Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Czech Republic: Abortion Services Not 'Abortion Tourism' For EU Citizens

Published on RHRealityCheck.org (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org)

Czech Republic: Abortion Services Not "Abortion Tourism" for EU Citizens
By Anna Wilkowska-Landowska
Created Dec 23 2008 - 8:00am

Recently, the Czech Republic cabinet unanimously approved a new bill that would extend abortion privileges and other health services to all European Union (EU) citizens. Opponents of the bill claim that the new regulations will enable "abortion tourism" from the other European states where termination of pregnancy is significantly restricted.

The European Union rules state that all participating member states should provide the same services and care to all EU citizens that local citizens receive. Even so, the bill is strongly opposed by deputies of the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), a junior governing party, who have concerns the Czech Republic will become an "abortion tourism destination" for EU citizens. Christian Democratic Union ministers in the cabinet, who approved the bill, are strongly being pressured to withdraw the bill before it is submitted to the Parliament by deputy party members, according to Ceske Noviny newspaper [1]. As a reason for their opposition, the KDU MPs gave their "conscience objections" to the bill's provision enabling EU citizens to undergo abortion in the Czech Republic.

The bill is part of the crucial and controversial package of reform legislation promoted by Health Minister Tomas Julinek. Apart from abortion, the bill deals with rules of assisted fertilization, sex change, sterilization and other specific treatments.

The Christian Democrats have had long term reservations about the planned provisions on abortion. They have campaigned steadily in previous months against the abortion bill, as well as another that would loosen restrictions on in-vitro fertilization. The party had proposed abortion restriction legislation in April, which included a stricter time limit on health-related abortions and heightened consent requirements. The Christian Democrats proposed to limit abortions on "health grounds" to the 18th week of pregnancy and proposed to allow fathers to have a say in whether a child is aborted, although the father's opinion will not be a "veto." They also proposed to raise the age at which parental consent is required from 16 to 18 years old.

Under current Czech law, unrestricted abortion is allowed until 12 weeks gestation, and with "medical indications" until 24 weeks. Fetuses diagnosed with serious abnormalities can be legally aborted at any gestational age. Abortion was legalized under the communist regime in 1957. The only restrictions beyond these say that abortions must be spaced at least six months apart and the pregnant woman must be at least 16 years old, unless she has the permission of her parents.

The opponents also say the bill makes abortion rules excessively liberal, and that the Czech Republic might become an abortion tourism destination. The "abortion tourists" would most likely come from neighboring Poland, where abortion is permitted only in cases of rape, significant fetal abnormality, or the presence of a serious health threat to the mother. Abortion was made illegal in the country after the collapse of communism in 1993. Though coming to the Czech Republic for abortion care has been illegal until now according to Czech law, Polish women seeking abortion have traveled to the Czech Republic for the procedure.

It is important to add that in spite of very liberal abortion legislation, the number of abortions in the Czech Republic has been constantly dropping since the collapse of the communist regime in November 1989. In 1970 almost 148,000 children were born and 72,000 abortions were performed. In 2006, there were 25,400 abortions for a total population of 10,228,744 in the country. Last year, in 2007, over 114,000 children were born and 25,414 abortions performed.

"The reason for high abortions during communist times is that contraception was not available, and the abortion law was very permissive," said Radim Uzel, executive director of the Czech Family Planning Association.

Despite the Czech Republic having one of the lowest birth rates in the world - well below the replacement rate of 2.1, at 1.22 - the citizens of the Czech Republic continue to strongly favor abortion. A new public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center CVVM [2] among residents of the Czech Republic in June 2008 finds more people are inclined to favor keeping abortions legal. The poll found about 75 percent of Czech citizens want abortions to stay legal, an increase of about three percent from the poll conducted in 2007. Some 15 percent said abortions should be limited to only legitimate health reasons, another 6 percent said abortions should only be allowed if the mother's life is threatened and one percent want all abortions made illegal.

The Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic [3] reported that women who already have children were more likely to get an abortion. Some 35 percent of those obtaining abortions already have two children, for example. That figure is consistent with most other European countries.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adreinne Germain's Blog: Women's Rights Are Human Rights

Past Time for Change: Women's Rights Are Human Rights

Adrienne Germain on December 10th.


Adrienne Germain's blog

On its sixtieth anniversary, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is still a distant dream for most of the world's girls and women. One in every three women in the world experiences violence in her lifetime just because she is a woman. In Africa, three million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, and ten million girls worldwide face early and forced marriage each year.

While gender gaps in education have recently been closing, 70% of children not in school are girls, and sex discrimination pervades most other sectors. For example, only 16% of parliamentarians worldwide are women.

Nowhere are violations of women's human rights greater than in the health sector. Half a million women die and 10-15 million are permanently disabled each year from entirely preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is more than 300 times higher than in rich countries. The health impacts of poverty and injustice are not distant challenges: the United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal mortality, behind Latvia, Portugal, and Poland. In Sub-Saharan Africa, over 60 percent of adults, and 75 percent of young people, living with HIV/AIDS are female.

Eleanor Roosevelt, architect of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, understood that such daily violations of the rights to life, dignity, and equality are the core human rights challenge. In 1958 she said,

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home... the neighborhood... the school... the factory, farm, or office... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere."

But countries and the international system have only paid lip service to Eleanor Roosevelt's wisdom. Over a dozen United Nations agreements have elaborated in detail the human rights of women and actions required to protect them. In 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a legally binding treaty, took effect and has been ratified by all but eight of the world's governments, including, unfortunately, the United States.

In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights again recognized the human rights of women and of the girl child and said that they are "priority objectives of the international community." Two years later, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton nonetheless felt compelled to point out once more that "Women's rights are human rights."

So what is the way forward?

Based on decades of international work, we know that there will be no global peace or security until we secure every woman's right to a just and healthy life. Only healthy women whose human rights are protected can be fully productive workers and effective participants in their country's political processes. Only when women are healthy and empowered can they raise and educate healthy children. These are imperative in their own right, and also the building blocks of stable societies and growing economies.

How do we get there?

President-elect Barack Obama has the unique opportunity, and the profound responsibility, to reestablish U.S. credibility and global leadership on human rights for all. The first step is to help strengthen the United Nations as a vehicle to hold governments accountable for human rights protection and for meeting unfulfilled commitments to girls and women. Second, the United States can once again lead the world in making access to comprehensive reproductive health services a reality for women and young people here in the United States and globally.

Only when women are able to exercise control over their bodies are they able to fully realize other human right such as access to education and employment, political participation and legal equality. Third, the new President should prioritize asking the Senate to ratify CEDAW. Finally, the United States, at home and abroad, can enable new generations to live the principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. A key vehicle is comprehensive sexuality education, which teaches young people how to establish equality in relationships; respect the right to consent in both sex and marriage; and end sexual coercion and violence against women.

The next Administration will have the opportunity and the power to make these changes and to create a different kind of world for millions of girls and women, boys and men. It will take courage and vision to act boldly. The reward -- in lives saved and in our restored reputation as a global leader for social justice -- will be incalculable.

This article was first posted on The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Loretta Ross Blog: Re-enslaving African American Women

Re-enslaving African American Women

This article was originally published in On The Issues Magazine.com.

Loretta Ross on December 8, 2008 - 8:00am
Posting on rhrealitycheck.org

I have spoken on many campuses in the wake of the “Genocide Awareness Project,” which displays posters at colleges to create controversy among young people about Black abortion. Students are understandably confused when presented with seemingly fact-based information that claims that Black women are the scourge of the African American community. I provide accurate historical and contemporary information about Black women’s views on abortion.

