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Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathryn Joyce for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and originally published in the September 16 issue of The Nation.

Anti-choice activists hand a small child propaganda material in Mexico City.

On May 1, a familiar anti-abortion story line played out on Azteca 13, a popular television channel in Mexico. In the opening scenes of an episode of Lo Que Callamos Las Mujeres (What We Women Keep Silent), a Lifetime-like telenovela series about “real-life” stories, a pretty brunette with a heart-shaped face, Alondra, discovers she is pregnant when overtaken by a sudden bout of morning sickness. Her sister Sofía is concerned, but later that night, when Alondra’s boorish boyfriend comes home and she breaks the news, he asks if it’s his, then tells her to abort.

Alondra complies and, in a series of hazy scenes, visits a clandestine abortion provider. But she’s haunted by what she has done, and is awoken at night by phantom baby cries that send her searching throughout her apartment until she collapses on the living room floor, her white pajama bottoms soaked through with blood. Her illegal abortion was botched, it turns out, and by terminating her pregnancy, a doctor tells her sister, she has forfeited her fertility as well. Some weeks later, Alondra’s boyfriend is accosted on the street by another woman, also pregnant by him, who begs him to acknowledge his future child. Sheepishly, he does, shrugging as he tells Alondra, “I’m going to be a papa,” before walking out the door to be with the other woman—the one who didn’t abort.

The message seems clear enough, but the story doesn’t end there. Two years later, when Alondra meets a good man who wants a family, she pushes the memory of the abortion out of her mind. In a state of manic delusion, she experiences a hysterical pregnancy, her belly swelling with her hopes, until Sofía forces her to see a doctor and Alondra breaks down, confronted with her unresolved grief. As Alondra again lies in a hospital bed, two years wiser and infinitely sadder, the doctor hands her a pamphlet. On its back cover, facing the camera, is the logo of the Instituto para la Rehabilitación de la Mujer y la Familia, or IRMA, a Mexican Catholic ministry that offers counseling for women suffering “post-abortion syndrome”—the medically unrecognized claim that terminating a pregnancy leads to serious psychological trauma.

The May episode of Lo Que Callamos was one of several instances in which IRMA was invited to suggest a “true-life” story line for the show, broadcasting to millions of viewers its message that abortion causes devastating harm to women and their families. One episode alone had generated some 200 calls and 400 emails to IRMA in a single day, said María del Carmen Alva López, IRMA’s president and founder, when I met her last October.

“They take a real story from us, a real history, and then at the end the lady goes to IRMA and receives help,” explained Alva, a cheerful 42-year-old with beauty-pageant poise. In a lush Mexico City suburb full of gated houses, Alva sat me down on a pleather loveseat in IRMA’s small, stucco-walled counseling room. The bookshelves outside were lined with copies of Alva’s book, Y después del aborto, ¿que? (And After the Abortion, What?), and in her hands she held a thick binder containing the results of a survey of 135 clients. Of these 135 “post-abortive” women, said Alva, her smile dimming and her eyes heavy with sympathy, IRMA estimates that 70 percent have clinical depression and 10 percent have attempted suicide. Results like these, she says, prove that post-abortion syndrome is real.

That these numbers are gathered from a self-selecting group of women who have sought out IRMA’s services doesn’t dampen Alva’s conviction that all Mexican women need to hear how abortion can hurt them. They especially need to hear it now, Alva believes. It’s been six years since first-trimester abortions were decriminalized in Mexico’s Distrito Federal, home to Mexico City, and more and more Mexican women are gradually learning about their limited right to choose—although abortion rights advocates fear this message hasn’t yet made its way to provincial, working-class women.

In this atmosphere, the claims about post-abortion syndrome and other supposed risks advanced by groups like IRMA are having real effects. According to Dr. Raffaela Schiavon, director of the Mexican chapter of the international abortion rights group Ipas and a former OB-GYN who served in Mexico’s Ministry of Health, a 2012 study suggests that Mexican women decide whether or not to have an abortion based not on their religion, politics, or socioeconomic status, but rather on their fears that an abortion will hurt or kill them. The main difference for women, said Schiavon, is whether or not they’ve received information that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, depression, or suicide—exactly the information IRMA is helping to spread around the nation.

“They’ve gotten out the message that abortion is unsafe and dangerous,” Schiavon said. Ironically, she added, “That is the case when it’s illegal.”

