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Being Pro-Choice is About Much More Than Just the Right to Abortion Care

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

With the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, the words “pro-choice” seem to be everywhere. You’ll hear them in impassioned speeches, and see them on colorful posters, on blogs and in tweets.  And when you do, you’ll probably think of abortion.

That’s understandable. And undeniably, the right to choose an abortion is something that must be protected.  A woman chooses abortion for the most intimate, personal reasons, and no one else is qualified to make that choice.

But abortion is far from the only choice a woman makes about her reproductive health. And if you really think about it, why wait to defend those reproductive health choices until she is at the door of an abortion clinic?

True freedom of choice — about sex, and if and when to have children — starts way before then. A woman’s ability to choose the family she wants often depends on her economic status, her knowledge, and her access to health services, including contraception.  It also depends on where she lives; services varies greatly from state to state and country to country

And in every state and country, politicians are at the center of the decisions about women’s reproductive choices.  Last year, conservative forces in Congress and many state legislatures proposed, and in some cases passed, laws that restricted women’s access to vital reproductive health services. Some politicians even talked of banning birth control. And the assault wasn’t limited to within our borders. Proposed cuts to international family planning funding and an attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule threatened to further limit the choices of women in developing countries. 

Already, 215 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to or information about modern contraception. Some women can’t get accurate information, and don’t use contraception because of myths about side effects or infertility. Others travel long distances to the nearest health clinic, only to find the contraceptives they need are out of stock.

There are child brides who go on to become teen moms, many against their own wishes. There are 53 million unintended pregnancies and 251,000 maternal deaths each year that could be prevented if we met women’s needs for family planning and maternal health services.

Having better choices in any of these scenarios could make a profound difference in a woman’s life. And that’s something to get passionate about too. So as we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let’s understand “pro-choice” with its intended, more holistic meaning, and fight for the full range of reproductive choices for all women.

Let’s be “pro” not just about abortion, but also about:

  • The choice to get accurate, comprehensive information about contraception.
  • The choice to marry or be single; and to have sex only when ready.
  • The choice to delay childbearing, space births, and decide when to stop having kids.
  • The choice of health clinics with competent professionals, that don’t take hours or days to get to.
  • The choice of birth control pills and IUDs and condoms and other contraceptive methods.

It may not be the stuff of buttons and posters, but it’s the stuff of everyday life.

The Onerous Toll of the Helms Amendment and What Obama Can Do To Change It

12:45 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


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

It’s been almost three years since President Obama repealed the global gag rule, one of the most ludicrous and paternalistic U.S. foreign policies in history. But as we celebrate the anniversary of its repeal, just one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22nd, another matter deserves our attention.

The last stronghold of America’s oppressive overseas reproductive health policies, the Helms Amendment, is still alive and well. The 1973 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act restricts U.S. funding for abortion overseas – even in countries where abortion is legal. Specifically, it states:

“No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

The Helms Amendment invented what the global gag rule caricatured: a foreign policy that explicitly intrudes on the lives of women in developing countries, singling out and stigmatizing ‘abortion’ from the continuum of reproductive care necessary for a healthy life. Yet we’ve heard relatively little of this “grandfather” of anti-choice policies over the past 40 years, and all the while its colonial specter has continued to haunt the United State’s legacy of global reproductive rights.

Some are now aruging publicly for change. In late-December, 12 Members of Congress, including Representatives Lois Capps, Pete Stark, and Jan Schakowsky,  sent a letter to President Obama asking for a formal review of the policy for the first time in history.

“We are concerned that the Helms Amendment – which restricts but does not prohibit abortion funding – is being implemented as though it were an absolute ban,” the letter stated.

The letter is a first step toward addressing a policy that has undermine the rights and health of women throughout the world for far too long.

Although Helms prohibits U.S. aid from directly supporting abortion services, it is supposed to allow for the provision of abortion counseling and referrals, post-abortion care, and abortion in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the woman. Years of careful tracking and documentation work on the part of reproductive rights groups, spearheaded by Ipas and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) have produced clear evidence that in reality, these exceptions exist in theory but not in practice.

“Despite provisions allowing foreign-assistance funding for abortion services under certain circumstances, for almost 40 years the Helms Amendment has been implemented improperly as a total ban on all abortions,” CRR said in a statement released last month.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it should. While the gag rule has been officially rescinded, it seems the Helms Amendment has continued to function in effectively the same way. Primarily due to the clumsy wording of the amendment (what constitutes “abortion as a method of family planning” and what counts as “motivating” abortion?), and the long history of the use of women’s rights to full reproductive health care as a political football, application of the policy in-country among aid workers and recipients has veered drastically toward banning and self-censorship. Ipas and CRR, along with a small group of legislators, are asking President Obama to issue clarifying guidance to ensure the proper implementation of the policy.

