This is written as we are thinking and celebrating women worldwide on International Women’s Day 8th March 2008.
While this day, which was first acknowledged and commemorated from 1911, for women and their successes and achievements, should also recognise the plight of women worldwide, as they find a voice to highlight their struggles for equality and freedom.
This includes the equal provision of health-care which sadly remains a lottery, based on where you live and the individual culture and religion of that country. I give here, but one example, of the extreme vulnerability, desperation and dangerous, life-threatening injustice that women face worldwide. The topic in question relates to abortion and reproductive health.
I watched Under-Reported world Channel 4 Friday 22nd February 2008 investigating the women of Nicaragua, who are unable to obtain an abortion under any circumstances, because of passed government legislation. It was a disturbing, vivid and distressing documentary which left me asking many questions concerning the Catholic church’s stance on this position.
Nicaragua is a devout Catholic state with a strong government and church alliance. This law was passed after 90,000 signatures for support were gathered from the Catholic and evangelical wing of the Church. Any termination of pregnancy was outlawed, even if this meant that the life of the mother was in danger because of a high risk pregnancy, or the life of the un-born child, at risk of severe abnormality or disability. There were no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. This was a “blanket ban” of any abortion, at any price to the women concerned.
The government’s argument over this hard line stand was that medicine was so advanced no mother or her child was put at risk with any pregnancy progression. The examples illustrated showed a very different picture.
The reporter covering this story interviewed one expectant mother faced with an impossible position. This women had a heart condition. Her pregnancy, as it advanced made this condition deteriorate, whilst the medication necessary to help, compromised the life of her un-born child. If she stopped the medication she would probably die but if she continued with both the pregnancy and the medication, her life and her future child was still in jeopardy. What an impossible position this women faced. We did not hear of her fate in the programme.
Doctors who are willing to give this women a termination of pregnancy face fines, eight years in jail and a suspension to practice. Being of Catholic faith they face ex-communication from their church. The women also face jail and prosecution if they undergo an abortion for any reason. This climate of fear and prosecution then creates another dilemma I had not thought of. The women who genuinely miscarry often fear and resist medical treatment and help because they do not want to face the possible charge of inducing a miscarriage. They are questioned at length about their miscarriage to ensure they have not tried to obtain an illegal abortion.
Women’s desperation drive the illegal practice of abortion underground, where prices are high to receive a termination. Un-regulated and open to abuse and dangerous practices, private clinics are lucrative sources of income. There are high rates of teenage pregnancy and prostitution in Latin America and it is often the youngest and most vulnerable sections of these communities that pay the price with their lives. If they are unable to pay, some resort to the most mind-numbing means of creating a miscarriage. One woman (how she survived I don’t know) described how she used a tube and a metal hook to perform her own abortion. The risk of uterine perforation is so high and any retained foetal products can lead to septicaemia, high fever, haemorrhage and death.
The cycle of poverty is only made worse by this legislation. Women are forced to give birth to large families they are struggling to feed. It is well documented that women face poorer health and earlier morbidity if they carry on bearing too many children, especially at a early age where complications of obstructed labourare more likely, leading to other debilitating health problems. 12,ooo street children were numbered in facing un-wanted, un-planned pregnancies, exacerbated by the reluctance of the male to actively use condoms, as a contraceptives measure.
There was one charity, shown in the documentary, which gave help and support to teenagers and young women, alone and on the streets. The offer of food and shelter was a life line for these girls. One of whom was a rape victim, aged 17 who had tried to commit suicide five times. She believed God really loved her because she was still alive.
Rural women who can not get to clinics often use herbs and home brews to induce abortion. You saw one women looking much older than her 30 yrs swinging her plastic bottle, filled with brown liquid, which when taken would create a spontaneous miscarriage the following day. She had already seven children and could not feed an eighth. Should she face complications she would have to travel six hours on a bus to the nearest clinic for medical help.
Another women was among the lucky ones. There are a few doctors willing to help women obtain an abortion in a place of medical safety and care which did not come with a huge monetary price tag. Six weeks pregnant, this women was given a termination, safely and with dignity. The procedure was partly filmed and we saw her praying hands as she underwent her abortion. The doctor was a women -no surprises there. The reporter found it very moving, as she was allowed in for filming.
Women are fighting back and with an ever powerful voice. The image that will remain with me forever is the one of a demonstration where an efigy/sculpure-like figure was portrayed of a heavily pregnant women being crucified on a cross. I felt an enormous amout of anger and disbelief that any church, acknowledging the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, could take such a position against its own women. Surely Jesus came to set us free, not to send women to such depths of darkness when struggling to carry life.
The power of the church however remains strong in its anti-abortion position. The people themselves creating this strength by their own fear. One women said that God would punish her if she did not have this child she carried. With this belief it seems, as the reporter concluded, that God and Church still seemed to have the final word on this matter.
Do have a look at the blog of athinkingman which also mentiones some other interesting points of the Catholic faith and also the subject of abortion within the Church.
This humble blog is written for and dedicated to all women who face impossible choices in their right for dignity, health-care and for the women facing termination of pregnancy, or birth in countries where this is still a risky business. We must as a sisterhood of women champion the less fortunate in our efforts to highlight pain and suffering endured by many in today’s C21st society. The women who stand up and fight with their voices, their will and courage deserves our recognition and praise as we celebrate Women’s International Day 2008.