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Marco Rubio Seeks to Deny Disabled Women Full Access to Reproductive Health Care

9:35 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Photo of Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio doesn't want disabled women to have equal access to healthcare? (Photo: Office of Senator Marco Rubio / Wikimedia Commons)

A rare bipartisan effort underway in the Senate — to ratify a United Nations treaty on disability rights — has become the latest target of politicians who would like to undermine a woman’s ability to make personal health care decisions.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) guarantees non-discrimination for persons with disabilities worldwide and is consistent with disability rights protections already guaranteed in the United States, most notably the protections afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said in his opening statement during the hearing:

The United States is a leader in domestic disability rights protection.  What joining the Convention does is to provide a critical tool as we work to ensure that American citizens, including our men and women in uniform and our disabled veterans, are free to travel, work, and live abroad.

Ratification of the CRPD by the U.S. would encourage other countries to improve accessibility standards for the estimated one billion disabled persons around the world.

Article 25 of the Convention guarantees persons with disabilities “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.”

It goes on to urge nations to “provide persons with disabilities with the same range, quality, and standard of free or affordable health care and programmes as provided to other persons, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programmes.”

The Convention guarantees persons with disabilities the right to equal access to all services available to persons without disabilities; it would not otherwise create or revoke the right to any particular medical procedure or service. That is, until Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced language during the recent CRPD hearing defining sexual and reproductive health as not including abortion. Suddenly, a proposed effort to advance persons with disabilities’ equal access to health care included restrictive language that, if passed, would apply only to them.

The CRPD is clearly about non-discrimination and is especially important in the protection of the rights of women with disabilities:

“I think one of the very important things about this treaty is that it recognizes the unique challenges that women face — that women with disabilities face,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NC) during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee mark-up of the convention.  ”In many countries not only are they challenged by their gender, but they’re challenged by the fact that they have disabilities.  The treaty’s focus on the particular needs of women with disabilities really mirrors what has happened in the United States.  We are a leader in standing up for the rights of all women.”

The Rubio amendment, on the other hand, states:

The United States understands that the phrase ‘sexual and reproductive health’ in Article 25(a) of the Convention does not include abortion, and its use in that article does not create any abortion rights, cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion, and in no way suggests that abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.

To be clear, abortion is part of sexual and reproductive health care. State Department officials agree and said as much during the CRPD hearing. Singling out abortion, as the Rubio amendment aims to do, would set a dangerous precedent for future policy-making in the U.S. What the Rubio amendment truly represents is an agenda on the part of opponents of women’s health to impose restrictions on sexual and reproductive health care everywhere. International treaties are used as blueprints by many developing nations to set national policy. And if the Rubio language were to be adopted by other countries, it could ultimately deny access to lifesaving services for women with disabilities living in extremely vulnerable settings — singling them out relative to all other women.

Disability rights issues have long enjoyed strong bipartisan support (the Americans with Disabilities Act passed 91–6 in the Senate). This latest attempt by Rubio and his colleagues to stigmatize women’s health threatens to upend a strong tradition of U.S. support of which we should be very proud. CRPD ratification is critical to maintaining our leadership role and to eliminating disability discrimination throughout the world.

By a thin margin, the majority ultimately succeeded in passing an alternative to Senator Rubio’s language. This new language, which should not have been necessary, reiterated the nondiscrimination function of the treaty. Though settled for the moment, this debate could easily resurface when the full Senate considers the CRPD — a vote that will demand strong bipartisanship since treaties require a vote of two-thirds of present senators for ratification.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said during the hearing, “No senator in my view should use any international treaty to push his or her views on an issue that isn’t part of this treaty.”  The use of any unrelated debate to advance ideology and undermine women’s access to health care is troubling, and signals a renewed and bold effort in this country to prioritize taking health care away from women — above all else.

It is worth noting another pattern, which is that some U.S. politicians are totally opposed to anything remotely linked to the United Nations. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) also proposed an amendment that would undercut the convention and put a hold on the legislation, delaying its progress substantially.  Sen. Rubio is the author of another piece of pending legislation that could substantially limit U.S. participation in the UN system. Neither senator ultimately supported the convention in the hearing.