African American women who care about reproductive justice know that the limited membership in the Black anti-abortion movement doesn’t represent our views and we are not fooled into thinking that they care about gender justice for women. In fact, if they had their way, we would be re-enslaved once again, based on our fertility.

But the Black anti-abortion movement needs to be taken seriously. The people involved in it carefully exploit religious values to make inroads into our communities. They poison the soil in which we must toil.

Carefully orchestrated campaigns by Black surrogates for the religious and political right not only oppose abortion, but they also organize on behalf of many other right wing causes, such as opposing stem cell research, supporting charter schools and opposing affirmative action.

Through clever positioning and photo-ops by the right wing, the Black anti-abortion movement appears stronger and more numerous than it actually is. Generously funded by a predominantly white anti-abortion movement desperate for Black representatives, the Black anti-abortion movement seeks to drive a wedge into the African American community.

They tell African American women that we are now responsible for the genocide of our own people. Talk about a “blame the victim” strategy! We are now accused of “lynching” our children in our wombs and practicing white supremacy on ourselves. Black women are again blamed for the social conditions in our communities and demonized by those who claim they only want to save our souls (and the souls of our unborn children). This is what lies on steroids look like.

Opposition Research Needed

Who are these people in the Black anti-abortion movement? This movement needs to be carefully studied through opposition research. Information on them, their connections to white anti-abortion groups and their sources of funding is scant.

Of course, the most famous of the Black anti-abortionists is Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a Pastoral Associate, a member of the avid anti-abortion group Priests for Life, and Director of African American Outreach for the Gospel of Life Ministries. Because her father was Dr. King’s brother, Alveda is the leading voice for linking the anti-abortionists to the Civil Rights movement. This is despite the fact that both Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King were strong supporters of family planning in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular. Alveda King, who lives in Atlanta, has also spoken out strongly against gay rights and in support of charter schools.

A widely known Black anti-abortion minister is Rev. Clenard H. Childress of New Jersey, founder of the BlackGenocide.org project and website. He is the president of the Northeast Chapter of Life Education and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), established in 1993. He claims that the “high rate of abortion has decimated the Black family and destroyed Black neighborhoods to the detriment of society at large.” He led protests at the 2008 NAACP convention in Cincinnati and has accused the organization of practicing racism against Black children. He is also on the board of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform that circulates the Genocide Awareness Project.

Alan Keyes, perennial presidential candidate, is also well known in anti-abortion circles. Keyes first came to national attention when President Reagan appointed him as adviser to Maureen Reagan (daughter of the president), as she led the official U.S. delegation to the UN World Conference for Women in Kenya in 1985. At this meeting, the U.S. affirmed its support for the infamous 1984 “Mexico City” policy that banned U.S. funds from supporting abortion worldwide. Keyes helped lead the anti-abortion protests at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, and is a favorite of the right for his fierce extreme views on a number of issues.

There are a handful of other Black spokespeople for the anti-abortion movement. The point is not how many there are, but the disproportionate impact they have. They have created the false impression that if only Black people were warned that abortion is genocide, women would stop having them in order to preserve the Black race, either voluntarily or pressured by the men in their lives.

The Sexism They Sell

The sexism in their viewpoints is mind-boggling. To them, Black women are the poor dupes of the abortion rights movement, lacking agency and decision-making of our own. In fact, this is a reassertion of Black male supremacy over the self-determination of women. It doesn’t matter whether it is from the lips of a man or a woman. It is about re-enslaving Black women by making us breeders for someone else’s cause.

I am reminded of the comments of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, who dismissed the genocide argument when asked to discuss her views on abortion and birth control:

To label family planning and legal abortion programs “genocide” is male rhetoric, for male ears. It falls flat to female listeners and to thoughtful male ones. Women know, and so do many men, that two or three children who are wanted, prepared for, reared amid love and stability, and educated to the limit of their ability will mean more for the future of the Black and brown races from which they come than any number of neglected, hungry, ill-housed and ill-clothed youngsters.

