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Fighting for Girlhood

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 14:23
Fighting for Girlhood Child marriage violates the rights of millions across the world each year. But the UN just took notable steps to end its ravages.

07.27.15 - At age 15, Gita should have been cramming for math tests and gossiping with friends. Instead, she was forced to leave her family and the school she attended in the midwestern hills of Nepal to marry a man eight years older.

With that marriage, Gita’s trials had only begun. Not long after arriving at her new home, her mother-in-law pushed Gita into a room with her husband—of whom she was terrified—and locked the door from the outside. Before long, Gita was pregnant. She delivered her child at home with no help and suffered numerous complications.

Gita is one of more than 15 million girls worldwide subjected each year to child marriage, a centuries-old practice with often disastrous repercussions for young girls and their communities.

As noted in a 2013 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights, early marriage can instigate a range of human rights violations, leaving girls and women vulnerable to sexually contracted infections as well as domestic violence and rape. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women over 20, and the risk is far greater for those under 15.

“Child marriage is premised on patriarchal norms and harmful stereotypes of women and girls as subordinate to men and reflects deeply rooted gender inequality “ says Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center. “It institutionalizes violence against girls and women and serves as a veil for unthinkable crimes which routinely go unrecognized and unpunished.”

Approximately half of child marriages currently take place in South Asia, and—unless the practice is abolished immediately—as many as 130 million South Asian girls will be forced into marriage by 2030.

The Center has been working closely with the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which spearheaded the development of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action, a call for governments in the region to denounce child marriage as a human rights violation, to bring their laws in line with international human rights standards, and truly enforce those laws.

To promote stronger legal accountability in the region, the Center organized a convening this past November in collaboration with SAIEVAC, where participants representing civil society and government bodies from eight South Asian states endorsed the Kathmandu Call for Action.

In a huge victory last month for women and girls across the globe, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the principal body at the U.N. that promotes and protects human rights for all, welcomed these regional commitments and unanimously adopted a groundbreaking resolution to eradicate child, early, and forced marriage. The resolution calls on states to implement national action plans on child marriage, and encourages partnering with civil society groups to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls.

“The Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action—recognized and reinforced by the UN Council’s resolutions—generate hope for millions of women and girls like Gita in the region who have been forced to endure countless indignities and abuses,” says Upreti.

Ahead of the UN Council’s session, the Center and our partners advocated to strengthen the resolution by ensuring that it adequately recognized the human rights dimension of child marriage and built on regional initiatives and commitments already made by governments to end child marriage.

We hosted a side event at the UN co-sponsored by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and other high-profile agencies that highlighted these concerns, featuring a panel with powerful voices from the affected regions, including Upreti and Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA and African Union goodwill ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage.

One day when Gita’s husband learned she was pregnant again, he accused her of adultery and attempted to electrocute her. It was then she decided to escape. She was able to return to her family home and—eight years after being forced to leave school—she reenrolled in the eighth grade.

At first, returning to middle school as a mother in her twenties was difficult. But Gita gathered courage and studied hard to pass the standard exams and continue her education. Her husband later filed for divorce when he married another girl.

Upreti emphasizes that while Gita survived one ordeal after another as a child bride and a young wife, child marriage causes irreparable harm and there are some wounds that simply never heal. Legal remedies can help women and girls get out of situations that are abusive or life threatening and, with the right support systems in place, give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

However, such remedies cannot give them back their lost childhood. Where girls suffer serious repercussions to their reproductive health, their physical integrity can never be fully restored. It is important for violations associated with child marriage to be prevented altogether by enacting and enforcing laws that prohibit child marriage. 

“Stopping the continuum of harm that is triggered by early marriage is only possible when governments fully implement laws and policies that prohibit child marriage, and when women are aware of their rights and empowered to make decisions about marriage,” says Upreti.  

Moving forward, the Center is working to support the implementation of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action. This will ensure that governments in the region are able to play a central role in shaping a better future for millions of women and their families across the world.

Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

U.N. Committee Calls on Croatia to Expand Reproductive Health Services and End Discrimination Against Women

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 23:00
U.N. Committee Calls on Croatia to Expand Reproductive Health Services and End Discrimination Against Women

07.27.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has called on the Croatian government to take concrete steps to improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women during child birth. It also called on Croatia to ensure women can access reproductive health services in practice, including legal abortion, regardless of health professionals’ personal objections.

In its concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee urged Croatia to guarantee that women’s rights and autonomy and informed consent requirements are upheld during childbirth. It further recommended that Croatia ensure that health professionals’ refusals to provide services on grounds of  conscience not be allowed to impede women’s effective access to reproductive health care services, especially abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI) and Parents in Action (RODA), made a joint submission to the CEDAW Committee regarding the failure of the Croatian government to ensure women have access to quality reproductive health services, including abortion services and modern contraceptives. The submission also addressed serious concerns about the treatment of pregnant women during childbirth in Croatian hospitals including deficits in ensuring full and informed consent to medical interventions during childbirth as well as frequent disrespectful and abusive treatment of women by medical professionals.

