News stories for April 4

Abortion in Rwanda

A proposal to legalize abortion in specific circumstances has been sent to the parliament of Rwanda for approval. This is likely to generate heated debate among the public, according to AllAfrica news service.

While Rwanda is signatory to the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), it had made a reservation for article 14.2(c), which requires states to authorize abortion “in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.”

Now, the cabinet has approved a draft Presidential Order lifting this reservation, which now awaits discussion in parliament.

Earlier this month, the journal Studies in Family Planning (2012; 43[1]: 11-20) published a study entitled “Abortion Incidence and Postabortion Care in Rwanda.” It found that more than 16,700 women received care for complications resulting from induced abortion in Rwanda in 2009, or 7 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Approximately 40% of abortions are estimated to lead to complications requiring treatment, but about a third of those who experienced a complication did not obtain treatment. Nationally, the estimated induced abortion rate is 25 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, or approximately 60,000 abortions annually.

The authors conclude that “an urgent need exists in Rwanda to address unmet need for contraception, to strengthen family planning services, to broaden access to legal abortion, and to improve postabortion care.”

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Komen Foundation and the influence of the Catholic Church

On March 23, 2012, five top female executives from the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure resigned due to the controversy brought on by the Komen Foundation Partnership with Planned Parenthood, among them Karen Handel, Komen’s Vice President for Public Policy.

Internal Komen documents recently reviewed by Reuters reveal that a formerly mutually supportive relationship between the the Catholic hierarchy and the Komen Foudation broke down in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen, fearing that some of the money might go to support Planned Parenthood.

This pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials. The decision, made public in January, and Komen’s reversal only days later, sparked an angry outcry from both feminists and the Catholic hierarchy and led to major divisions within the Komen Foundation as the reputation of the Foundation plummeted.

The highly influential tax-exempt Conference of Catholic Bishops has been recently been strongly lobbying to stop coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act and to eliminate health insurance coverage of birth control in any institution with a Catholic affiliation, even if its employees are not Catholic.

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Arizona state contraception plan

On March 20, Republican Arizona state Senate President Steve Pierce announced that he would be removing a bill from the Senate committee agenda that would give employers the right to refuse coverage for contraception under company insurance. The bill had passed the Arizona House on a 39-18 vote. The senator stated that he removed the bill because Republican Governor Jan Brewer “certainly would probably agree with the majority of people that would be a little bit uncomfortable for a woman to have to go to her employer and tell him or her their private health issues.” This occurred after a nationwide outcry against the Arizona bill.

House Bill 2625 initial intent would have allowed for employers to cite moral and/or religious explanations to deny employees from birth control.

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Violence at abortion clinics

A small homemade bomb detonated at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin on Sunday night. Initial reports suggest that the blast and resulting fire did only minor damages and no one was injured. The clinic was forced to shut down on today.

The Associated Press reported that police say that someone placed the explosive device on the Grand Chute clinic’s windowsill at around 7:40 p.m. Sunday. A small fire broke out when the device exploded. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin released a statement saying that there was only minimal damage to an exam room and that the building was empty at the time of the small blast. The clinic  reopened on Tuesday.

In a possibly related story, the incident is the latest in a series of escalating attacks and rhetoric targeting vocally pro-choice legislators and family planning clinics. Previous attacks on clinics in Florida and California underscore the threat women and health care providers face simply trying to access or provide reproductive care.

Earlier this year, on January 1, 2012, there was a bombing of a clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Also in January, Donny Eugene Mower, 38, of Madera, California, was sentenced in federal court today following his October 2011 guilty pleas to one count of arson.

Such incidents must be seen in the context of decades of continual violence, vandalism, and intimidation that endangers providers and patients and has curtailed the availability of abortion services.

Since 1993, eight clinic workers – including four doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort, and a security guard – have been murdered in the United States. Seventeen attempted murders have also occurred since 1991. Opponents of abortion rights for women have directed more than 6,300 reported acts of violence against abortion providers since 1977, including bombings, arson, death threats, kidnappings, and assaults, as well as more than 169,000 reported acts of disruption, including bomb threats and harassing calls.

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Poet Adrienne Rich dies

Renowned feminist poet Adrienne Rich died on March 27 at the age of 82. Rich, who wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and sold approximately 800,000 copies of her work, was widely acclaimed for her writings advocating for the rights of women and lesbians.

According to The New York Times, “accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.”

Barbara Gelpi, a professor emeritus of English and women’s studies at Stanford University, remarked, “Adrienne Rich was a voice for the feminist movement when it was just starting and didn’t have a voice. She expressed the sources of women’s pain when women were coming to a sense of their own history and potential.”

Rich received a bachelor’s degree in English at Radcliffe College, Harvard in 1951 and taught at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford over the course of her career. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994 and a National Book Award in 1974 for her collection of poetry, Diving Into the Wreck.

New York Times 3/28/12; Los Angeles Times 3/28/12

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Other stories:

Defunding State Commissions on Women

Keeping track, internationally of court cases/women

FMLA story


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