We need our leading African American women’s and Civil Rights organizations to speak out more strongly in support of reproductive justice. We need to organize young people to resist the misinformation directed at them by these groups. Many of our campuses are unaware of the activities of the Black anti-abortionists until they show up, usually invited by a white anti-abortion group.

But mostly, we need to let the world know that they do not speak for Black women. As my mother would say, “they might be our color, but they are not our kind.”


Friday, December 05, 2008

From www.abortionreview.org: A Depressingly Narrow Debate

5 December 2008
Comment: A depressingly narrow debate

The ‘yes it does / no it doesn’t’ reaction to claims that abortion damages mental health distracts from the more useful and difficult questions about women’s experience. By Jennie Bristow.

The publication of some new studies examining the possibility of a link between abortion and mental health has sparked a predictable media debate about whether abortion causes mental illness, and whether women seeking abortion should be ‘informed’ that the procedure might make them depressed.

A study by Professor David Fergusson and colleagues from the University of Otago, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, claims that women who had abortions had rates of mental health problems that were almost 30% higher than in the other women in the study. A second study in the same journal, by Kaeleen Dingle and colleagues at the University of Queensland, Australia, shows that women who lose a baby by the age of 21 – either through an abortion or a miscarriage – are three times more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem than others. These studies led to headlines proclaiming ‘Abortions linked to mental illness’ (Daily Telegraph, UK); ‘Abortions may cause drug, alcohol addiction’ (Times of India); ‘NZ research uncovers abortion and mental health link’ (New Zealand Herald); and ‘Call for mental health support after abortion’ (Irish Times).

On the other side, a systematic review of 21 high-quality studies involving more than 150,000 women, conducted by Dr Robert Blum and a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, and published in the journal Contraception, found no significant differences in long-term mental health between women who choose to abort a pregnancy and other women. ‘The best quality studies indicate no significant differences in long-term mental health between women in the United States who choose to terminate a pregnancy and those who do not,’ they wrote, noting that ‘studies with the most flawed methodology consistently found negative mental health consequences of abortion.’ ‘Abortion not seen linked with depression’, reported Reuters on 4 December.

The ongoing debate about whether abortion is or is not associated with mental health problems has triggered several major reviews: most recently, by the American Psychological Association (APA). New studies attract over-stated, and often contradictory, news headlines, depending on the particular newspaper’s stance on abortion. Attempting to untangle the science of it all could leave even experts rather confused. But for this reason, we need to step back from the claims and counter-claims about this issue, and ask: What is really being said here?

Claims and counter-claims

On the science front, the balance of opinion seems to be a cautious recognition that some women who have abortions may suffer some mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or self-harm. However, the evidence does not show that the abortion itself causes these problems: rather, these problems are likely to be a continuation of pre-existing mental health problems that the woman has suffered. Furthermore, those women who may experience serious mental health problems are a minority of those who have undergone abortion.

These are the conclusions reached by the APA, and by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in its 2004 guidance. It is worth noting that they are also the conclusions broadly reached by Fergusson and his team. Fergusson’s work on abortion and mental health is often used by the anti-abortion lobby in an attempt to strengthen the argument that women need to be protected from abortion. A 2006 study that he published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry prompted a group of 15 British obstetricians to write to The Times (London), demanding that the RCOG revisits its guidance and arguing that ‘doctors have a duty to advise about long-term adverse psychological consequences of abortion.’ The APA’s recent review devotes a significant section to examining this 2006 study, and noting where its results should be treated with caution.

However, despite the alarmist headlines that greeted Fergusson’s new study, published this week, the conclusions and findings of his team were measured. They concluded that the overall effects of abortion on mental health were small, and that exposure to abortion accounted for 1.5-5.5 per cent of the overall rate of mental disorder in the group of women studied. Furthermore, they stated:

‘[T]he results do not support strong pro-life positions that claim that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women. Neither do the results support strong pro-choice positions that imply that abortion is without any mental health effects. In general, the results lead to a middle-of-the-road position that, for some women, abortion is likely to be a stressful and traumatic life event which places those exposed to it at modestly increased risk of a range of common mental health problems.’