“Croatian women have a right to receive quality reproductive health services, but instead they face abuse, disrespectful care, and a range of obstacles to critical services, said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Croatia must take effective steps to ensure pregnant women giving birth receive medical care that respects their needs and wishes.”

Abortion in Croatia is legal within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter under limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy is a result of a crime, if the pregnancy put a woman’s health or life at risk and in cases of severe fetal impairments. However, women are facing increasing difficulties in accessing legal abortion services in practice. According to 2014 research by the Gender Equality Ombudsperson, more than half of gynecologists in Croatia do not provide legal abortion services due to their personal objections.

The joint submission to the CEDAW Committee also included findings from RODA’s 2015 Survey on Experiences in Maternity Services that reported a large number of pregnant women being subjected to procedures that can be harmful to their physical and mental health, including 54 percent of women alleging that health professionals applied heavy pressure to their abdomens to speed up the delivery, a procedure not supported by medical evidence.

Hope for EACH Woman

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 14:26
Hope for EACH Woman Bold new legislation in Congress would restore access to essential reproductive services for millions of women denied coverage.

07.23.15 - Five hundred dollars. That’s about what it costs for a woman to exercise her constitutional right to end a pregnancy in the United States—not including associated expenses such as travel, child care, and lost wages.

For some women, that’s a deep breath—but doable. For others, it will wipe out a savings account or send them into debt.

But for millions of low-income women—for whom every single cent available is already earmarked for rent and food and kids—$500 is an un-climbable mountain. It may as well be $500,000. As a result of current restrictions that deny abortion coverage to Medicaid recipients, one in four women on Medicaid seeking abortion care will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

One of these women is Laurie. A young mother of three working at Pizza Hut and trying to go back to school, Laurie was devastated when she found out she was pregnant again. She knew she could not afford it—financially or emotionally.

But due to a lack of Medicaid coverage, she found herself unable to obtain a legal abortion. The fact that Laurie had a constitutional right to end her pregnancy meant nothing without the ability to afford it.

“I was heartbroken. I cried and cried,” Laurie recalls. “And I think it’s an extra layer to have a unwanted pregnancy when you are poor and a woman of color. You know what it means to walk into the welfare office and add another child to your case—everyone thinking it’s your fault. You know you’re going to be ‘that girl.’ You feel the stigma. And you know that the moment your child comes in to this world, she will feel it, too.”    

A historic piece of legislation introduced this month in Congress by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Diana DeGette (D-CO) would ensure that a lack of coverage no longer stands in the way of a woman making the best decision for herself and her family. The EACH Woman Act gives all women access to health coverage for abortion services—no matter how much money they make, what insurance plan they have, or where they live.

“This is visionary lawmaking,” says Megan Donovan, federal policy counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “For too long, discriminatory policies such as the Hyde Amendment have taken a disproportionate toll on low-income women, immigrant women, young women, and women of color by banning insurance coverage for abortion care.”

Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has barred Medicaid coverage of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. In addition to restoring coverage to Medicaid recipients, the EACH Woman Act would protect federal employees and their dependents, Peace Corps members, Native Americans, low-income residents of Washington, D.C., and federal prisoners—all of whom are currently denied abortion coverage. The bill would also prohibit political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to cover abortion care.

Studies have shown that when a woman seeks an abortion but is denied, she is far more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who is able to get an abortion. When asked how a woman affords to have a baby if she can’t afford an abortion, Laurie responds without a pause: “You don’t.”

“You’re not living—you are existing. You’re in survival mode. I dropped out of school—it just wasn’t doable—and went back to waitressing after only four weeks,” Laurie remembers. “We had some shockingly lean months. The baby slept with me because I couldn’t afford a crib. I had to negotiate for everything we had—food, clothes. No one budgets better than a poor, single woman, but I still couldn’t make ends meet.”

Of course, not all barriers are financial. Over the last few years, hundreds of new state laws have imposed restrictions on abortion care including mandatory delays, sham health regulations, and outright bans.

That is why in January of this year, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL) reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act. That bill would prohibit states from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfering with women’s personal decision-making, and blocking access to abortion services​.

“Right now, we are working to secure an environment where a woman’s right to make one of the most important decisions of her life—when and if to become a parent—is not dependent on where she lives or what’s in her pocketbook,” says Donovan. “These two complementary measures are essential components of that environment.”

The idea that a government has an obligation to ensure that women have access to safe health services—and that no woman is denied a legal abortion just because she cannot pay for it—is hardly groundbreaking. At the Center, we know from our global involvement in international human rights bodies and courts around the world—from France to Uruguay to Nepal—that coverage of abortion services is commonplace in countries that respect women’s rights to health and self-determination.

We are committed to advancing the compassionate vision of the EACH Woman Act and the Women’s Health Protection Act—and joining the ranks of nations that understand that a right without the ability to access it is not a right at all.

Federal Appeals Court Permanently Blocks Most Extreme Abortion Ban in the U.S.