These extreme views in opposition to women’s rights and U.S. participation in the global community only succeed in marginalizing a bipartisan effort like the CRPD. In this case, such politicking serves only to harm millions of persons with disabilities around the world, most of all women with disabilities.

Keeping Health Systems Accountable: A Critical Component of the Every Woman, Every Child Campaign

10:50 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Abeba M., an Ethiopian refugee living in Port Elizabeth, a small coastal town of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, developed severe high blood pressure during her pregnancy. She went to a district hospital for treatment of this dangerous condition, but left because “the nurses and doctors did not treat me well,” she told me. She had to return when her condition worsened, though, and was admitted. Instead of getting the help she needed, she experienced treatment delays, abuse, and negligence.

A vital scan to check if her baby was alright, a precondition for further treatment, was delayed for 10 days because “the doctor kept saying he had forgotten.” When she complained about severe pain one night, a nurse who Abeba said “was playing a gospel song on her cell phone and dancing” retorted: “I know, and what do you want me to do?” She did not help Abeba and instead “continued whistling and dancing.” Abeba was ordered to clean up her “mess” when she bled on the floor.

Abeba’s daughter was born prematurely in an emergency caesarean section. Although she was able to take her baby home two weeks later, her wound from the surgery became septic and did not heal for three months. ””It was the worst time of my life,” She told me about her treatment at the hospital.

Sadly, Abeba’s case is not uncommon in South Africa. She was one of the 157 largely poor, rural and refugee women I interviewed between November 2010 and April 2011 in Eastern Cape about their experiences with maternity care in government facilities. Women and other witnesses described chilling scenes of humiliation, neglect, and verbal and physical abuse by health workers. Read the rest of this entry →

Supporting Family Planning Abroad: A Sound Investment for the US and A Way to Save Lives

10:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Maureen Greenwood-Basken for This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Currently, more than 215 million women around the world want access to quality reproductive health care but don’t have it. On Monday, July 11th, we recognized World Population Day, and I was reminded that this unmet need is only likely to increase when the world’s population crosses the 7 billion mark in the fall. Global investment in international reproductive health and voluntary family planning is one of the best ways to save maternal and infant lives, and build sustainable communities.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ recent report, Family Planning and U.S. Foreign Policy,” meeting the unmet need for family planning would result in a 32 percent decrease in maternal deaths, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70 percent, and reduce infant mortality by 10 percent. However, the reproductive health needs of many women in developing countries remain unmet. Sometimes, this occurs even when subsidized contraceptives are sitting unused and expiring in warehouses miles away.

Continue reading…

Human Rights-Based Approaches to Maternal Death in the U.S.

7:59 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Cristina Finch for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is part of a series published by RH Reality Check in partnership with the Center for Reproductive Rights. It is also published in recognition of International Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2010.

Amnesty International released a report last spring entitled Deadly Delivery concerning the maternal health care crisis in the United States including how this crisis disproportionately affects marginalized communities.  This report is part of a series of reports that we are issuing as part of our Dignity campaign which is focused on fighting poverty with human rights.  The statistics are shocking; every 90 seconds a woman dies from pregnancy related causes.  Although the vast majority of these deaths are in the developing world, it is also an issue in the United States which spends more on health care than any other country in the world. On November 2, I presented Amnesty International’s findings during a panel discussion at the UN.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Every human being has the right to health, including healthcare.” Unfortunately, the human right to health care, particularly maternal health care, is not being met in the US. The problem is especially severe in marginalized communities such as women of color. Since the vast majority of maternal deaths in the United States are preventable, maternal mortality is a human rights issue. Mahmoud Fathalla, past president of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, once said, “Women are not dying of diseases we can’t treat. [...] They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Two to three women die each day in the US because of pregnancy-related causes. A further 34,000 more women experience “near misses” each year. Women in the US are more likely to die of complications resulting from pregnancy or childbirth than women in 49 other countries, including South Korea, Kuwait, and Bulgaria. In fact, according to recently released UN numbers, the maternal mortality rate nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008.

