Burial of aborted fetuses causes outrage in Italy

Women take legal action over fetus graves marked with mothers’ names in so-called Fields of Angels.

 

By Hannah Roberts

 

POLITICO (15.10.2020) – https://politi.co/2HitsR9 – At the Prima Porta cemetery, hundreds of white wooden crosses mark the burial plots of aborted fetuses. On each cross is written the name of the woman who terminated the pregnancy.

 

Until recently, the existence of the cemetery was unknown to many of the women, who say they consented neither to a burial nor to being named. Now that they do know, more than 100 have come together to pursue legal action demanding those responsible be identified.

 

In Italy, where women still struggle to access abortion four decades after legislation permitting the procedure was passed, the discovery of the burial site has resulted in an outcry. It has also focused attention on dozens of similar sites across Italy — known as “Fields of Angels” and created with the involvement of anti-abortion, ultra-conservative associations.

 

For opponents, such burial grounds stigmatize abortion and undermine the legitimate choices of women at a time when conservative groups globally are attempting to push back reproductive rights won decades ago.

 

The Prima Porta site stands out because it names the women.

 

Its existence came to light earlier this month after Marta Loi made inquiries about what happened to her fetus. Writing on Facebook, she described the “anger and anguish” at discovering a burial plot with her name on it, and that “without my consent, others have buried my child with a cross, a Christian symbol, which does not belong to me.”

 

Silvana Agatone, president and founder of LAIGA, the Italian association for doctors who carry out abortions, told POLITICO that the burials were “the most serious violation of privacy. Many women do not tell relatives or friends about the procedure.”

 

“It is a way of punishing the women by creating a sense of guilt,” she said. “To have a tomb with your name on implies that you are as good as dead.”

 

Monica Cirinnà, a senator in the Italian parliament, told POLITICO: “Every woman who terminates a pregnancy has the right to choose if and how to bury the fetus and according to which ritual. These are deeply personal decisions that cannot be brought into question.”

 

The issue is a reminder of the global pushback against women’s rights, Cirinnà said. “Even today, women’s bodies are battlefields. Attacks on women’s freedom, regarding the choice to become or not to become mothers, are now coming from everywhere, continuously undermined by small, silent but insidious procedures like this one.”

 

Medical objections

 

Although abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978, it has been fiercely opposed from the start by an alliance of religious and political conservatives. There are similar situations in many other countries, but campaigners say the extent to which the Catholic Church remains embedded in Italian institutions means it has been particularly effective in frustrating the implementation of abortion rights.

 

The majority of doctors qualified to carry out an abortion refuse to do so on ethical grounds — that’s an average of 69 percent across the country, rising to 80 percent in the south, according to the health ministry. That means access is limited and delays common.

 

Junior doctors often fear their career will be damaged if they don’t join the ranks of objectors, and department heads refuse to hire non-objectors, said Agatone.

 

The rise among Italian doctors of conscientious objectors does not constitute a problem, according to the health ministry, because the number of abortions is falling while the number of objectors remains stable.

 

Elisa Ercoli, president of Differenza Donna, an advocacy group representing 130 of the Prima Porta women, said the Fields of Angels “are emblematic of the obstacles to women exercising their right to an abortion in Italy.”

 

“The level of objectors is so high that the health care guaranteed by law is not accessible,” she said.

 

Most of the women, Ercoli added, had degrading experiences in hospital, with some medical staff refusing to help them even though they were in pain: “These women feel betrayed by the state. There was a total violation of their legal rights and privacy.”

 

According to a 1990 law, women can request the aborted fetus and bury it within 24 hours. But if they don’t, the local health service is responsible for arranging transport and burial. Over the past two decades, Catholic associations have increasingly stepped in, relieving the local health authority of the cost and trouble of burying aborted fetuses.

 

The most prominent group doing this, Difendere la vita con Maria, has 3,000 members and says it has carried out over 200,000 burials. It solicits donations for funding on its website, which says: “For only €20 you can bear the cost of burying an unborn child.”