Psychiatrists will continue to debate the precise nature of such ‘common mental health problems’, their relationship with abortion, and the number of women who may be affected. As Margaret Oates, consultant perinatal psychiatrist with Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, has suggested in a commentary on the 2008 Fergusson study, it is unlikely that even these specialists will ever agree.

Abortion and the Syndrome Society

However, it is undoubtedly the case that abortion can be experienced by some women as a highly stressful and difficult life event, which happens in the context of other problems in their lives. Relationship breakdown, financial and other practical pressures, problems with alcohol or drugs, and ambivalence about whether they want to have a baby or not – we know that these are factors in some women’s decision to have an abortion, all of which can be intensely experienced in a very negative way. This is not the case for all women – for many, the issue is a more practical one of being pregnant when they do not want to be, and the predominant emotion following abortion is relief. But for some, abortion can be experienced as one more bad thing happening in an already bad set of circumstances.

Furthermore, we live in a cultural context where people routinely use the word ‘depressing’ to describe negative feelings or upheavals in their lives, whether that be moving house, having a baby, experiencing trouble at work, or splitting up with a partner. Whether people are actually suffering from depression as a result of these things or whether they simply feel they are is in many ways a moot point: the fact is that they feel they are depressed, that they experience these events as causing mental health difficulties, and they expect that they will receive a particular kind of recognition and support for their problems.

In this way, the category ‘mental health problems’ has expanded to encompass the way that people feel about all manner of difficult life events. It would be highly peculiar if abortion, and all the reasons leading to why women have abortions, were immune to this trend. A woman who has had an abortion may well feel very miserable, even ‘depressed’, and dwell on her decision for some time to come; she may require extra care and support. Abortion providers recognise this, which is why they are very careful to ensure that a woman seeking an abortion is sure about her decision, and why emotional support is offered afterwards as part of the package of care.

It is in many ways unfortunate that discussions about how women experience abortions, and what providers can do to help manage the negative emotions in some of their clients, tend to be clouded by the ‘abortion and mental health’ debate, which has politicised and polarised this issue. As Dr Ellie Lee, author of the important critique Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health, recently wrote on Abortion Review, the history of the debate about the mental health effects of abortion is a political one. It arises from persistent attempts by the anti-abortion lobby to ‘de-moralise’ claims about the problem of abortion, by using science (or pseudo-science) to argue that abortion has negative effects upon women’s health.

This means that, as Roger Blum’s team argues, ‘[s]cientists are … conducting research to answer politically motivated questions’. The anti-abortion lobby thinks that if a scientific study can prove that abortion causes depression, it will have won an argument; in countering such claims, the pro-choice lobby can sometimes come across as denying the reality of some women’s struggle with abortion. This is not a helpful situation for women seeking abortion, and nor it is a useful framework for the abortion debate. As Margaret Oates argues, ‘abortion is not a psychiatric but a moral, ethical and legal issue’. It is one which should be debated, not in the laboratory, but out in the world.

Jennie Bristow is editor of Abortion Review

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CEDAW and Ireland: Concluding Observations on Abortion, 1989/1999/2005

CEDAW and Concluding Observations on Abortion, Ireland, 1989/1999/2005.

IRELAND CEDAW A/44/38 (1989)
Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women:

The Committee considered the initial report of Ireland (CEDAW/C/5/Add.47) at its 135th and 140th meetings, on 22 and 24 February 1989 (CEDAW/C/SR.135 and 140).