There are shocking inequities in maternal health in the US. Women of color, low-income women, Indigenous women, immigrant women and women with limited English proficiency all face additional risks. Read more

The Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010: An Investment in Everyone’s Future

8:30 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Rep. Yvette Clarke for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Right now, the largest gathering of world leaders in at least a decade is assembling at the United Nations in New York to assess what progress has been made in reducing poverty, improving health and ensuring access to education in developing countries.  One issue on the agenda that is especially dear to me is how to combat pregnancy-related deaths and injuries and improve women’s health in developing countries.

No woman should die giving life—and the good news is that most pregnancy-related deaths, as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, are preventable with a package of basic, proven health interventions. But despite recent progress, far too many women in poor countries still face terrible risks.

We as Americans should make it a priority to save women’s lives. It’s not only the right thing to do, but these investments also reduce poverty, spur the global economy and protect U.S. national interests. To that end, there are three crucial contributions the United States can make—sound policies, sufficient funding, and true leadership.

To help promote sound policies, I introduced legislation in April that would revise existing U.S. laws to meet—and even exceed—current international standards. My legislation, H.R. 5121, The Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010, outlines a progressive model for delivering sexual and reproductive health services by supporting voluntary family planning, education and outreach. H.R.5121 also recognizes that half the world’s population is under the age of 25 and promotes sexual and reproductive health care for young people, for instance through comprehensive sex education. It further addresses assistance during humanitarian disasters and conflicts, reduction of unsafe abortion, prevention of STIs and HIV, contraceptive development, training of healthcare professionals, and various other initiatives.

In short, H.R. 5121 is a roadmap that would ensure the maximum impact for the generous financial contributions America is making to global health.

Another top priority is to ensure sufficient funding. The United States is already the world’s biggest donor of international family planning assistance, a proud achievement that we should build on by increasing our current spending on these programs to $1 billion. We should likewise boost our support for other maternal, newborn and child health programs, to at least $2 billion.

The total spending involved is modest given the tremendous impact it will have around the world, and it should be a priority even in the face of our own budgetary restraints. If other countries, including developing countries themselves, do their part, the impact could be truly staggering. Fully meeting the need for both family planning and maternal and newborn health services could cut pregnancy related deaths by 70 percent, and newborn deaths by almost half. The key is to make these investments simultaneously to maximize their impact and, ultimately, save money.

Lastly, the United States should take the lead and become a passionate advocate for women’s health, at the UN meeting  and beyond. Secretary of State (and former New York Senator) Hillary Clinton in particular, has been an outspoken champion, and the Obama administration has made up a lot of ground—both on policy and on funding—that was lost during the previous administration. But there’s much more to be done, and we must sustain and accelerate our current efforts to save the lives of women, newborns and children around the world.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?  Expediency asks the question – is it politic?  Vanity asks the question — is it popular?  But conscience asks the question – is it right?  And there comes a time when one must take a position … because it is right.”  These health services are vital building blocks of stable societies and healthy economies.   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.

All of us need to do our part to hold ourselves, our government and world leaders accountable. The time is now to make women’s health an international priority. The international advocacy community demands it; the women of the world require it; and the families of the world depend on it. One love.

Girl Up: Girls Lifting Up Girls

7:00 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Adolescent girls around the world have some things in common: their bodies are physically developing, as their hips and breasts grow, they may begin to menstruate, and their hormones begin to surge. But for too many adolescent girls, living in developing countries around the world, these physical changes are where the simliarities stop, with girls growing up in the United States and other ‘developed nations.’

Adolescence is a time of transition and whether a girl comes out the other side happy, healthy and with access to opportunities is something we all have a stake in ensuring. Will she be able to stay in school? Access proper health care? Remain unmarried? If not, it’s more than likely a girl will walk a path of poverty, strangled by her lack of choices and equity, rather than living of life of empowerment and health.

And for many years, various campaigns and organizations have appealed to adults to help make a difference – to help empower young girls by donating to causes that address these lack of options and injustice. But Girl Up, a campaign launched by the United Nations Foundation last week, aims to speak directly to young girls in the United States, inspiring them to organize and activate on behalf of their counterparts around the world.

Created to raise awareness and funds for programs developed and run by and through the United Nations, that address critical areas of inequity and injustice for adolescent girls in developing countries, the campaign seeks to ensure that "girls have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted, and positioned to be the next generation of leaders."

Read the rest of this entry →