Speaking of Women's Rights: 11/12

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

International Reproductive Rights: A Good Start

by Beth Leonard

Last week, the issue of reproductive rights received attention from the international community as well as something new - support. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that reproductive choice is a human right and that, in order to exercise that right, people in every country need access to high quality services. This is the first time that the UN has agreed that reproductive choice is a human right, which makes this announcement truly a landmark for international women’s rights organizations and for women all over the world.

The UNFPA announcement stated that reproductive choice is necessary because it saves women’s livesThis statement would no doubt be supported by nearly all reproductive rights and reproductive justice advocates/organizations in the world; however, UNFPA’s statement is narrower than one might glean at first glance.

The international community is only in support of “voluntary family planning,” a term of art that does not include the right to access abortions. In fact, UNFPA specifically states that it does not support or promote abortion as a method of family planning.  But the lack of access to safe abortion services has devastating consequences for women, as shown last week by the death of Savita Halappanavar. Savita, an Indian woman living in Ireland, died of blood poisoning after being refused an abortion, even though she was already miscarrying, because Ireland is a Catholic country with very strict restrictions on the availability of abortions.

UNFPA only supports “voluntary family planning” that would prevent the need for abortions, which includes oral contraceptives, injectable contraceptives, and male and female condoms. Additionally, the announcement supports medical efforts to relieve the adverse consequences that might result from unsafe abortions. Unfortunately, the statement does not support practices that would help women, like Savita, that need or want access to safe abortions.

This announcement by the United Nations did not create a law, meaning that there is no legal penalty for governments that do not agree with or adopt the policies in this statement, nor does the statement effectively increase funding for governments to put these practices into place so that families experiencing poverty can have access to reproductive choice and family planning. However, the UN acknowledging the need for family planning and healthcare for women is a huge step for international reproductive rights and a good start for moving towards access to family planning, abortions, healthcare, and choice for women and families all over the world.

Beth Leonard is a third year law student at Seattle University and current Legal  Voice intern.

Friday, November 9, 2012

After the Finish Line

by Amy Shebeck

After the election, is anyone else experiencing a little cognitive dissonance?  As in, everything seeming the same…but feeling different?

We woke up on Wednesday in a country that has chosen women to fill 20% of its Senate seats.   We elected hundreds of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates to state and national office, including the first openly lesbian Senator and the first openly gay person of color elected to the House of RepresentativesNine of our states have now legalized marriage for all couples, including Washington, where the success of our grassroots movement for marriage equality was confirmed yesterday.  We have also elected our first Asian American woman Senator, our first combat-wounded veteran woman Representative, and, in New Hampshire, our first openly transgender state representative.

Incidentally, this country was brought to you by an electorate of which an unprecedented 28% were people of color.

As of Wednesday, we also live in a country that has defined itself anew by what it refuses to become. In my home state of Minnesota, this meant being the first state to reject an amendment to its constitution that would have banned same sex marriage.  In other states, it meant soundly defeating politicians who attempted to define and legitimize taxonomies of rape. And in Washington and Colorado, it meant making brave first steps toward eliminating failed drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color, harm women and destroy communities.

On Wednesday and the days following, you might have found yourself scouring the news for proof of the existence of this new America.  You might have been trying to find out more about what this country of yours—one you believed in, but perhaps were cautious about imagining as an actual reality—is really going to be like. 

What do you do once you cross the finish line of November 6th, 2012, where everything is the same, but different? Of course, you keep on running.  The country is different, but the race is still the same.

Amy Shebeck is a third year law student at the University of Washington and former Legal Voice intern.