89. In the area of health, more information was requested on the degree of access to contraceptives for women under the age of 18 in the light of the rising incidence of teenage pregnancies, generally. It was asked why a prescription was required for contraceptives. Statistics, if available, were requested on the number of Irish women who had had clandestine abortions (in Ireland or abroad). It was also asked whether the fact that abortion was illegal was not considered by the Government to be contrary to the objectives of equality of opportunity and self-determination enshrined in the Convention. Exact data were requested on deaths resulting from illegal abortions and it was asked whether any action had been taken to stem the increase in deaths. Further, the Committee wanted to know if there was a strong movement from feminist groups with regard to legalizing abortion and if anything was being done to change the law. The Committee also wished to know whether abortion in the case of rape was illegal and whether there were any legal consequences for persons in that situation.

State Party(Ireland) reply:
123. The representative responded to the questions in the area of health. On the subject of abortion, he explained that Irish law did not distinguish between clandestine and other abortions. Abortion had been illegal since 1860 and the provision had been upheld by a referendum held in Ireland in 1983. A number of women’s groups had played a prominent role in lobbying for abortion rights during the debate preceding the referendum but the feminist movement was not united on the issue.
Police authorities had not reported any incidences of clandestine abortion in Ireland and it was believed not to occur as Irish women could avail themselves of legal and safe abortion facilities in the United Kingdom. On the question of the demand for abortion, the number of women who had given an address in the Ireland and who had availed themselves of an abortion in the United Kingdom in 1987 was reported to be 3,700, but it was considered that that figure might be low due to under-reporting. In answer to the question of whether the absence of abortion rights meant that many women would have to function as single parents with the attendant economic difficulties, the representative informed the Committee of the special weekly unmarried mother’s allowance, which was available subject to a means test.

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women : Ireland. 25/06/99.
A/54/38,paras.161-201. (Concluding Observations/Comments)

Convention Abbreviation: CEDAW
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Twenty-first session 7–25 June 1999

Principal areas of concern and recommendations:

180. The Committee notes that although Ireland is a secular State, the influence of the Church is strongly felt not only in attitudes and stereotypes but also in official State policy.
In particular, women's right to health, including reproductive health, is compromised by this influence. The Committee notes that Ireland did not enter a reservation to article 12 upon ratification of the Convention. The Committee recommends implementation of this article in full.

185. While noting with appreciation the existence of a Plan for Women's Health, 1997-1999, and the establishment of a Women's Health Council, as well as the wide availability of various programmes to improve women's health, the Committee is concerned that, with very limited exceptions, abortion remains illegal in Ireland. Women who wish to terminate their pregnancies need to travel abroad. This creates hardship for vulnerable groups, such as female asylum seekers who cannot leave the territory of the State.

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Thirty-third session 5-22 July 2005

Concluding comments: Ireland
1. The Committee considered Ireland’s combined fourth and fifth periodic report (CEDAW/C/IRL/4-5) at its 693rd and 694th meetings, on 13 July 2005.

Introduction by the State party(Ireland)
7. Steps had been taken to integrate a gender dimension into the health service and to make it responsive to the particular needs of women. Additional funding had been provided for family planning and pregnancy counselling services. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency had been set up in 2001. Extensive national dialogue had occurred on the issue of abortion, with five separate referendums held on three separate occasions. The representative noted that the Government had no plans to put forward further proposals at the present time.

Principal areas of concern and recommendations of CEDAW Committee:

38. While acknowledging positive developments in the implementation of article 12 of the Convention, in particular the Strategy to Address the Issue of Crisis Pregnancy (2003) that addresses information, education and advice on contraceptive services, the Committee reiterates its concern about the consequences of the very restrictive abortion laws under which abortion is prohibited except where it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother that can be averted only by the termination of her pregnancy.

39. The Committee urges the State party to continue to facilitate a national dialogue on women’s right to reproductive health, including on the very restrictive abortion laws. It also urges the State party to further strengthen family planning services, ensuring their availability to all women and men, young adults and teenagers.

Ireland is due to be examined under CEDAW in 2009. An NGO Shadow Report is being prepared and is coordinated by the Irish Women’s Human Rights Alliance.