 

Spokesman Stefano di Battista said the group does not work in Rome at present. But in the cities that it does work, it collects the fetuses, usually once a month, from the hospitals with which it has agreements, before burying them after a short ceremony. The group never identifies the women, he said, adding: “Anonymity is a guiding principle for us. We do not do this practice to battle against abortion rights. We are not interested in crusades. We believe it is at the basis of civilization to bury with dignity and piety the children that never came into the world.”

 

Church ties to the right

 

Catholic associations might be responsible for the Fields of Angels, but they wouldn’t have been able to proceed without political sympathizers at regional and national levels.

 

In 2007 in Lombardy, a center-right/conservative administration introduced new regulations stipulating that all fetuses had to be buried in specific areas within cemeteries. Le Marche and Campania have approved similar laws.

 

Last year, an attempt to introduce similar legislation by the hard-right Brothers of Italy party in Lazio was defeated. The liberal Italian Radicals party condemned it as “psychological violence against women.”

 

“It is in [the political right’s] nature to try to bring back a patriarchal culture, before women’s liberation,” said Ercoli. “But it is not just about political parties, it is a larger cultural discussion. Since 1978 women have been fighting to try to win the actual implementation of the rules.”

 

It is not clear who bears responsibility for the naming of the women at the Prima Porta cemetery. The section where the fetuses are buried contains only those aborted after the 20th week of gestation, when the procedure is permitted only on health grounds, according to Agatone.

 

The hospital involved, San Camillo, said responsibility for transport management and burial lies with Ama, a company that manages cemeteries on behalf of the city of Rome. Ama said in a statement that it had no contact with patients and followed the rules of the health system.

 

Italy’s privacy watchdog has opened an investigation into the burials, and Health Minister Roberto Speranza has been called to speak about the case in parliament.

 

Politicians on the left are pushing for a change in the law. A group of leftist councilors in the Lazio region proposed a new regional law on transport and burial of fetuses, with clear consent required from the woman. The current law is too ambiguous, said Councilor Marta Bonafoni: “It must not leave any space for doubt or uncertainty.”

 

But for some, the cemetery case has merely highlighted the need for more general reform. The obstacles to abortion have been tolerated because it is a woman’s problem, said Ercoli. “After 40 years the struggle is not over. We must be alert and we must be united.”

Photo credit: IPA/Sipa USA.




WORLD: The sexual-health supply chain is broken

Condoms, birth control, and other items are harder to get in the developing world because of the pandemic. That is putting lives at risk.

 

By Anna Louie Sussman

 

The Atlantic (08.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2UrVKMI – It took Dimos Sakellaridis about six years to build Kiss condoms into one of Nigeria’s top brands, with approximately 91 million sold in 2019. The prophylactics are available in shops, markets, and kiosks across the country, and a combination of irreverent advertising, a growing population of young people, and a greater understanding of reproductive health within Nigeria has meant his sales have steadily risen.

 

But if he can’t get a shipment of 12 million condoms (and 4 million packs of birth-control pills) out of the Lagos port soon, those stocks will run out. And unfortunately for Sakellaridis, it makes no difference to the customs authorities, who are working their way through a backlog of containers, that ordinary Nigerians depend on Sakellaridis’s stranded cargo to prevent unwanted pregnancies and stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections. All he can do is wait—and he is not alone.

 

Sakellaridis is the Nigeria country director for DKT International, one of the largest family-planning providers in the world. Since mid-March, when measures taken to contain the coronavirus cut work at the Lagos port, the process of clearing incoming cargo stretched from two to three weeks to more than three months. During that time, DKT’s central warehouse ran out of condoms.

 

DKT’s struggles highlight the fragility of a global supply chain in which essential goods and medicines are often sourced from a small handful of countries whose competitive advantage has allowed them to dominate various steps of the production cycle. This is not a challenge limited to reproductive health: All over the world, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics have slowed or halted altogether as governments have closed factories, grounded flights, and sealed off borders in response to the coronavirus. But whereas for most goods, this represents little more than an inconvenience, when it comes to vital sexual- and reproductive-health commodities, such breakdowns can put lives at risk.

