Friday, October 14, 2011

Saving babies but killing women

It's hard to find a more sanctimonious bunch of people than those who call themselves pro-lifers. Their shrill anti-abortion cries are also, sickeningly, anti-women.

Just yesterday, the US House of Representatives voted (
with a Republican majority) to pass a bill that would block medical care to a woman wanting to terminate her pregnancy, even in a medical emergency. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the house and a democrat, called the bill "savage". It would mean that "women can die on the [hospital] floor and healthcare providers do not have to intervene," she said.

Though the US tends to lead the way in terms of rabid anti-abortion campaigns, which has often been spearheaded by right-wing religious conservatives, the UK is fast catching up. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries tried desperately to push through legislation to strip some abortion-providers of the ability to counsel women, allowing other counsellors (some of whom are pro-life) to provide guidance instead, and her attempts gained significant political traction before being defeated.

In some instances, there's a strong medical argument for abortion. The pregnancy or labour may be threatening a woman's life. Illegal abortions can be deadly - every 10 minutes, a woman dies from a botched abortion. In poor countries, meanwhile, having pregnancies too close together can seriously affect a woman's health, and large families with small incomes can mean that kids become malnourished. Yet, as Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur for the right to health, says, there need only be one reason for an abortion: that the woman doesn't feel able to carry the baby. Later this month, he will put it to the UN that abortion is a woman's right.

Not everyone agrees with Grover. Cristina Odone, a columnist at UK broadsheet The Telegraph, has taken a few detours of logic and chosen to interpret the UN's bid to fight for the rights of women in poor countries as "stamping out religious freedom in poor Catholic countries"
. China uses abortion to kill baby girls, her reasoning goes, so abortion should be illegal; that's about as sensible as outlawing knives because some people use them to stab others.

A few NGOs are staunchly fighting for women's right to have an abortion.
Women on Web, is a brilliantly feisty group that provides women who have no access to safe abortion with pills that induce an abortion. The organisation counsel the women online or over the telephone, makes them aware of medical situations for which this type of abortion isn't appropriate, and advises them to seek healthcare if in doubt. In the end, they treat women like adults, giving them the information, and leaving the decision up to them. It's about time the rest of the world did too.