited ACORN tapes by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles on Andrew Breitbart’s website that went viral at first uncritically,  Live Action anti-abortion fanatics have gone to abortion clinics using secret microphones and cameras, photoshopping and editing alarmist videos for their cause. As Carol Joffee, MD, notes in this article: “I fear that a possible consequence of these Live Action videos may be a chilling effect on the free and open conversation between clinic staff and patients that is such an important part of abortion care.”

Honoring and Organizing for Quality Women’s Health

In the past week, we remembered the four-year assassination anniversary of George Tiller, abortion provider who was murdered by anti-abortion fanatics, as well as the death of Henry Morgentaler, Canadian doctor who helped spearhead legalized abortion. Conscientious providers who provide quality reproductive care merit thanks from us too.

We must continue to organize to protect access to contraception and reproductive care. As Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo note in their new book, Crow After Roe: How Separate But Equal Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That, a separate, discriminatory standard of health care for pregnant women is expanding rapidly across the United States. Our elected officials must be held accountable.

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