When Mexico City’s law changed in 2007, allowing elective abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it was a substantial victory for reproductive rights advocates in a country, and a region, where the Catholic Church dominates daily life. Across Latin America, access to legal abortion is a rarity, and in 2007, all eyes turned to Mexico City to see how the experiment would play out—and whether it could be replicated. To date, only Uruguay has followed Mexico City in liberalizing its abortion law, and this June, the world watched as El Salvador denied a lifesaving abortion to a woman known as Beatriz for five months before finally allowing a c-section delivery for the nonviable fetus.

After decriminalization, however, a fierce backlash unfurled across Mexico. In the first three years, half of the country’s 31 provinces passed new constitutional amendments enshrining abortion bans—two of which were just upheld by Mexico’s Supreme Court this May. As a result of the amendments passed after 2007 in 18 Mexican states, women in the provinces are increasingly being prosecuted for “attempted abortion,” often reported by hospital staff when they seek help after self-abortions, unsupervised use of the medical abortion drug misoprostol, or unsafe back-alley terminations.

Regina Tames, a lawyer and executive director of the reproductive rights advocacy group GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), worked with several of the dozens of women being prosecuted for attempted abortion in 2012. If convicted, some of these women could face up to six years in jail, while others would be sentenced to fines or community service. Many were already condemned in their communities after newspapers printed their pictures and identified them as criminals and baby killers.

In Mexico’s so-called Rosary Belt, a band of ultraconservative states like Jalisco and Guanajuato in the center of the nation, anti-abortion advocates and other traditionalists are embracing U.S.-style culture war tactics and rhetoric. Conservative Mexican Catholics have mobilized across the provinces to Catholicize public school education, block public health announcements for condoms, and even destroy public school books that contain comprehensive sex ed. Some anti-abortion activists have marched under a powerful old symbol: the flag of the 1920s Cristero War, which pitted devout Catholics against a secularizing government that persecuted religious expression. The bloody conflict resulted in atrocities on both sides, including priests being executed among their flocks—some since canonized as martyrs of the faith—and a 2012 film about the war has resonated with conservatives in both Mexico and the United States. (U.S. Catholic commentator George Weigel recently went so far as to compare the contraception mandate in Obamacare to the legacy of the persecuted Cristeros.) Waving the flag now helps cast the terms of Mexico’s current abortion debate as a new clash in an ongoing war over religious freedom. Some abortion rights advocates say there’s a sense that today’s Mexican right “has the Cristero spirit again.”

Next to the harsh penalties of criminalization and the simmering threat of culture war, groups like IRMA and its peers seem to offer a softer, gentler approach to the anti-abortion cause. When I spoke with María del Carmen Alva López, she was preparing to meet with the ministry’s partners at Vifac, a nearby maternity home that houses women who have been convinced not to abort. Both IRMA and Vifac count themselves as part of a network of anti-abortion groups in Mexico, along with a proliferating number of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that are adopting the same ostensibly women-centered focus that has marked the modern U.S. anti-abortion movement.

On a sunny day in October, a 29-year-old Mexican-American woman named Katia walked into a CPC in the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Anzures, explaining that she thought she might be pregnant. After Katia entered and gave her name, she was taken to a back room by a Catholic volunteer, who asked her why she didn’t want her baby. If she was pregnant, the volunteer suggested, she should marry her boyfriend or, barring that, accept the center’s offer of a place to stay where her parents wouldn’t have to know. The CPC staffers told Katia that they would perform an ultrasound to show her the fetus, but first she was legally obligated to watch a video: a four-part movie starting with the miracle of life and proceeding to a graphic abortion, interspersed with testimony from women who had variously given birth to their babies and were happy, or who had chosen abortion and were devastated. When a CPC staffer who claimed to be a nurse finally performed the ultrasound, she puzzled at length over the image on the screen before suggesting that Katia was probably seven-and-a-half weeks pregnant. When she left, they handed her a lollipop.

Katia’s experience would be nothing out of the ordinary in heartland America, where CPCs have been a fixture since the 1960s. What’s new is that this model has been exported to Mexico, where anti-abortion groups have established more than 40 CPCs in recent years.

Frequently posing as medical facilities, and often located right next door to actual abortion clinics, CPCs function by attracting women with free pregnancy tests and implied offers of abortion services, only to ambush them with graphic videos, intensive anti-abortion coercion, and strategic misinformation. (Some in the United States have even been sanctioned for fraud.) Now, thanks to the expanding reach of American evangelical and Catholic anti-abortion activists, CPCs are becoming important players in the abortion debates overseas, in countries as varied as Ethiopia, Israel, Serbia, and South Africa. Mexico is just one of the 47 nations where Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion network based in Ohio, now has partner centers. Heartbeat International, which represents more than 1,000 similar centers in the United States and 1,800 groups worldwide, has partnered with a Spanish-language website to track and promote Mexican CPCs as well. In fact, it was Heartbeat International’s website that had listed the Mexico City CPC that Katia—who was actually my translator—visited.

