Entrapment, then jail for birth control? Not for abortion, for birth control? The idea would be ludicrous if not for the recent use of entrapment and edited videos trying to establish the 'guilt' of family planning providers allegedly 'selling' fetal remains after legal abortions. The attack here is on family planning providers, and Planned Parenthood in particular, with Congress and state legislatures trying eliminate their funding, thereby forcing Planned Parenthood to close its doors and stop serving patients unable to pay. I fear a world where poor women are back to where they were 100 years ago, when the only available methods were uncertain diaphragms, and more uncertain recipes for douches and suppositories, and, of course, withdrawal and the male condom, thus giving men, not women, control of reproduction, which is the ultimate goal of abortion opponents. There is a sordid history to entrapment being used against advocates of reproductive freedom. One hundred years ago, opponents of legal birth control had succeeded in passing laws outlawing all methods to prevent conception, as well as any speech advocating the legalization thereof. These laws, called the Comstock Laws, named after Anthony Comstock, the nation's leading anti-vice crusader, were enacted before my grandmother, Margaret Sanger, coined the term, 'birth control' in 1914 in her newspaper, The Woman Rebel. This anarchist paper, for a variety of reasons, raised the ire of the authorities, and in October 1914 she was indicted, among other counts, for violating the nation's Comstock Laws for advocating the legalization of birth control. She never actually gave any birth control information in the paper, but, before fleeing to Europe to avoid being railroaded to jail for her advocacy, she penned a 16-page pamphlet, Family Limitation, which gave information on various douches, suppositories and other rudimentary methods of the day. Anthony Comstock was not amused. In January 1915, he sent an undercover police officer to the architectural office of my grandfather, William Sanger, who was estranged from, but still legally married to, my grandmother. The officer, claiming to be a Mr. Heller and a colleague of my grandmother, asked for one of her pamphlets in order to translate it into several languages to distribute among the poor. My grandfather believed this tale and, rummaging through my grandmother's belongings, which she had left behind in her hasty departure, found a copy of Family Limitation, delivered it to Mr. Heller and was arrested for violating the Comstock Laws.
Planned Parenthood has harsh words for Pope Francis after the leader of the Roman Catholic Church championed life -- including before birth -- in his address to Congress on Thursday. Francis and the church are limiting women's rights by urging Catholics not to use contraception, said a spokesman for the women's health organization.
"Despite Pope Francis’ progressive stance on climate change and economic equity, he has taken a back seat when it comes to reproductive health and women’s rights," said Alexander Sanger, board member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation for the Western Hemisphere Region, in a statement Friday. "The pope and the Catholic Church must acknowledge the fact that 99 percent of Catholic women use contraception and have abortions at the same rate as other women. His pursuit to stifle contraception access reduces women to basic purveyors of biological materials and denies them the right to plan their own families. The pope has to listen to what women want, and women all over the world want access to contraception."
Francis obliquely referenced abortion during his historic speech to Congress -- the first for a pope. "I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without," the pope told the crowd of legislators, Supreme Court justices and multiple presidential candidates.
The Catholic Church forbids the use of contraceptives and abortions. Francis, however, recently toldpriests they could absolve women who confess to “the sin of abortion” during the church’s coming Year of Mercy if they seek forgiveness with a “contrite heart.”
Francis said in January that families are under threat from efforts to “redefine family” and a culture that lacks “openness to life."
Abortion access has been under attack in recent years in the United States by conservative lawmakers. Roughly one in three American women will have an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, data indicates.
The goals set out an integrated plan for achieving global equity by eradicating poverty, combatting climate change, and ensuring educational equity, among others. They also include a goal on achieving gender equality, and call for the realization of universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception.
The creation of this agenda has been in process for years, and its finalization was a hard-won victory that required sustained advocacy by International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region staff and our partners throughout the Americas and Caribbean. And, the SDGs are a huge step forward from the its predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which did not encompass reproductive health until after their formal adoption in 2000.
But while this new agenda is a victory in terms of building international consensus on reducing inequalities as a shared global enterprise, it fails to take into account some of the lessons learned from the MDGs, specifically in relation to accountability and implementation. This is especially true at the local level where individuals are most likely to access sexual and reproductive health services.