The groups suggest that the Helms Amendment has contributed to an overall environment of censorship, stigma, and misinformation around abortion, resulting in barriers to services and consequent deaths and injuries. For example, Nepal’s abortion law was liberalized in 2002. Yet Ipas found that despite this, and even after the repeal of the global gag rule, abortion was omitted entirely from formal USAID trainings, discussions, and manuals, and abortion groups were informally excluded from partner meetings on national reproductive health strategies.

As abortion is singled out, reproductive health services become fragmented, drastically reducing the likelihood that women will receive these services at all even under “legal” circumstances. The situation is not likely to be much better in any other country receiving U.S. international assistance, including countries where rape is being regularly employed as a weapon of war. This is disturbing when you consider that global aid funding is supposed to “help” in the most fundamental way, not harm. Unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of maternal mortality in the developing world, and that is clearly thanks in part to the Helms Amendment.

This seems to be something that everyone should care about. That the Helms Amendment exists in the first place should incite reproductive (and human) rights advocates – it is ties assistance to an ideology that flouts medical and scientific evidence and the reality of women’s lives. It should further incite us that this policy is being twisted to create additional obstacles for women in some of the most vulnerable places in the world. Yet the Helms Amendment remains a policy largely un-touched by pro-choice groups and rarely covered in the media.

The Hyde Amendment, which is basically the domestic version of the Helms Amendment, turned 35 just months ago, an anniversary that provided an opportunity to highlight the unjust, classist, and oppressive nature of a policy that most deeply affects low-income women in the United States. The coverage was terrific and widespread, delving into the history and implications of the policy, and even providing a helpful framework of lessons for activists. Yet in all this, Helms was barely mentioned.

This is disappointing and problematic, because the two are so intimately connected. The Congressional letter to President Obama begins, “We are Members of Congress committed to reproductive rights at home and abroad…”. That line, at home and abroad, is pivotal. These policies do not exist in a vacuum, and neither do the anti-woman ideologies propelling them and keeping them in place. Their inceptions were related and if advocates are to successfully repeal them, those efforts, too, may have to be related.

Recent efforts to drag the Helms Amendment into the light come at a critical time.  Last month, the administration announced an historic National Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security, an executive order that puts women at the center of U.S. foreign policy. President Obama has talked the talk, now he is being asked to walk the walk. The president can ask the relevant agencies to review their policies and make guidance on the Helms Amendment and its exceptions crystal clear. He can issue an executive order ensuring that funding streams are not burdened by overly broad interpretations of an already-heninous law. The decision is in the Administration’s hands.  It is too soon to know what the outcome will be, but it seems at least the wheels may be starting to turn.

Senate Committee Passes Appropriations Bill Permanently Banning Global Gag Rule

11:04 am 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.


Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the FY 2012 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill that, if signed into law, would block re-imposition of the Global Gag Rule. The amendment was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and would prohibit future Presidents from using executive orders to refuse funding to a foreign organization solely because of the legal medical services it provides; the information, counseling, and referrals it offers; or the advocacy it engages in with its own government—using its own non-U.S. funds.

The Foreign Ops bill provides funding for the U.S. diplomatic corps and development, health, and humanitarian assistance programs of the U.S. government. In it, the committee also approved funding for international reproductive health programs and the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A parallel bill in the House of Representatives approved in committee this summer cuts international family planning funding by 25 percent from current levels, reinstates the Global Gag Rule, and includes a blanket prohibition on U.S. funding to UNFPA.

The current Senate bill includes $700 million for family planning programs, $239 million more than the House bill and $85 million above current funding levels.

According to Population Action International, today’s markup “puts the Senate on record rejecting the House version and sets the stage for a showdown over the final FY 2012 appropriations bill to be negotiated later this year.”

In response to passage of the bill in committee, Lautenberg stated: Read the rest of this entry →

What Does US Policy Have to Do With Child Brides and Drought in Kenya?

10:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Drought in Africa"

"Drought in Africa" by United Nations Photo on flickr

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.

There’s a saying that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. When it comes to news that Kenyan families, facing serious drought conditions and unable to feed their families, are now selling their young daughters off to buy food, the United States is a part of the problem.

A big part.


As we reported two weeks back, the GOP and Tea Party majorities in the United States House of Representative are hell-bent on re-imposing the Global Gag Rule on U.S. international family planning assistance in a back and forth on policy that rivals Wimbledon.  And, as we reported in December 2010, House Republicans banded together to kill the International Child Marriage Prevention Act for no apparent reason other than to be ornery and adhere to a baseless ideology. The act would have required the U.S. government to develop an integrated, strategic approach to combating child marriage by promoting the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of women and girls, using existing resources. As in revenue-neutral, one of the terms du-jour.