In Mexico, the history of CPCs (in Spanish, centros de ayuda para mujeres, or CAMs) begins with Jorge Serrano Limón, founder of the early Mexican anti-abortion group National Pro-Life Committee, or ProVida. In 1989, Serrano Limón traveled to New Orleans for a conference put on by Human Life International (HLI), an American group whose ultraconservative Catholic founder, the late Father Paul Marx, charged that Jews control the abortion “industry.” In Louisiana, Serrano Limón (who has his own unsavory connections with a Nazi-sympathizing Mexican historian) met HLI staff and CPC founders who inspired him to set up his own center in Mexico, fighting abortion before it was even legal.

Serrano Limón fell into disgrace in the mid-2000s, as ProVida became the focus of an embarrassing embezzlement scandal known as “Tanga-Gate” (Thong-Gate)—in which government funds meant to buy ultrasound equipment were instead spent on unauthorized purchases, including women’s clothing and thong underwear. Pro-choice activists gleefully took the opportunity to protest Serrano Limón’s appearances by waving cheap thongs at him in public. But HLI continued to sponsor Mexican and Latin American CAMs.

Greg Berger, a U.S.-born documentary filmmaker living in Mexico, made a film about Mexico’s CAMs in 2008, El Derecho de Decidir en Paz (The Right to Choose in Peace). Implicit in the centers’ rise was a tactical shift: from Mexico’s version of noisy clinic protests—amplified sessions of praying the rosary directed at entering patients—to appearing instead to offer women help in making an informed choice. “I think they found that it was much better to pretend that they were providing information about abortions,” Berger says, “a much better technique than the fetus-in-a-jar model.”

After Tanga-Gate, ProVida seemed to take another lesson from the United States, where women have risen to leadership positions in the anti-abortion movement, when it named a female president, Rocío Gálvez, whose promotion was announced while she was pregnant. “She was [presented as] a pregnant woman who was proud to bring life,” recalled Eugenia López Uribe, a radical young activist who is executive coordinator of the sexual rights group Balance, which works on both reproductive and LGBT rights.

This shift not only mirrored the U.S. anti-abortion movement’s trajectory but also marked a moment when U.S. partners began exerting more influence. At Gálvez’s inauguration celebration in an expensive Mexico City hotel, recalls López Uribe, the featured speakers were all from the United States, and the organizers even screened an anti-abortion video clearly made in the States and featuring an African-American baby.

Since Serrano Limón’s first CPC, Mexican CAMs have grown to several dozen and today claim to have served some 60,000 women and prevented 51,000 abortions. Mostly, the CAMs approach women as they’re heading into clinics or hospitals. Ever since Mexico City’s decriminalization in 2007, CAMs have been setting up small booths on the walkways into clinics, amid stands vending candy and food for hospital visitors. With a banner overhead offering information about abortion, the stands intentionally appear as an official part of the hospital’s intake procedure. If women stop, CAM staffers try to transport them to their remote centers, luring them to a van with the promise of a safer, cleaner, and faster abortion clinic nearby.

For women in a city where abortion is newly legal—an island of access in a country devoid of it—the CAMs’ message is disorienting. The advertisements for these “crisis centers,” including posters along Mexico City streets, make the same ambiguous offer that can be seen in New York City subway cars: “If you’re pregnant, we can help.”

“The message [of decriminalization] has not arrived to the most vulnerable, poorest, least-educated women,” says Ipas’s Raffaela Schiavon, who suspects that most working-class migrant women, often serving as domestics for Mexico City’s elite, aren’t aware of their rights and are therefore the most likely to be taken in.

Women who go with the CAM volunteers are likely to experience the same protocol that has been extensively documented in the United States. They are shown graphic videos about how aborted fetuses cry for their mothers. They are given a letter to read “from a fetus,” forgiving its mother for aborting. They are invited to stay with the CAM’s partner maternity home.

“They have all these choices,” says López Uribe: “‘What are you scared of? That your family will find out? Perfect—we’ll send a letter that you were accepted to a school, and we will take you to the [maternity] house and nobody will ever know.’” In her OB-GYN practice, Schiavon says she sometimes encountered new mothers who came to the hospital from provincial maternity homes, where they’d been cloistered away from family and friends and hadn’t felt free to leave.

But even for women who know to avoid the CAM booths, their very presence undermines the culture of safe access that advocates are trying to foster in Mexico City. “We’re trying to build an environment of rights—that we have this law and that you can exercise your rights,” López Uribe says. “When you have to tell [patients], ‘If you see this stand, don’t go to it, go straight; don’t pay attention to the people praying,’ it makes them feel like they’re doing something wrong.”