 

Women who trust a specific brand of contraceptive might find it out of stock at the pharmacy. Couples stuck at home, unable to locate the inexpensive condoms they normally buy, might skip protection. Central warehouses may not be able to supply the mobile clinic vans that travel to rural communities unserved by the national public-health system. The results of a disrupted supply chain in this field could be disastrous. The United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, the organization’s sexual- and reproductive-health agency, has flagged stockout risks over the coming months in 46 countries. Marie Stopes International, which provides family-planning services in 37 low-income countries, has warned that up to 9.5 million women and girls are at risk of losing access to contraception and safe abortion services, which could result in 1.3 to 3 million unintended pregnancies, and 1.2 to 2.7 million unsafe abortions. This could, in turn, lead to an estimated 5,000 to 11,000 pregnancy-related deaths.

 

The effects will differ depending on the individual, Sarah Shaw, the head of advocacy at Marie Stopes, told me—poor people who rely on free services will be worse off than their wealthier peers in the same country, and women in countries with robust health systems will have a wider array of options if a drugstore runs out of condoms. Although high-income countries that manufacture their own drugs import large quantities of active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs, from China, meaning they faced a squeeze on supplies at the height of the pandemic, manufacturers are likely to prioritize these more profitable markets over lower-income ones.

 

At DKT, which distributes contraception and safe-abortion products in 90 mostly low- and middle-income countries, country directors will typically keep about three months’ worth of inventory on hand during normal times, according to Chris Purdy, DKT’s president and CEO. Even though manufacturing across Asia has come back online as the coronavirus outbreak has eased in parts of the continent, early factory closures in countries such as India, Malaysia, and China, combined with shipping delays and port congestion, has cut this margin close.

 

The majority of the world’s condoms, for example, are made in Malaysia and Thailand, home to natural-rubber industries. The paper for cardboard condom packages then comes from China, Indonesia, and Europe, Paul Liang, the marketing director at Karex Berhad, one of the world’s biggest condom producers, told me. India and China are leading manufacturers of generic pharmaceutical products and cheap drugs, although many Indian drug companies rely on Chinese firms for APIs. Products made in one country might also be shipped to a lab in another for quality testing. Once they’re ready for export, they travel by air or sea, depending on the size of the shipment, the urgency of demand, and other factors. Today, many of these travel routes are closed down, severely restricted, or drastically more expensive.

 

Even without the coronavirus pandemic, which has spurred new quarantine measures and waiting periods, these products were typically subject to inspection once they landed. In Uganda, for example, condoms must be sampled and tested by a regulator. In Kenya, each three-pack of condoms carries a small sticker saying they’ve met regulatory standards before it can be sold to consumers, which requires unpacking every shipment for manual labeling. Reduced manpower as a result of social distancing and evening curfews in Kenya meant that labeling that normally takes two weeks stretched to more than a month. Had the process been delayed any further, Lauren Archer, the DKT Kenya and Uganda country director, told me, her team would have run out of stock.

 

Companies such as DKT struggle even to substitute identical products in times of need: Importing countries register drugs, such as injectable contraception or the abortion pill, and medical devices, such as condoms or kits used to provide abortions, by manufacturer and country of origin, not just based on the active ingredient or product category. The process of registering a new drug or medical device with the appropriate national agency can take anywhere from six months to several years. “Let’s say you have a stockout from China. It’s not a simple matter of ‘Well, okay, I’m just going to go buy from India now,’” Purdy told me. “You can’t simply switch to a new manufacturer without undergoing re-registration.”

 

Large parts of the world do not have domestic manufacturing capacity for these vital health products, leaving them deeply vulnerable to any glitch or disruption to the supply chain. Even countries that have some domestic capacity are not wholly self-sufficient: Iran does have pharmaceutical production, but does not make its own intrauterine devices, or IUDs, the long-acting reversible contraceptives that prevent pregnancy for several years at a time. When I spoke with Purdy at the end of May, a container holding 50,000 IUDs bound for Iran had been stuck in a Dubai port for nearly three months.