To top all of this off, Republican Congressmen Chris Smith (NJ), Joe Pitts (PA), and Mike Pence (IN) succeeded during the Bush Administration in forbidding the integration of family planning information and supplies into HIV and AIDS programs, though unprotected sex is the leading cause of HIV transmission and of course the cause of unintended pregnancy. This of course undermined cost savings in addressing the related problems of HIV infection and unintended pregnancy and also denied HIV-positive women in particular the right to decide whether or not to have another child. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was particularly incensed at the idea these women would have such power and so lobbied very hard against integration. Read the rest of this entry →

Democrats Seek Permanent Repeal of Global Gag Rule; GOP Seeks to Enshrine it in Law

9:42 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Gag Law"

"Gag Law" by gmcmullen on flickr

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

Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that has been applied and revoked via executive order at each change in the White House, beginning with Ronald Reagan and leading most recently to repeal by President Obama in 2009.

The GGR prohibits international health care providers from receiving U.S. international assistance for family planning if those organizations use other (non-US) funding to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or services, or seek to change laws regarding abortion care in countries in which abortion is a leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 49.  Access to contraception and to family planning counseling and information helps women and their partners to plan the number and spacing of children they want to have and to avoid unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion.  As such, by denying U.S. international assistance to groups that also provide safe, legal abortion, the GGR actually increases the number of abortions, rather than reducing them. Read the rest of this entry →

House Committee Votes to Reinstate Global Gag Rule (Again) and Other Misogynistic Amendments

8:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A central motto of today’s GOP and Tea Parties appears to be: Never let evidence get in the way of efforts to pass a law undermining women’s access to healthcare.

An addendum to this motto appears to be: Never let an opportunity pass to deny funding to or politicize services providing care to the poorest and least-enfranchised women in the world, most particularly those who suffer high rates of maternal death due to lack of access to family planning services and high rates of complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion.

In keeping with this, just weeks after publication of a major report underscoring the benefits of robust U.S. investment in family planning worldwide, the GOP-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in the early hours of the morning today to reinstate the Global Gag Rule (GGR) as part of the draft Fiscal Year 2012 State Department Authorizations Act, except this time with broader and more damaging implications than ever before.

Continue reading…

Obama Repeals Global Gag Rule; Critical Step for Foreign Policy

2:32 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Daniel Pellegrom for – Information, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

President Obama signed an executive order late Friday afternoon ending the Global Gag Rule.

President Obama’s decision to lift the Global Gag Rule gives me extraordinary reason to rejoice. I became Pathfinder International’s president in 1985, shortly after President Reagan imposed the original version of the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy). I have openly opposed the gag rule, working for its repeal ever since.

At Pathfinder, we challenged this harmful policy in federal court in the late 1980s. Although we did not obtain an outright victory in the courts, the lawsuit forced the U.S. government to clarify what activities were legally permissible under the rule, paving the way for resumption of life-saving post-abortion medical services. Indeed, that legal challenge revealed to the court that among the repercussions of the U.S. gag rule were the preventable deaths of women in the globe’s poorest countries.

Pathfinder was the first organization to negotiate a cooperative agreement with USAID after the implementation of the Mexico City Policy. And I can tell you from personal observation that the gag rule was ineffective in doing what Read the rest of this entry →

Beyond the Global Gag Rule: “The World Has Changed and We Must Change With It”

8:48 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for – News, commentary and community for Reproductive Health and Justice.

In Kenya, homeland of President Obama’s father and paternal grandparents, abortion is illegal except in very limited circumstances. More than 40 percent of births are unplanned according to the Guttmacher Institute, and one-fourth of all married women want to space or limit births but have no access to contraceptives.

Lack of control over sex and reproduction costs Kenya’s women dearly. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that 15,000 Kenyan women die of complications of pregnancy and unsafe abortion each year, and that an additional 294,000 to 441,000 women suffer disabilities from the same causes. Despite the risks to their lives and health, some 300,000 women in Kenya seek out abortions each year, desperate to end pregnancies that they cannot, for whatever their own personal reasons, carry to term.

Yet Kenya is not a worst-case scenario. In many countries, maternal mortality rates — maternal deaths per 100,000 lives births — are far higher. A 2007 UN multi-agency report notes that 13 nations have maternal mortality rates that exceed 1,000 deaths of women per 100,00 live births. All but Afghanistan are in sub-Saharan Read the rest of this entry →

Americans Embrace Pro-Education, Pro-Prevention, Pro-Choice Values in Historic Election

10:01 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Americans ultimately vote their values.

In an election that started out as a debate about war, and ended up being about the economy, voters were also treated to a very clear discussion about the social values of both major parties, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and very clear ballot initiatives. Social issues may not have been front burner in every race or region, but they were made clear from start to stop.

President-elect Barack Obama and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden articulated a platform of pro-education, pro-prevention and pro-choice values that was championed by both pro-life and pro-choice Democrats. They clearly spoke out for equal rights for all citizens and against government intrusion into the most intimate personal decisions individuals and families make. American voters have overwhelmingly embraced them and by extension their values; a very clear majority choosing to respect individual rights and promote individual responsibility — while appreciating that people have differing values within our diverse nation.

Throughout his two year campaign, President-elect Obama clearly called on Americans to respect our differences on controversial issues like abortion and gay rights, but to also work together on common sense policies. Obama envisions a society that allows Americans to move past the division that Read the rest of this entry →