Take for example the ambitious Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality, which set out to reduce deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters by 2015. In the sexual and reproductive health and rights community, this goal has the distinctive dishonor of being one of the least realized MDGs. While these unnecessary deaths have decreased significantly in many countries, in others, rates have remained stagnant. In Trinidad and Tobago, the maternal mortality ratio has actually risen in recent years!
Once the goals are formally adopted by governments, the UN Secretary General has the opportunity to guide UN agencies in helping governments implement the promises they made in New York. Let's hope that these implementation plans are robust and meaningful. Let's hope that women and girls are central to these implementation plans, not only on issues related to reproductive health, but on all of the issues in which women and girls bear the brunt of the burden of inequity: education, employment, poverty, and sanitation.
It's time. Women and girls have waited long enough.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body charged with upholding human rights around the world, issued a resolution on the importance of the family in achieving sustainable development.
Despite an attempt by the government of South Africa to insert language that would explicitly recognize same sex marriages in the UN definition of family, the final resolution stated that the "family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state."
We also believe that families are fundamental units of society. We pioneered the introduction of family planning in the Americas and the Caribbean more than 60 years ago. Similarly, we agree that families are entitled to protection by society and that laws don't stop at the front door of people's homes: take for example the necessity of laws against gender-based violence and discrimination.
But we don't believe that any international agreements should or can refer to "the family" in a singular sense. The truth is that there are plenty of female-headed households, as well as families led by grandparents, aunts or uncles, and siblings. The antiquated notion of a family as a woman, man, and children has also been challenged -- and successfully won -- by the legalization of same sex adoption in countries like Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico. And of course, the recent Supreme Court decision legalization of same sex marriage heralded the transformation of narrow definitions of family in the United States.
Despite these wins, for years, conservative forces have blocked the attempts by advocates and governments to broaden the definition of the family in various United Nations fora, discounting locally grown efforts to promote the rights of all families as a primarily Northern-based agenda. These efforts have not only hurt the progression of thinking at the global level about the various forms that families take, but have effectively led to exclusionary policies and decrees. And in September, the Pope -- who has promoted the importance of the family in several for a -- is set to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
All families -- whether single-parent, chosen, same-sex, childless or traditional -- have the same right to protection by the State and the right to pursue happiness and live safely without discrimination, violence and hate.
An individual's body is their castle, and their individual autonomy and well-being should be respected and protected.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of State of the World's Fathersat the United Nations. The report, produced by the global alliance MenCare, provides an excellent overview of men's roles within families, in the home, and in the health system. Above all, the report highlights the fact that advancing gender equality not only improves women's lives but benefits men too--even when it means giving up some of their privileges.
The Cairo Conference in 1994, at which I spoke, recognized that men and fathers needed to be involved in the sexual and reproductive health arena. At the Beijing Conference in 1995, where I also spoke, I urged that men not be forgotten as we advanced the status and equality of women and that men's needs be recognized. Now 20 years later, The State of the World's Fathers Report recognizes that fathers and fatherhood matters - for men, for women and for children.
Men who are equal parents with mothers are happier, will live longer and their partners and children will be happier and live longer.
In our field, attention to boys and men--and the recognition that men have their own sexual and reproductive health needs--is often forgotten. Men and boys are also exposed to harmful perceptions of what it means to be a man, perceptions that have far-reaching consequences on their health and well-being--and the well-being of girls and women.
Involving men and boys in sexual and reproductive health and rights is a process that must begin early with quality comprehensive sexuality education programs. Unraveling entrenched discrimination is what sexuality education does best: these programs not only provide boys and teens with factual information about puberty and their bodies; they help unravel long-held norms and give boys a space to openly discuss the pressures they are facing.
My colleague recently had the opportunity to sit in on a comprehensive sexuality education lesson for boys. The instructor showed a cartoon of a man sitting in an easy chair surrounded by crying children. His wife was working furiously around him, a broom in one hand, a cooking pot in another and a diaper draped over her arm. "What's wrong with this picture?" he asked the group. "The man should be paying more attention to his children," answered one boy. Another said that he felt sorry for the woman because she had to do all the work. One boy quietly said that the picture made him uncomfortable because that's the way things were in his house.
These types of programs unravel generations of entrenched discrimination and help boys create a different kind of life and future for themselves. Plus, studies show that sexuality education programs that emphasize gender equality and power dynamics are five times more likely to reduce sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies than programs that do not.