 

The major global organizations that buy and distribute these goods have tried to anticipate and prevent stocks from running out. Purdy encouraged DKT’s country directors to place large orders back in January after a colleague in China sent him photos of empty streets and supermarket shelves scraped clean. In mid-March, Eric Dupont, the head of UNFPA’s procurement-services branch, implemented fast-track procedures for bidding on important reproductive-health products and gave national offices greater powers to order what they needed. Yet many of these contracts have yet to be delivered: Marie Stopes International’s orders placed in January are still en route, traveling by sea.

 

These organizations have been using every tool at their disposal to get products to countries where they’re needed, and to push them out from central warehouses. The UNFPA used its diplomatic clout to win an export waiver for Indian-made goods. It is also working more with the World Food Programme, which is managing a global logistics cluster on behalf of multiple U.N. agencies, and the UNFPA also joined with a dozen other U.N. agencies to make a joint tender for personal protective equipment.

 

On a more local level, DKT’s logistics partners in Uganda, having been able to obtain just a few of the limited number of permits released by the government for transit vans, are supplementing their transport network with motorbikes, though these can carry only small amounts of goods, Archer said. In Madagascar, Marie Stopes has been using its fleet of buses to pick up maternity patients—while complying with government-required social distancing—and take them to clinics, after public transport was shut down, according to Shaw. Manuelle Hurwitz, the director of the programs division at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told me that one way to help meet demand was through calling for policy or regulatory changes, such as classifying family-planning and sexual-health services as “essential,” and allowing telemedicine. IPPF’s member association in India, for example, is using a hybrid model of telemedicine for counseling and follow-up care and clinic visits scheduled at intervals to keep a safe distance between clients. “There’s adaptations like that evolving all the time, but the reality is we’re not reaching as many women,” Shaw said.

 

These extra efforts have strained organizational budgets. To ensure the consistent flow of supplies—both downstream to pharmacies, clinics, and supermarkets by extending credit to his buyers; and upstream by placing large orders that will take months to arrive—Purdy said he has had to float more than the $10 million a month that he normally does, forcing him to dig into DKT’s endowment (a $1.9 million grant from the Swedish government helped defray some of these extra costs). Others I spoke with said they were also spending more on the purchase of supplies—both sexual- and reproductive-health products and PPE for staff.

 

“I never thought in a million years I would be getting requests to say, ‘Can we use our advocacy budget to buy hand sanitizer?’” Shaw said.

 

While manufacturing has resumed in India, China, and Malaysia, factories there face long backlogs of orders. New safety measures such as thrice-daily sanitization mean that production will be slow, Liang said, and he is still dealing with interruptions in supplies. Because of restrictions on movement and on large gatherings, many people still won’t get the care they need, or will have to adjust their contraceptive method to avoid doctor’s visits. Shaw said that in the short term, women in the developing world are likely to shift from highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptives such as injectables, implants, and IUDs, to condoms or oral contraceptive pills. These methods typically leave more room for human error, because they must be taken daily or used correctly every time for the highest efficacy.

 

All of this means that in a few months’ time, there may well be an increase in demand for abortion care. “Whether we’ll be able to meet that demand,” Hurwitz said, “is something else.”




WORLD: Some governments are using coronavirus to restrict women’s rights

Classing abortions as ‘non-essential’ is cruel and an assault on the rights of women to bodily autonomy.

 

By Claire Provost

 

Al Jazeera (14.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/3abWECf – Women are prominent on the front lines of the world’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Globally, most of our health workers are women. They also do most of the world’s unpaid care work – even in “normal times” – taking care of relatives and helping them recuperate both from extraordinary illnesses and everyday exhaustion.

 

And yet, the rights of these women are coming under historic attacks even now.

 

Back in early March, a potentially historic bill to liberalise abortion in Argentina was an early casualty; its review has been indefinitely postponed along with many other democratic debates.

 

In the US, conservative states from Texas to Indiana are now banning most abortions during the pandemic. By classifying them as “non-essential”, they are arguing that abortions can be delayed so that all doctors focus on COVID-19 first.

 

Across the Atlantic, in Poland, a bill to further restrict abortion has been revived and will be heard in Parliament next week. When this first happened, in 2016, it was met with mass protests – which are currently prohibited under coronavirus emergency measures.

 

Are governments and anti-abortion campaign groups taking advantage of the crisis to further restrict women’s rights?

