International reproductive Rights, May 24 edition: China, El Salvador, and Contraceptive Progress

24 May

China’s “one child policy” in the spotlight

China enacted its so-called “one child policy” over 30 years ago.  Facing a population boom, the government decreed that no couple could have more than one child (with a few exceptions) and strictly enforced this policy with prohibitive fines and, for those who were pregnant and could not pay, forced abortions.  Although in some cases these forced abortions have been documented and received international attention, it seems likely that every year millions of women in China are forced to undergo abortions they do not want or need.

Just as in most of the world, however, the policy is unequally applied, and exposes deeper injustices.  A recent op-ed in the New York Times highlighted the case of Zhang Yimou, a well-known film director who has 7 children (with 4 women).  According to the article:

The truth is: for the rich, the law is a paper tiger, easily circumvented by paying a “social compensation fee” — a fine of 3 to 10 times a household’s annual income, set by each province’s family planning bureau, or by traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore or even America to give birth.  For the poor, however, the policy is a flesh-and-blood tiger with claws and fangs.

Just as the option to choose when, whether, and how to have children in the United States is increasingly dictated by a family’s ability to pay for contraceptive and abortion services, Chinese women’s opportunities to have the number of children they want is dictated by their ability to pay a fine or travel for the privilege to give birth.  Either way, the end result is the same: reproductive injustice.

Beatriz continues to suffer due to “absolute” abortion ban in El Salvador

Beatriz is the pseudonym of a young woman who has been in a hospital in El Salvador for weeks.  She needs an abortion.  Those of you who are fans of the “Gang” know we don’t believe in exceptionalism; we think when a person says they need an abortion, for whatever reason, they need an abortion.  Unfortunately, most of the world does not agree with us and insists on defining which reasons for abortion are legitimate as a means of restricting access.

Even by the standards of exceptionalism Beatriz seems a likely candidate for access to an altogether too difficult commodity: a safe, legal abortion.  Beatriz has lupus, a disease that can worsen during pregnancy and puts her at increased risk of potentially lethal pregnancy-related complications compared with women who do not have lupus.  She also is suffering from kidney failure, a complication of her lupus that may be aggravated by her pregnancy.  Finally, the fetus she is carrying is anencephalic; it is missing parts of its brain and if it survives birth is unlikely to live more than a few hours.

Unfortunately for Beatriz, she lives in one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to abortion.  While in almost all countries in the world the threat to her life would guarantee her right to an abortion to save her, El Salvador has no exceptions to its abortion ban, and no explicit exception to the ban to save a woman’s life.  Beatriz’s doctors have appealed to the country’s supreme court on her behalf, but it has deliberated for weeks without issuing a ruling.  Meanwhile, Beatriz is suffering.  Click here to sign a petition to the Salvadoran government asking them to uphold their obligation to protect her human rights and her life.

Uneven progress on improving access to contraceptives

A recent study that compared contraceptive use in low- and middle-income countries between 2003 and 2012 found a sharp increase in the number of women wanting to use family planning methods, from 716 million to 867 million.  There was a modest increase in the percentage of women who did not want to be pregnant who were using modern contraceptive methods, but population growth overpowered this effect.  While some progress has been made in some regions, mid and western African countries saw no increase in contraceptive use over the decade.  Another article in the same journal called for sustained efforts to provide contraceptive services to all women and couples who wish to delay or limit future childbearing.

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