It’s no coincidence that the Spanish-language pamphlets that the CAMs hand out bear the exact same pictures of mangled fetuses as the anti-abortion protest signs on the Washington Mall. On the back of one gory leaflet collected by López Uribe’s group Balance, a black-and-white tract with images of dismembered second-trimester fetuses under the caption “human trash,” there is listed, in small type, the name and address of its publisher—in Cincinnati, Ohio. And when Mexican women show up at a CAM, it’s often an American movie they see: a subtitled version of the gruesome anti-abortion classic The Silent Scream.

To Mexico’s pro-choice community, the ties between the Mexican and U.S. anti-abortion movements are so blatant as to be self-evident. There is funding flowing from North to South, but probably more important is the wholesale migration of the U.S. anti-abortion model. “Serrano Limón went and took courses in the United States, networked, and got ready,” explained Sofía Román Montes, coordinator at the pro-choice group Equidad de Género. “He used tactics from the U.S.: The Silent Scream, the screaming at women, the vans with ultrasounds. That was all from the United States. Nothing is made here.”

Well, there might be one part of the Mexican CAMs that is indigenous, a sort of local twist. Though my translator Katia emerged from her visit to the CAM with the suggestion that she was nearly two months pregnant, the ultrasound reading was false: Katia was not pregnant. According to Mexican reproductive rights groups, such false diagnoses by CAMs are routine, with widespread reports of women being shown ultrasound images of fetuses far more advanced than they could possibly be carrying—for example, a woman early in her first trimester being shown images from a late-second-term pregnancy—as well as numerous instances of women who were not pregnant being shown an ultrasound of their “baby.”

Abortion rights advocates believe that the CAMs are showing prerecorded videos instead of actual ultrasounds. When a non-pregnant student working with Balance went to a clinic, she was shown an ultrasound image of a 13-week-old fetus. And Equidad de Género’s Román Montes seconded the experience: every time she’s sent employees into CAMs undercover, she says, “all of our workers come out pregnant, too.”

* * *

Like the CAMs, María Del Carmen Alva López’s group IRMA was similarly inspired by the U.S. anti-abortion movement. Twenty-five years ago, Alva conducted her college thesis work on U.S. anti-abortion movement leaders, interviewing many at Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s official post-abortion ministry, which has chapters in more than 110 U.S. dioceses. Alva dreamed of setting up her own group in Mexico. After a colleague in Monterrey offered to translate Project Rachel’s materials for her, she started her own organization and assembled a team of counselors.

Today, IRMA offers individual counseling and special Bible-study weekend retreats for women who have had abortions, modeling their therapy on a support group manual written and sold by Rachel’s Vineyard—another U.S. organization that takes its name from the biblical Rachel, who mourns her dead children, this one founded by the New York-based anti-abortion group Priests for Life. On Rachel’s Vineyard’s website, IRMA is listed as the group’s Mexican partner.

Last year, an official of Human Life International spoke of visiting “as many key players as possible” to help coordinate the fight against Mexico’s “culture of death.” HLI also sponsored the creation of a large-scale, online anti-abortion resource site in Latin America. The Knights of Columbus send money. And on it goes.

Reproductive rights advocates say that with this support, the anti-abortion movement in Mexico has built a strong advocacy network to rival that of feminist NGOs, growing beyond the initial activism of the Catholic Church and ProVida to a coalition of hundreds, with new groups sprouting up “like mushrooms.” One “pro-family” leader in Mexico, Red Familia, aligns hundreds of partner organizations on a shared traditionalist platform. Red Familia is itself part of a larger network, the American-based global conservative coalition called the World Congress of Families. The WCF is an interfaith right-wing group that condemns the international expansion of abortion and LGBT rights as a form of U.S. cultural imperialism, forcing decadent liberal social mores on allegedly orthodox, traditional nations.

It seems like a laughable accusation, given conservatives’ own abundant overseas networking, but it’s a familiar argument to filmmaker Berger, who was inspired to make his 2008 film on CAMs by the frustrating popularity of the charge that abortion rights are a form of “Yankee imperialism” aimed at limiting Latino birth rates. There’s a reason why the story has appeal: The shameful history of abusive population control measures enacted on the developing world, often by U.S. groups or with U.S. money, give potency to the claim that abortion rights are a form of contemporary eugenics being forced by Americans onto a life-loving Catholic people. But what Berger found instead was that the reverse was true. While Mexico’s Catholicism may be indisputable, the recipe for its “pro-vida” movement was the true U.S. export: its leaders trained and supported in the United States, its activism model a mirror image of the U.S. one.