 

It would not be the first time. Around the world, organised ultra-conservative movements are looking for ways to use this moment to achieve what they always wanted; fewer rights for women over their bodies.

 

Anti-abortion activists in Slovakia, Italy and the UK are also campaigning for abortions to be suspended during the pandemic, arguing that all resources must be focused on the coronavirus right now. They do not want women to have these rights after the crisis, either.

 

Others are celebrating the closure of clinics amid emergency measures that have already taken a drastic toll on access to abortion as well as contraception, HIV medicine and domestic violence services.

 

This pandemic is also exacerbating and shining new light on the astonishing amount of red tape that has long limited women’s access to abortion in places where it has been legal for generations.

 

In Italy, doctors can refuse to perform abortions (and up to 90 percent do, in some areas). Medical terminations (consisting of two pills, taken across several days), are only available during the first seven weeks of pregnancy, rather than nine as in many other European countries. And these pills must be taken in hospitals, unlike in other countries, where they are also available at clinics.

 

These details are crucial. Abortions are by definition time-sensitive procedures. Even before the coronavirus, women in Italy struggled to access them.

 

Now hospitals are overwhelmed by the coronavirus and this access is increasingly impossible. As a result, women are being forced to endure unwanted pregnancies for longer and to have surgeries they do not want as medical abortions have been largely suspended.

 

In other countries, restrictive red tape includes mandatory counselling, waiting periods or requirements that two doctors sign off on an abortion.

 

Such rules vary across borders but their effect is the same; making difficult experiences for women even harder, even in “normal times”, and exacerbating these challenges today.

 

These restrictions have other things in common, too. Neil Datta at the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights told me they stem from compromises made when abortion was first legalised, which happened in the 1970s in Italy, for example. At that time, some doctors were still “diagnosing” women with hysteria.

 

In other words, there is nothing enlightened about this red tape. And what ultimately lies beneath these restrictions is the toxic, patriarchal idea that women cannot be trusted to control their own bodies and make their own choices.

 

Today, women’s reproductive rights are being sidelined – again. For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines about domestic violence, contraception, childbirth and breastfeeding amid COVID-19.

 

But so far, it has been noticeably silent on safe abortion during the pandemic.

 

Thankfully, this is not the full picture. Big changes are also happening in response to the public health crisis and its fallout in all aspects of our lives.

 

Some US cities have suspended evictions of renting tenants, for example. In Iran, thousands have been released from prison. Many things that would have seemed impossible a year ago, do not any more.

 

And we are seeing some evidence of this for women’s right to choose, too. England and Wales, for instance, have issued new rules to enable women to take medical abortion pills at home and via telemedicine appointments. Ireland and France have done similar. Germany has at least made its mandatory counselling available online and by phone.

 

These practical moves are victories for sensibility amid crisis. They uphold rights and public health. If women do not need to travel to multiple appointments, this can help limit the spread of coronavirus and get us out of this emergency faster.

 

Indeed, during crises change can happen quickly. Archaic red tape can be cut. Toxic distrust of women could give way to a new common sense that prioritises rights and health over politics. And those who were afraid of women’s autonomy might not find it so scary now that they have witnessed something a lot more frightening – a historic pandemic threatening lives, health systems and democracies worldwide.




Argentina president to introduce bill to legalise abortion

If the bill is approved, Argentina will be the largest jurisdiction to legalise the procedure in Latin America.

 

By Natalie Alcoba

 

Al Jazeera (02.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2PL73NM – Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez will send a bill to Congress in a matter of days that seeks to legalise abortion, marking the first time the initiative will have the backing of the president in what could be a significant breakthrough for abortion rights in Latin America.

 

Fernandez made the announcement in the National Congress on Sunday, with thousands of people gathered outside, including women brandishing the green handkerchief of abortion rights. Some wiped tears from their eyes during his speech.

 

In Argentina, abortion is illegal and can mean jail time, except in instances of rape, or if a mother’s health is at risk.

 

The new bill comes two years after a dramatic debate in the home country of Pope Francis in which the legalisation of abortion was narrowly rejected by the Senate.

 

Fernandez called the current law “ineffective” because it has had no deterrent effect.

