Denying Access to Safe Abortion is Violence

Every year 47,000 women lose their lives to unsafe abortion. Many of them are survivors of rape, incest or sexual slavery, and their deaths are preventable. For the thousands who risk their lives to seek unsafe abortions, it is time to acknowledge that access to safe abortion is a human right, and that denying it is gender-based violence.

From El Salvador to Ireland, women are punished, imprisoned, stigmatized, and isolated when they seek illegal abortions. And, while in the United States abortion has been a right protected by the constitution for over forty years, conservative anti-woman zealots are once again fired up to take that right away, through the appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices.

There is no doubt that the upcoming administration will make it more difficult for women at home and around the world to seek abortion.

A renewed attack on women’s reproductive rights is underway. Earlier this month, Donald Trump doubled down on his commitment to overturn Roe v. Wade and argued that states should be able to decide for women whether or not they can terminate a pregnancy. These comments are all he has offered on the fate of women’s reproductive rights under his administration since he began his campaign.

Needless to say, Roe v. Wade faces a clear and terrifying threat that will impact women all around the country. It will hurt low-income women the hardest, as they will not have the privilege to travel to “other states,” as Trump suggested, to get the procedure.

The most tragic aspect of this administration’s stance on reproductive rights is that, immediately after Inauguration, we will go backwards by decades. Prior to the election, we were advocating for the repeal of the Helms and Hyde amendments and permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule. Now we will have to go back to defending women’s right to have an abortion or even access to birth control through whatever replaces the Affordable Care Act.

This backwards stance will impact women around the world as well.

Women demonstrate against rape in Bardhaman, India. © 2014 Nimai Chandra Ghosh, Courtesy of Photoshare
Women demonstrate against rape in Bardhaman, India. © 2014 Nimai Chandra Ghosh, Courtesy of Photoshare

The Global Gag Rule will cause ripples of harm. It seems likely that Trump will reinstate the Global Gag Rule. After all, every Republican president since Reagan has done so. One of the most harmful, counterproductive and senseless policies ever conceived, the Global Gag Rule disqualifies the most effective, experienced and respected providers of reproductive health care in the developing world from receiving U.S. family planning aid. The results are as shameful as they are predictable: contraceptive shortages, clinic shutdowns, outreach efforts stalled, women’s lives threatened. And, the last time it was in effect during the administration of George W. Bush, the policy caused the abortion rate in several African countries to double, due to the closure of so many family planning clinics that relied on U.S. aid. Not surprising when you eliminate access to birth control.

This policy not only imposes an offensive ideology on people in other countries, it actually puts women’s lives in danger. The United States is the largest single donor to family planning programs in the developing world. Because of this, policies like the Global Gag Rule undermine reproductive health around the world – and they also interfere with programs supported by allied donor nations such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and Netherlands. It forces reproductive health care providers to make an impossible choice: either stand up for the needs of the women and families they serve and lose desperately needed aid for contraceptives; or, accept U.S. assistance and refuse to provide vulnerable people the information, care and advocacy around abortion that they desperately need. Either choice hurts women and families. The ultimatum is contrary to our values as Americans and damaging to other global priorities.

Around the world, like here at home, access to reproductive health care – including contraceptives and safe abortion – is critical to a woman’s health, autonomy, dignity and economic security. And it is essential to building safer, healthier and more stable communities.

As Florynce Kennedy put it “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” The efforts by President-Elect Donald Trump and his band of anti-woman conservative to decrease reproductive rights and access to services are dangerous and rooted in misogyny. It is not a coincidence that attacks on health care always target women’s health and wellbeing and their ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

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