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U.S. owes reparations to world’s women

Published Feb 8, 2012 8:04 PM

Women do not particularly want to have abortions. They prefer other ways to control their bodies and plan their lives. For most women, an abortion is a last resort — even though, with the Mifepristone pill known as RU486, it may be relatively simple.

This was emphatically proven by a study recently published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet. (“Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008,” Jan. 17)

In countries where both contraception and abortion are freely available, the study said, the abortion rate is lowest.

However, it also found that, while the abortion rate worldwide was stable between 2003 and 2008 at less than 3 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years, the number of unsafe abortions — that is, those not carried out under medical supervision, usually because they are illegal or unaffordable or both —
actually rose.

In summary, it reported: “Worldwide, 49 percent of abortions were unsafe in 2008, compared to 44 percent in 1995. About one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in 2008. The abortion rate was lower in subregions where more women live under liberal abortion laws. … Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.”

Where women have little recourse to contraception and abortions are illegal, the abortion rate is the highest. And so are maternal deaths and dangerous complications.

Thus, all the rhetoric about the “right to life” is simply that — rhetoric, with no basis in fact. Depriving women of choice in family planning doesn’t save lives — it destroys them.

Why has the rate of unsafe abortions gone up? The study concludes: “Measures to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, including investments in family planning services and safe abortion care, are crucial steps toward achieving [U.N.] Millennium Development Goals.” But poor countries don’t have the money for these “investments.”

No country has done more to hurt poor women’s right to choose safe abortions than the U.S. Under what is called the “Mexico City Policy,” the U.S. Agency for International Development required countries “to certify that they will not perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning using funds generated from any source.” Otherwise, no aid for family planning. This harmful policy was in effect from 1985 to 1993, and again from 2001 to 2009, when it was rescinded by President Barack Obama.

The years 2001 to 2008, the years covered in the study, were a boom time for international capital. The crisis that has brought down living standards for working people everywhere had not yet happened. Yet all that wealth did nothing for poor women around the world. While huge fortunes were made in real estate and financial markets, women’s options were being narrowed as a deliberate policy of the U.S. government.

Now the crisis has hit. With all the cuts in domestic services, it is unlikely that Washington will allocate more funds for family planning abroad. Yet that is what should be done. And funding in the form of reparations should be paid for the way the U.S. has used this issue as a political football to the detriment of women and women’s health worldwide.