This week, anti-abortion activists wrote about reproductive justice. They repeat their false statistics about the safety of abortion. They declare that it encourages “life-affirming” choices. With absolutely no sense of irony, they decry the lack of factual, pertinent information for women facing choices about unintended pregnancy.
The very idea that anti-abortion groups could possibly think they understand reproductive justice is laughable. Reproductive Justice means that women have the right to control their reproductive lives, as well as the means to do so. It means that contraception, abortion, choosing to parent or choosing an adoption plan are all choices available to all women. It means that women have the right to value their own individual lives as mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, and that their worth as people supersedes their ability to incubate embryos.
The most disturbing of the posts was that addressing the problem of maternal mortality worldwide. Although we have made significant progress in many other world health goals in the last 15 years, maternal mortality has remained stagnant. Half a million women die every year due to complications of childbirth. Of these deaths, 13% are due to unsafe abortion.
The fact is, 20 million unsafe abortions occur every year worldwide. Between 65,000 and 80,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion, comprising 13% of maternal deaths worldwide. In refugee settings, from 25-50% of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion. 8 million more per year women suffer complications of unsafe abortion. (1)
The anti-abortion rights movement has done nothing to improve the situation. They are avid proponents of the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule, which during the Reagan, Bush, and Bush II years led to no family planning funding at all for any non-governmental organization that provided or referred for abortion services. The end result of this was that the UN Family Planning Agency, which provides only contraceptive services, lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars to help promote contraceptive use worldwide. (2) The Mexico City Policy has been rescinded and reinstated predictably over the years. When Republicans are in control, money for contraception worldwide is greatly reduced. When Democrats are in control, money for contraception is increased. As a result, anti-abortion activists are responsible not only for a lack of funding for safe abortions, but also for a lack of funding for contraception.
Maternal mortality must be addressed in a multifactorial manner. Women must have access to emergency obstetrical care. They also must have access to contraception; multiple births in short sequence increase the risk for complications and death from childbirth. They must have access to emergency contraception when they are victims of gender-based violence. And of course, they must have access to safe abortion, because even where there is access to contraception there will always be a need for abortion.
Abortion will always be necessary as long as we live in a world where women have few choices about when, where, and how they have sex, where they are subject to gender-based violence and sexual coercion, where they have little choice about using contraception, where they can be married as young as age 9 before their bodies are developed enough to safely carry a pregnancy.
It is unjust to expect a woman who was raped by militants in the Congo to continue her pregnancy to term. It is unjust to expect a woman in Bangladesh who can hardly feed the four children she already has to continue her pregnancy to term. It is unjust to expect a woman in Haiti who traded sex for food and shelter to continue her pregnancy. It is unjust to expect a woman whose life is threatened by pre-eclampsia to continue her pregnancy. It is unjust to ask a woman in Guatemala who received low-cost contraception from an International Planned Parenthood Foundation affiliate until conservative activists withheld its funds to continue her pregnancy.
Anti-abortion activists know only Reproductive INJustice. There is no Reproductive Justice in the absence of access to safe abortion.
1. Susan Cohen. Facts and Consequences: Legality, Incidence and
Safety of Abortion Worldwide. Guttmacher Policy Review, 2009.
2. Guttmacher Institute: News in Context. “Bush Administration
Witholds UNFPA Funding for Seventh Year. Guttmacher Institute, 2008.