Mexican women, on the other hand, have needed and obtained abortions since long before colonialism. “The desire for a woman to end her pregnancy when she doesn’t want to carry to term isn’t an import from the U.S.,” said Berger. “That’s something that women go through every day and is a personal experience—not somehow imported from abroad.”

Nor is Mexico’s Catholic heritage everything that the “pro-vida” activists claim. In an attempt to counter IRMA’s widely broadcast message, the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice-Mexico has begun airing a short, regular animation series, Catolicadas, on a TV news program, advancing the idea that being a good Catholic can include supporting reproductive rights.

For some Mexican pro-choice advocates, that heritage—and the different tradition of Catholicism they practice—is already the backbone of their activism. A woman I’ll call Ramona, an abortion provider working illegally in the state of Morelos, says it was precisely growing up Catholic in Morelos—a cradle of Mexico’s liberation theology movement in the 1970s and ’80s—that made her pro-choice. She can recall the moment when a Catholic teacher in her radical church asked the class whether they thought it was acceptable for a woman to have an abortion. The students were told to answer by moving to one side of the room or the other, and Ramona found herself alone on her side.

Though abortion rights were anathema to Catholic doctrine, Ramona said, everything else the church had taught her about the fight for justice convinced her that it was right for a woman to be able to choose, and that other Catholics might come to see that. “Jesus, for me, was another person fighting for justice. It’s why it’s easy for me to be where I am. It was a chance to say the struggle is here in the world, not in heaven.”

For more from this issue of The Nation, click here.

Image worldfocusonline / YouTube

For It Before They Were Against It: Catholic Universities and Birth Control

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth control pills

Some Catholic universities were historic supporters of contraception.

If you weren’t eagerly checking the bishops’ blog for their feelings on your health insurance, you may not have known last week was Catholic Schools Week! I generally don’t participate in the bishops’ weeks (or fortnights), but I think this is an ideal moment to highlight the proud history of advocacy for contraceptive access at Catholic-affiliated Universities — which is relevant to all those lawsuits that won’t be going away now that His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan has spoken.

We begin at Notre Dame in 1966. Faculty members formed a group to advocate for government funding of family planning programs and advertised a statement of support in Catholic publications. They received over 500 signatures in under a month from Catholic clergy, nuns, lawyers, doctors, and faculty members  at Catholic universities, including the deans of Notre Dame and Santa Clara’s law schools. The Notre Dame professor chairing the committee told the New York Times the group wished to emphasize that “in a pluralistic society, some legislation may be desirable even though it may not be in accord with the moral principles of a minority of the society’s members.”

The chairman explained that the impetus for the group’s formation had been an address by the Rev. Dexter L. Hanley to the American Bar Association arguing for government family planning programs. Father Hanley was a law professor at Georgetown University. Yes, that Georgetown. The same Georgetown that trained a lawyer named Sandra Fluke. Father Hanley also testified before a congressional subcommittee in support of access to contraception. So when Sandra Fluke did the same thing, not only was she acting like a lawyer, which is presumably what one attends Georgetown Law to learn to do, she was following in the footsteps of a revered Georgetown professor and priest who had inspired Catholics across the country to take action.

Though Fluke is regularly accused of demanding government funding for contraception, what she actually testified about was the sub-par plan available to Georgetown students (who are required to have health insurance). Typically, student health plans involve students paying money to a third-party health insurance company; neither government nor university funds are involved in these transactions. Father Hanley, however, was indeed advocating for taxpayer-funded contraception and education. He acknowledged Catholic teaching against contraception but testified that he could firmly maintain his moral positions as a Catholic while supporting a government program that “permits each citizen a fully free moral choice in matters of family planning, and aids him in implementing this choice.”

Today, rather than permitting its students a “fully free moral choice” as Father Hanley advocated, Georgetown has taken advantage of the safe harbor from the contraceptive coverage requirements, claiming it has a religious belief that bars providing insurance that covers contraception. This is hard to believe given that faculty members’ health plans have included contraceptive coverage for years. Also, Georgetown hosted an excellent conference on the Health and Human Services regulation where most scholars rejected the claim that providing coverage violated Catholic doctrine or that requiring it violated the law. The robust defenses of Sandra Fluke from the University President and the law school faculty were lovely, but fixing the problem she testified about is what’s needed.