 

“It has also condemned many women, generally of limited resources, to resort to abortive practices in absolute secrecy, putting their health and sometimes their lives at risk,” he said.

 

“A state that is present must protect citizens in general and obviously women in particular. And in the 21st century, every society needs to respect an individual’s decision to make choices over their own bodies.

 

“That is why, within the next 10 days, I will present a bill for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy that legalises abortion at the initial time of pregnancy and allows women to access the health system when they make the decision to abort.”

 

Advancing women’s rights

 

Argentina’s feminist movement is pushing to legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

 

The president will also send a project to Congress that will provide better support to mothers and newborns, as well as a plan to ensure sexual education is delivered in schools.

 

The Argentine government estimates that 350,000 illegal abortions take place every year in the third-most populous country in South America, putting women’s lives at risk. Human rights groups estimate the number could be as high as 500,000. Many women who try to access abortions that are legal also face obstacles, with doctors invoking religious or moral objections.

 

Ana Correa, a women’s rights activist who wrote Somos Belen, a book about an Argentine woman who was imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage said she was delighted with Fernandez’s decision.

 

“We’re very happy and hopeful,” Correa told Al Jazeera. “We will have some important opponents, but it’s going to be very difficult for legislators to oppose this project because there really is very compelling proof of how clandestine abortions impact women.”

 

Daniel Lipovetsky, a legislator in the province of Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera that Sunday’s announcement showed how far Argentina had moved ahead on the issue.

 

“Just a few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that a president would send a project to legalise abortion to the Congress,” said Lipovetsky, who forms part of the political opposition and in 2018 was part of the group who worked in favour of legalisation.

 

Argentina is in the midst of an important transformation around the advancement of women’s rights. In 2015, a feminist movement known as Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) took to the streets to denounce high rates of violence against women and triggered a broader debate that set the stage for the vote in 2018.

 

Correa, one of the founders of Ni Una Menos, highlighted three cases that have served to “unmask” the truth of abortion in Argentina: that of Belen, who spent more than two years in prison after a court ruled that what doctors had diagnosed as a miscarriage was an abortion (her conviction was overturned in 2017 following a public outcry); that of Ana Maria Acevedo, who sought an abortion in 2007 in order to undergo chemotherapy, was refused, and died; and that of an 11-year-old girl known as Lucia, who was raped by her grandmother’s partner and denied a legal abortion by health authorities in 2019, until a court finally intervened. An emergency caesarean section had to be performed, the baby did not survive, and the doctors were then accused of homicide. No indictments were filed.

 

Correa said Fernandez’s project to provide support to new mothers also serves “to deconstruct that false notion that those of us who are in favour of legal abortion are against maternity – that’s not true.”

 

Influence of Catholic church

 

The president’s speech opening the session of Congress addressed a slew of other issues in Argentina, which is in a deep recession and in talks with the International Monetary Fund and other international creditors to restructure its debt. He made repeated references to taking care of the most vulnerable.

 

“His discourse was steeped with his set of values, of an Argentina that is inclusive, that is innovative, of a state that is present, and a state that is attending to, and listening to the new demands,” said political scientist Paola Zuban, director of the public opinion consultancy Zuban Cordoba & Associates. But the issue of abortion remains deeply divisive, according to polls she has conducted.

 

The Catholic Church is likely to play an influential role in the debate. During the president’s speech, the Episcopal Conference of Argentina sent a tweet reminding people of the mass it is planning for International Women’s Day on March 8 to express opposition to abortion and “yes to women, yes to life.”

 

“The culture of death advances,” Monsenor Jorge Eduardo Scheinig, an archbishop, said in a recorded message. “We need to pray so that in Argentina, the yes to life is stronger than death.”

 

Lipovetsky believes that the votes are there for approval in the lower house, but the Senate will be close. Still, he is optimistic.

 

“The chances that this will finally become law are many,” he said.

 

And Correa says the feminist movement will keep the pressure on.

 

“There’s no doubt that we’re going to stay present in the streets and we’re going to keep insisting so that legislators vote in favour,” she said.