Sadly, the international community has not prioritized funding for services and education for men and boys despite the fact that in many settings, it is men that make the decisions around sex, pregnancy and reproductive health in general. In many countries where we work in Latin America, for example, women have to ask their husband's permission to see the doctor or are forbidden altogether because their bodies "belong" to their husbands.
There are innovative ways to tackle this problem and ensure that sexual and reproductive health education continues throughout an individual's lifetime. In El Salvador, for example, our local Member Association employs male health promoters in 82 rural communities to educate men about sexually transmitted infections and stop the country's high rate of violence against women. And in our clinics in Colombia, trained counselors help couples navigate the complicated decisions around sexual and reproductive health--both with the goal of empowering the woman to make her own decisions and encouraging men to be supportive and participatory in the health of his partner.
It is well known that men seek fewer health services than women - perhaps that is one reason they die younger. Making women and men supportive of each other's health decisions could lead to men seeking better health care. It is in men's interests to be an equal partner in child rearing and consultations about their and their partner and children's health, all the while respecting their partner's autonomy.
But we still have a long way to go in ensuring that men play an active role not only in their own health, but the health of their families. As a man in the movement for sexual and reproductive health and rights, I know it will take each and every one of us- men and women alike- to achieve gender equality in our lifetimes.
How foreign abortion bans hurt children: The wrenching case of a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay shines light on a widespread problem
With Memorial Day behind us and summer here, most kids in New York are finishing school or preparing for camp or dreaming of pools and extended playtime.
But this summer will be very, very different for one 10-year-old girl in Paraguay. Because she’s pregnant.
The girl’s doctors discovered the pregnancy after she complained of a stomachache. But despite the fact that the girl is 10 years old and that doctors have identified the pregnancy — the result of the girl being raped by her stepfather — as dangerous and high-risk, the Paraguayan government has refused her access to an abortion.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven countries ban abortion under all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Paraguay is not one of them. Even though the law of the land states that abortions are legal in instances that pose a significant threat to the health of the mother, the Paraguayan government continues to deny this child access to a potentially life-saving procedure. This constitutes a cruel denial of the girl’s basic human rights, tantamount to torture.
My grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation — to provide education and services to men and women in an effort to end injustices like violence against women and enforced pregnancy. She believed that providing access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare was integral in empowering women to fully engage and participate in their communities and live the lives they want. I followed in her footsteps and, as the head of Planned Parenthood New York City, heard from countless women who needlessly suffered before abortion became legal in New York.
Cases like this 10-year-old’s make it clear that that needless suffering hasn’t ended, especially if you look abroad. For instance, one out of every three women in Latin America is a mother before her 20th birthday. 20% of all adolescent pregnancies occur among girls younger than 15, and are often the result of sexual abuse within the family.
At IPPF Western Hemisphere Region clinics, we provide contraception and abortion services to women and girls who need them. What our clinic staff has seen firsthand is that blocking access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care doesn’t stop them from being needed, or even stop them from happening — it just keeps them from being safe. Due in large part to extensive abortion bans throughout the region, 95% of abortions in Latin America are performed in unsafe conditions that threaten the health and lives of women.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Specifically, in Latin America, girls who give birth before the age of 16 are four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s.
And yet politicians around the globe — including in Paraguay and the United States — have shut their eyes to common sense and public health by continuing to ban and criminalize abortion, even abortion in cases of rape or incest. Children should not be forced into motherhood and doctors should not be kept from providing life-saving care just because of political hurdles.
And in instances like the 10-year-old girl currently pregnant in Paraguay, government officials shouldn’t be able to act counter to the spirit of the law and put young girls in serious danger because of political whims or extreme beliefs.
That’s why a broad spectrum of human rights and international advocacy organizations are calling on the Paraguayan minister of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Antonio Barrios, to immediately intervene and grant the girl access to safe abortion services. By doing that, Dr. Barrios would be upholding Paraguayan law and following the advice of leading international medical authorities — and, potentially, saving the life of a very real girl who has already survived more trauma than a child of her age should ever be forced to encounter.
Sanger is the former President of Planned Parenthood of New York City and the current chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. His grandmother was Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over 80 years ago.
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.” —Governor Christine Todd Whitman