Let’s return to Notre Dame. From 1963 to 1967 Notre Dame held an annual “Conference on Population.” The conference, organized with the help of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was intended from its inception to be a forum to develop a more liberal Catholic position on contraception. In 1965, thirty-seven scholars who attended the conference sent a statement to the Pope that declared “[t]here is dependable evidence that contraception is not intrinsically immoral, and that therefore there are certain circumstances in which it may be permitted or indeed even recommended.” Notre Dame’s President, Father Theodore Hesburgh, later got his friend John D. Rockefeller a secret meeting with the Pope to discuss the problem of overpopulation.

Despite this history, the University has now claimed in its lawsuit that Notre Dame, whoever that is, has a sincere religious belief that the Church’s “centuries’ old teachings” prohibit coverage. This is despite the fact that its own theology students and faculty can’t get their questions answered about what the theological claim for the prohibition of contraceptive coverage is and people like Kathleen Kaveny, a professor of both law and theology at Notre Dame, have argued the legality of the mandate in detail. A further troubling sign from an institution that was once the place for principled discussion of contraception, is that Notre Dame’s website refers students to what appears to be a “Crisis Pregnancy Center.” When I called up the “Women’s Care Center,” they told me they do not actually have doctors on staff or prescribe contraception.

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Irish Law, “Conscience Clauses,” and Needless Death: Three Questions About Savita Halappanavar’s Death

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar here.

An Irish flag hangs against a blue sky

Could the tragic death of an Irish woman happen in the United States?

Last night, we reported on the unnecessary and tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, who entered an Irish hospital undergoing what turned out to be a miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy at 17 weeks, and was denied a life-saving abortion because, as she and her husband were told, Ireland is “a Catholic country.” Translation? Even a non-viable fetus, perhaps already dead but in any case absolutely certain not to survive, is more important than a woman’s life.

Numerous questions have arisen in the wake of this case.

One: Why did this happen? Doesn’t Ireland, a country with otherwise draconian abortion laws, allow abortion to save the life of the mother?

Two: Was there any doubt an abortion was necessary to save Savita’s life?

Three: Can this happen in the United States?

I’ll take these in turn.

The reason this happened is at once very simple and highly complex. It starts with Irish abortion law, and ends with the imposition of a misogynistic ideology on a woman literally begging for mercy from pain and for her own life as she pleaded with her doctors numerous times to perform an abortion on a fetus it was clear would not live.

Current Irish law on abortion is somewhat murky. The country’s laws, like those of most others, have shifted dramatically over the past two centuries, until in the mid-fifties abortion was made illegal in virtually all circumstances. The legal landscape changed again over 20 years ago when the Irish Supreme Court decided that women had a constitutional right to an abortion where there was “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother. The Supreme Court decision came in response to the case of “X,” who, as a February 2012 article in the New York Times pointed out, was a 14-year-old girl prevented from leaving the country to have an abortion after she became pregnant from rape. After that decision, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report:

 abortion [in Ireland remained] legally restricted in almost all circumstances, with potential penalties of penal servitude for life for both patients and service providers, except where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

In its 1992 decision, the Irish Supreme Court also required the government to clarify the conditions under which a legal abortion might take place.

Nonetheless, as we reported in December 2011, Human Rights Watch found that 20 years later:

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We Are All Savita Halappanavar: Catholic Hospital in Ireland Denies Woman Life-Saving Abortion

3:27 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See our further analysis of this case.

Galway University Hospital, the scene of the crime.

Last month, a woman was admitted to a hospital in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks pregnant with a wanted child. She was experiencing severe back pain. She was found to be miscarrying the pregnancy.

Within days, she was dead.

Why? Because she ended up in a Catholic hospital, governed by an ethic that even a non-viable fetus doomed to die is more important than a living, breathing 31-year-old woman.

It really is that simple.

IrishTimes.com reports that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, arrived at the hospital on October 21st. According to the story:

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination.

This was refused, he says, because the fetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country.”

Indeed.

So, the story continues, “She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the fetal heartbeat stopped.

According to IrishTimes.com, Mr Halappanavar, speaking from Belgaum in the state of Karnataka, India, said an internal examination was performed when she first presented.

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The Pontifical Commission and How Birth Control Became Known as Intrinsically Evil

10:35 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Pre-formed humans depicted in sperm cells, known as "homunculi."

Written by Anonymous for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Anonymous is a practicing Catholic who writes for RH Reality Check on the church and contraception.

Half a century ago, the pope appointed a commission to study the morality of birth control. Multiple choice: What do you think their findings were?

A) Birth control is not “intrinsically evil.”

B) Married couples should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to use birth control.

C) Artificial birth control is an extension of methods of natural family planning already accepted by the Catholic Church.

D) All of the above.

You may be as astonished as I was to learn that the answer is “D.”