WORLD: Anti-abortion laws: a war against poor women

Given the amount of research that shows how ineffective punitive laws are in curbing the number of abortions women carry out, it is difficult to imagine any other reason that they exist, other than to keep women out of the workforce and in poverty.

 

By Manuella Libardi

 

Open Democracy (28.01.2020) – https://bit.ly/2RY08Rx – The political fight against anti-abortion legislation is infact a class battle, and the reality is that abortion is only illegal for poor women. Women with resources can always interrupt their unwanted pregnancies. Either they know a doctor who performs medical abortions for an exorbitant price, they have the resources to travel to a place where abortion is legal, or they have the means to buy an abortion pill in their own country or elsewhere.

 

Restricting access to safe abortions keeps poor women in poverty, perpetuates the cycle that prevents them from social mobility and allows wealth to remain in the hands of the rich, particularly white men.

 

Deciding if and when to have a child is essential for a woman’s economic and psychological well-being: it has implications for her education and for entering the workforce. In a 2018 study based on interviews with 813 women in the United States throughout five years, researchers found that women who had abortions denied to them were more likely to be in poverty within six months compared to women who were able to interrupt the pregnancy. Women who were denied abortion were also less likely to have full-time work and more likely to depend on some form of public assistance. Both effects “remained significant for 4 years.”

 

The study concludes that “women who were denied an abortion were more likely than women who received an abortion to experience economic difficulties and insecurity for years. Laws restricting access to abortion may lead to worse economic outcomes for women”.

 

Latin America

 

In Latin America, this scenario is exacerbated by the huge inequalities of the region, which makes poor women and minorities invisible to those who are creating public policies. Indigenous women, for example, are disproportionately affected by adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

 

The rates of unwanted pregnancy and teenage pregnancy are high among indigenous populations and indigenous women also face greater risks of complications related to abortion such as injury or death than the general public.

 

Poor, young and ethnic minority women suffer the physical and social costs imposed on them by the restrictive anti-abortion laws of Latin America the most. Latin America is home to six countries that criminalize abortion in all cases, even in situations where a woman’s life is at risk. In El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname, women have to carry a full term pregnancy even if it means they could die in the process, which is an explicit violation of their human rights.

 

This makes Latin America the region of the world with the strictest anti-abortion legislation. The only other two places that fully penalize termination, even if the procedure is medically necessary to save the woman’s life, is Malta and the Vatican.

 

El Salvador made headlines in 2019 when Evelyn Hernández was acquitted of a murder conviction related to the death of a fetus. She had been sentenced to 40 years in prison for giving birth to a dead baby, in other words, for miscarrying.

 

In this Central American country, at least 159 women have received sentences of between 12 and 40 years of prison for violating the country’s anti-abortion laws. About 20 remain in jail today, and none of these women comes from rich or economically stable families. All are poor.

 

The race factor

 

The political-economic order is made up of many variables, and race is among the first. In the United States, black women have the highest abortion rates in the country. This is a consequence of the serious wealth gap between white and black families, which remains constant even among poor families.

 

A white family that lives near the poverty line generally has a yearly wage of around $18,000, meanwhile, black families in similar economic situations usually have a near-zero average wealth. While all women suffer the consequences of the battle against abortion, class reality means that women of color feel the effects disproportionately.

 

A large number of studies show that access to safe abortion in the United States had more visible positive effects among black women. After the legalization of the procedure, the entry of black women into the workforce increased 6.9 percentage points, compared with 2 percentage points among all women.

 

The legalization of abortion in the United States reduced adolescent fertility among all women. However, black women and girls experienced an increase in the high school graduation rate and college admission, while legalization did not improve educational outcomes for white women and girls. This is another indication of how inequality disproportionately affects women of color.

 

Restrictive laws do not decrease abortions

 

The highest abortion rates are found in developing countries, specifically in Latin America. Leading the list is the Caribbean, with 59 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, followed by South America, with 48. As expected, the lowest rates are found in North America, with 17, and in Western and Northern Europe, with 16 and 18, respectively.

 

Given the amount of research that shows how ineffective punitive laws are in curbing the number of abortions women carry out, it is difficult to imagine any other reason that they exist, other than to keep women out of the workforce and in poverty.