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“New Life” Trumps “Existing Life” in the Modern Republican Party

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

“I believe that if you have to choose between new life and existing life, you should choose new life. The person who has had an opportunity to live at least has been given that gift by God and should make way for new life on earth.”

These are the words of the late Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a driving force behind the creation of the movement we know today as the Religious Right. As the above quote implies, Weyrich had no patience for those in anti-choice circles who advocated for an abortion exception when the life of the pregnant woman was threatened.

This sentiment, voiced by Weyrich in 1984, has never entirely disappeared from some sectors of the anti-choice movement, though for quite some time, it was not a position widely spoken of. This is hardly surprising given that a huge majority of Americans support access to abortion in life-threatening situations.

However, the Republican Party’s official platform is one place where the absolute ban on any exceptions, including one to save a woman’s life, is retained.


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How HR 358, the Let Women Die Act 2011, Violates International Human Rights Standards

1:14 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

In a hospital in Nicaragua, after a total ban on abortion was passed, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy was allowed to languish, waiting for her fallopian tube to rupture before a doctor agreed to perform the procedure necessary to save her life and future fertility. Even though there was no doubt regarding the outcome of her pregnancy, the doctor refused to operate until the fetus was certifiably dead, and with no ultrasound available in that rural hospital, there was only one way to make sure.  

This is the world that Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) would like to bring to America with the passage of H.R. 358, the so-called “Protect Life Act,” a bill that would deny pregnant women access to emergency treatment, insurance coverage for abortion services and even information about how she could pay for an abortion. It’s bad enough that one member of Congress would be willing to put women’s lives at risk this way; that a majority of the House of Representatives voted for it is appalling.

While in the United States we may treat abortion restrictions as a political issue, elsewhere around the world, advocates and experts understand such restrictions to be public health and human rights issues. And in the United States this year, we have seen law after law passed that clearly violates international human rights standards. 

Contrast Pitts’ legislation with the report on legal restrictions on aspects of sexual and reproductive health presented to the United Nations on Monday by Anand Grover, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Health. The report states,

“Realization of the right to health requires the removal of barriers that interfere with individual decision-making on health-related issues and with access to health services, education and information, in particular on health conditions that only affect women and girls.” (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, the report highlights the growing global trend towards decriminalizing abortion.  Everywhere, that is, except in the United States.  In my home state of North Carolina this year, we have passed a number of barriers that “interfere with individual decision-making” on reproductive health: a mandatory waiting period, mandatory and biased counseling, and a forced ultrasound, all solely intended to place barriers and shame women who seek abortions, even if she has been raped or her life is in danger. 

Just in the first half of this year, states enacted some 80 measures to restrict access to abortion (more than double the previous record set in 2005 of 34), all of which seem to violate the human rights standards set in international agreements. They include extreme restrictions, such as the one in Ohio that would ban abortion once a heartbeat can be detected (six to 10 weeks’ gestation). Several states, including Kansas, Tennessee and North Dakota have banned the use of telemedicine (key to delivering health services to underserved rural areas) for dispensing medical abortion.  In Mississippi, a state ballot initiative, if passed, would mandate personhood from the moment of fertilization, possibly outlawing the most popular forms of contraception.  Bearing in mind that 99 percent of American women have used contraception during in their lifetimes, this law would result in the violation of the rights of millions of American women. 

Grover’s report was developed following a thorough review of health research, national laws, international agreements and opinions and rulings issued by human rights bodies – although it reads as if it were written about the United States:

“These laws make safe abortions and post-abortion care unavailable, especially to poor, displaced and young women. Such restrictive regimes, which are not replicated in other areas of sexual and reproductive health care, serve to reinforce the stigma that abortion is an objectionable practice.”

In the United States, there have been laws on the books for decades that specifically deny young and low-income women access to abortion. Parental consent laws force young women to seek their parents’ permission to have an abortion, regardless of their home situation. (Studies have shown that most teens will consult with a parent before deciding to terminate a pregnancy, but even those who risk violence or homelessness are still forced to produce at least one parents’ consent.) And the Hyde Amendment bans the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion, explicitly isolating one health care procedure for purely political reasons.

Amnesty International has created an international campaign to raise awareness about the toll the total ban on abortion is taking on women in Nicaragua. Is it time to create one for women in the United States?

The “Protect Life Act:” Will There Be a Price to Be Paid?

8:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Carole Joffe for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Here is a story from 2002, as reported by the BBC:

Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers. In a rare criticism of the kingdom’s powerful “mutaween” police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire….

And here is a story from 2011, as reported in Talking Points Memo, about the “Protect Life Act,” H.R.358, which would amend the 2010 health reform law:

… new language inserted into the bill just this week would…(allow) hospitals that receive federal funds but are opposed to abortions to turn away women in need of emergency pregnancy termination to save their lives.

As the juxtaposition of these two incidents show, fundamentalism, one of whose defining features is the devaluing of women’s lives, clearly knows no geographical borders. Despite H.R. 358’s Orwellian name, this bill quite obviously is not intended to protect the lives of pregnant women.

As of February 4, one hundred members of Congress, including some women, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. It is of course wishful thinking to believe that the these elected officials could be pressured to sign a statement certifying that they would have no objection if their wives, daughters, or in the cases of the congresswomen still in their reproductive years, were themselves  sent in an emergency situation to a hospital that refused to perform a life-saving abortion. Read more