“Father slapped his hand on the table. ‘If Sarah was a boy, she would be the greatest jurist in South Carolina!’” This quote is from Sue Monk Kidd’s popular novel, The Invention of Wings. It is inspired by Sarah and Angelina Grimké, whose family were slaveholders in the first half of the 19th century. These sisters moved from South Carolina to Philadelphia where they joined the abolition movement and the Religious Society of Friends. They were condemned because Quakers didn’t allow women to lecture in public at that time. Speaking as a Quaker, I am pleased that one of our religion’s current core beliefs is equality, including equal status of men and women.
In Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, one of the characters waited tables at the Bounty Restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey. A reflection of the status of women in 1984 is that the owner’s idea of success “…was for a woman to come in with a group of men and be able to have a pleasant evening… without being subjected to innuendo and arguments all night, and to enjoy herself enough to come again, though in all the Bounty Restaurant’s checkered history, this had sadly never happened.”
The status of women in many countries is terrible, as it was in the early history of the USA. Fortunately women’s status is slowly improving globally, but there have been setbacks. Some of the worst have to do with access to reproductive health. While the science of birth control and abortion has improved, restrictions have made it more difficult and more expensive for women to receive the services they desire.
First came the Helms Amendment in 1973, the year that abortion was legalized in the USA. Appended to the Foreign Assistance Act, this amendment prevents federal money from being used abroad to provide abortions or even information about abortion.
The Helms Amendment kills women. It is estimated that 11,000 women die annually because they do not have access to safe abortions. Each year there are 20 million unsafe abortions world wide, mainly in poorer countries, that kill 47,000 women. Remember that the abortion rate is paradoxically higher where it is illegal! Sadly, many of these women are mothers of large families. Many lives could be saved if the USA would encourage safe abortion services.
Passed 3 years later, the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal Medicaid funding for abortions in the USA. There are three exceptions to this, fortunately—for cases of rape or incest, or if the pregnancy presents a risk to the woman’s life. Some states use non-federal funds to pay for abortions; New Mexico does, but Colorado does not. Both of these amendments regrettably target the poorest of women, especially women in rural areas with limited access to health care.
Nicknamed the “Global Gag Rule”, the Mexico City policy was announced in 1984. Many overseas organizations get their funding from multiple sources, including from the federal government. This Rule prohibits any recipient of federal funds from any counseling or provision of abortion services—even if that funding comes from another source. The Gag Rule is a political football. Started by Reagan, every Democratic president since has rescinded it, but every Republican, including most recently Trump, has reinstated it in even more restrictive form.
138 organizations have signed a statement opposing the Global Gag Rule. What can we as individuals do? Population Connection (formerly “ZPG”) started a campaign supporting Congress’s move to block the Rule permanently. 46 senators have co-sponsored Senate Bill 210, the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act. In the House, a companion bill H.R. 671 has support from 140 Representatives. Go to http://www.populationconnectionaction.org/fight4her/ for more information
A new organization was formed in reaction to the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. Lilianne Ploumen, a social activist and minister in the Dutch cabinet, started “She Decides – Global Fundraising Initiative”. The Dutch government announced that it will contribute 10 million Euros to this initiative to help replace the funding the Gag Rule has taken away—and it has been joined by support from 7 other governments. There is more information and the opportunity to donate at: https://www.shedecides.eu.
Here in Colorado some members of our State Legislature have recognized the problems caused by diminished reproductive rights and have written House Resolution 1005. Democrats, including our own Barbara McLachlan, support this resolution. It champions the full range of reproductive health, including abortion. Would that there were more strong advocates nationwide such as we have here in Colorado!
© Richard Grossman, MD 2017