After I wrote my essay, “Why I Skipped Mass Today”, I decided to investigate my church’s historical attitudes toward contraception a little further. Let me start at the beginning, shortly after “The Beginning,” with a story from Genesis.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also. (Genesis 38:8-10, New American Standard Bible).

Onan: the first recorded coitus interrupter. I kind of feel bad for him; I am not sure I would want any of my sexual acts recorded for posterity. And can you imagine his Facebook page, if they had such things in those days? “Dude—heard you pulled out! WTF?” Read the rest of this entry →

Religious Exemptions and Contraceptive Coverage: How Far Can Denial Go and Still Be Constitutional?

9:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Annamarya Scaccia for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A change was made to this article at 11:48 am, Friday September 30th to include a missing piece of the following sentence: “The points raised in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter may be flawed at best. In its attempt to underscore the narrowness of the religious exemption, the group cites the Church Amendment to the “Health Programs Extension Act of 1973,” as evidence of long-standing federal conscience protections.”

New guidelines applied August 1 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Affordable Care Act, requiring that employers include coverage of women’s preventive care, including birth control have drawn fierce opposition from the religious.

The new guidelines require all new private insurance plans to cover preventive services—including, for example, breast exams and pap smears, maternity care, HPV testing, gestational diabetes screening and breastfeeding support—sans co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible and without cost-sharing. The guidelines, which go into effect as of August 1, 2012, also require coverage without a co-pay of FDA-approved contraception and contraceptive counseling. And there’s the rub. The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used modern forms of birth control banned by the Catholic Church hierarchy, yet some Catholic organizations are crying foul over the birth control mandate.

Based on language from conscience clauses found in 28 states, non-profit religious institutions that exist for religious purposes, and primarily employ and serve those who share their religious values can opt out of offering contraceptive coverage in their group health plans. The HHS opened the interim policy for public comment for 60 days since the announcement, which closes on Friday, September 30. Read the rest of this entry →

The Authoritarian Agenda Behind Attacks on Contraception

7:58 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In a recent piece for the American Prospect, Sarah Posner outlined how the fringe of the religious right increasingly dictates the larger conservative agenda, as evidenced by the bold Republican push towards open war on contraception.  Sarah writes about the reason for the attacks on Planned Parenthood:

It is not solely about shutting down Planned Parenthood’s federal funding because the organization provides abortion services (indeed federal funding of abortion is already banned by the Hyde Amendment). It’s about shutting down Planned Parenthood because it provides contraceptives. That is a target because, as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has put it, “an arrogant corrupt Washington elite” has “declared war on marriage, on families, on fertility, and on faith.”

Mike Huckabee has started to join the chorus of anti-contraception voices as well, calling Planned Parenthood “Planned Barrenhood”—basically signing off on the idea that any attempt to control fertility is wrong, no matter how you do it.  While the official argument is that this is still just about abortion, the mask slips more and more all the time, and the public is beginning to be clear about how radical the anti-choice agenda really is. And the thing is that when you drop the bloviating about fetal life and attack contraception head on, it’s much harder to distract people from how viciously misogynistic this agenda really is. 

Take, for instance, the reaction of the California Catholic Daily to a new Guttmacher report demonstrating no real difference in contraception use between religious and non-religious women, even Catholics.  Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use contraception, only one percentage point less than the public at large.  Instead of viewing this as evidence that church teachings are sexist, out of date, and have no relationship to women’s actual needs and lives, California Catholic Daily lashed out at women for being disobedient to the dictates of the celibate men who are supposed to know better than women what they need for their lives … Read more

Dirty Campaigning, Brazilian Style

6:49 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Gillian Kane for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

“Murderer,” “anti-Christ,” “candidate of death.” No, this isn’t Sharron Angle talking about Harry Reid in advance of tomorrow’s election. This was the combative rhetoric framing the lead up to Sunday’s run-off election in Brazil. The 2010 presidential elections marked the first time abortion became a highly debated campaign issue and it followed a fairly American script, replete with allegations against front runner, Dilma Rousseff, that she was a lesbian, a child-killer, a socialist. The tactic didn’t pay off: Rousseff won a resounding victory last night with 56 percent of the vote to become Brazil’s first female president.

It is remarkable that the Catholic Church and its right wing allies succeeded to the extent they did in making abortion a wedge issue because both presidential candidates, Rousseff and her opponent, José Serra, the former governor of Sao Paulo state, are hardly pro-choice—at at least in the way we Americans define pro-choice. Neither advocates for legalizing abortion, neither campaigned on a pro-choice platform, and neither has aligned with the activist Brazilian pro-choice movement.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, though permissible for two exceptions; rape and risk to life of the pregnant woman. The Brazilian feminist movement, active now for almost 30 years, has made significant progress in the face of unrelenting opposition to legal abortion reform. Gains, however, are measured not in legislative change—there are few political champions within the National Congress—but rather in creating broad awareness about unsafe abortion as a public health issue, ensuring that legal abortions are available, developing a grassroots movement to support legalizing abortion and preventing any regression on existing legislation.

The extraordinary visibility of abortion in this campaign season attests, in part, to the work of the anti-choice opposition. Read more

Why Does Congress Allow a Pedophilia-ridden Church to Control Women’s Rights?

7:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

If you are, like me, confused about the answer to this question, please raise your hand….or better yet….ask your Congressperson and Senator.  And ask the President.

Why is a pedophilia-ridden, pedophilia-hiding, child-abusing Church allowed to write laws controlling women’s rights?

I am talking, of course, about the Catholic Church and specifically about the hierarchy….not the good people of the Catholic faith. 

The Church whose leadership, in case we didn’t already know this, has now been proven to have purposefully hidden an epidemic of pedophilia and–to protect priests, not born children–reassigned serial sex offenders to other parishes to offend again.  The kind of people who, if they were not priests protected by the hierarchy of the Church would not be allowed by US law to come anywhere near children or schools?

According to the newest revelations reported in the New York Times:

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit. [emphasis mine].

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

As many as 200 deaf children molested.  The Pope himself as Cardinal–and as the Church’s chief doctrinal enforcer–more worried about the possible scandal to the Church than the abuse of born children.  As a mother, I am so sickened I can barely type.

You know that doctrine that they enforce?  The one that makes women lower on the totem pole than a fertilized egg?  The one that in Nicaragua has a woman whose life is threatened with cancer, hospitalized at 8 weeks pregnant, refused either an abortion or cancer treatment because the egg, embryo, fetus is so much more important than that woman’s life (or the future of her 10-year-old daughter)?  You know the doctrine that says they will excommunicate the mother of a 9-year-old girl in Brazil because she insisted that her daughter, pregnant with twins as a result of rape by her step-father (rape of a then-8-year-old girl) be allowed an abortion?  The one that talks incessantly about the "sanctity of life" (until after you are born)?  The Church that supports organizations that threaten to remove the social services they provide to all poor people in the District of Columbia because they find offering insurance benefits to married same sex couples so offensive?

The Church that refuses to provide even preventive reproductive health care to women while using federal dollars because it "offends their morals?"

The Church of "abstinence-only" programs that have resulted in countless teens across this country obtaining sexually-transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies?

I ask again: Why is that Congress allows a pedophilia-ridden, pedophilia-hiding, child-abusing Church allowed to write laws about women’s rights?

And I am talking about deals cut over the past several years with the consent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other leading Democrats including:

  • The 11th hour vote on the Stupak Amendment last fall in the health reform debate allowed by Speaker Pelosi after closed door meetings with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 

 

  • The midnight-rewriting in 2008–the night before a vote–of the original reauthorization bill of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops–aided in this case by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA), and Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)–worked long into the night with Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) and his staff–with the blessing of the Speaker–to:

 

  • deny HIV-positive women access to contraceptive supplies to avoid unwanted pregnancies (because these women knew already they would not live to raise any child born);

 

  • restrict integration of HIV prevention and family planning services, even though both unintended pregnancies and HIV infection are catastrophic public health problems in Africa and both result from unprotected sexual intercourse;

 

  • re-insert into that bill abstinence-only-until marriage policies despite the fact that the Government Accoutability Office, the Institutes of Medicine and countless other analysts had proven these programs only served to leave people vulnerable to HIV infection.

 

I am talking about an HIV epidemic in which women now make up the majority of those infected and in which women and girls face the highest rates of new infections.  I am talking about policies that consigned untold numbers of women to death and continue to do so.

I am talking about the Church that is invited into decision-making bodies on teen pregnancy, HIV prevention, comprehensive sex ed, by this Administration, in which the needs of "faith-based" organizations continue to take precedence over the health and rights of women, over pro-choice and women’s rights groups representing the majority of women in the United States, and over public health evidence and human rights in shaping public health policy.

I am talking about a Church which the male-dominated media goes out of its way to protect.

And I am offering here but a few examples of things about which I could easily write a book.

When will this stop?  When will we actually–not just rhetorically–care more about science than ideology?  About women’s rights over a misogynistic male organization that can not even keep its hands off of children.?

Only President Obama and the Democratic Leadership in both the House and Senate can provide those answers and only you can make them do so.

Written by Jodi Jacobson, editor of RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.