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 23:00
Federal Appeals Court Permanently Blocks Most Extreme Abortion Ban in the U.S. Eighth Circuit strikes down North Dakota’s ban on safe, legal abortion as unconstitutional

07.22.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) After permanently striking Arkansas’s ban on safe and legal abortion services at 12 weeks as unconstitutional earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today permanently blocked North Dakota’s ban on abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy.

In light of today’s ruling, the state’s sole abortion clinic can continue providing safe, legal, high-quality services to the women and families of the state.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Today’s decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy.

“No woman should ever have to fear her constitutional rights could disappear overnight by virtue of where she lives. It’s beyond time these anti-choice politicians in North Dakota and across the U.S. finally start focusing on laws and policies that actually matter to women and their families and put an end to relentless attacks on women’s health and rights."

North Dakota’s HB 1456—which was signed into law by Governor Jack Dalrymple in March 2013—is the earliest and most extreme abortion ban in the nation, making virtually all abortions in the state illegal as early as six weeks of pregnancy.  The Center for Reproductive Rights and Thomas A. Dickson of the Dickson Law Office in Bismarck filed the lawsuit in June 2013 challenging the ban on behalf of  Red River Women’s Clinic—the state’s sole abortion provider. A federal district court judge temporarily blocked the ban in July 2013 and then permanently blocked the law in April 2014, noting “the United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability.”

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like North Dakota from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.​

Federal Court Permanently Blocks Most Extreme Abortion Ban in the Country North Dakota Governor Signs the Nation’s Most Extreme Attack on Women’s Constitutional Rights into Law Judge Temporarily Blocks Enforcement of North Dakota Medication Abortion Ban Federal Court Permanently Blocks Most Extreme Abortion Ban in the Country

Seventy-One Human Rights Organizations Call on President Obama to End Unnecessary Reproductive Health Restrictions That Harm Women

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 23:00
71 Human Rights Organizations Ask President Obama to End Unnecessary Reproductive Health Restrictions That Harm Women

07.22.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) As President Obama makes official visits to Kenya and Ethiopia this week, a broad-based coalition of leading domestic and global organizations are calling on him to put an end to the incorrect implementation of the Helms Amendment in order to save women’s lives and protect their health.

In an open letter, the coalition asks President Obama to meet with the U.S. government’s partners implementing health and gender-based violence programs in Kenya and Ethiopia, local community organizations, and the women they serve, in order to see why it’s imperative that the Obama Administration address its flawed implementation of the Helms Amendment.

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds “to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning.” Although abortion in Kenya is allowed in cases of rape, incest and when the health or life of a pregnant woman is in danger, women are still unable to access legal abortion services. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality, and Kenya and Ethiopia are among the 24 USAID priority countries in which 70 percent of maternal deaths worldwide occur.

“While nearly 300,000 women in developing countries continue to die needlessly from unsafe abortion every year, the United States’ flawed interpretation of the Helms Amendment denies critical funding to local organizations that could help women get the safe care they need, ” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“In Kenya, maternal deaths and injuries can and must be prevented,” added Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center. “President Obama has been a champion for women’s health in the United States, so we now call on him to take a stand for women worldwide and fix the Helms Amendment.”

The letter provides further background on the groups’ concerns, stating that women in Kenya, Ethiopia and around the world face high rates of gender-based violence, limited access to trained health care providers, and financial and geographic barriers to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion. Every year, an estimated 287,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – 13% of those deaths are the result of unsafe abortion. Close to half of those who die from unsafe abortion are younger than the age of 25. While no single policy can address the broad challenges that affect women in developing countries each day, the administration can take an important step by correcting its implementation of the Helms Amendment.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution eased the country’s severe restrictions on abortion, legalizing safe abortion services when the life or health of a woman is in danger and in cases of emergency—a measure aimed at decreasing the country’s high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity resulting from unsafe abortion. However, Kenyan women continue to be deprived of essential reproductive health services—including quality maternal health care and safe and legal abortion services. This is due to a variety of factors, including the misapplication of the Helms Amendment and the arbitrary withdrawal of the government’s guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion and a ban on safe abortion trainings for health care professionals, which has led to great confusion as to when legal abortions can be provided.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a petition last month against Kenya’s Ministry of Health for undermining women’s constitutional rights and contributing to cases of maternal death by denying countless women, including rape survivors, access to safe, legal abortion.

The Center has worked for more than a decade across the continent of Africa to advance women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2010, the Center published the report In Harm’s Way, which documented the devastating effects of the criminalization of abortion in Kenya before the law was reformed, and demonstrated how the weaknesses in Kenya’s health care system are further exacerbated when it comes to a reproductive health that is perceived as illegal and highly stigmatized.

Kenyan Women Denied Safe, Legal Abortion Services In Harm's Way: The Impact of Kenya's Restrictive Abortion Law

Trends to Watch

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 11:52
Trends to Watch It’s mid-2015. Do you know where your reproductive rights are? A new briefing explains.

07.20.15 - In just the first six months of 2015, three separate anti-choice bills arrived on the desk of Montana governor Steve Bullock. The intent of the measures was clear: to roll back abortion access with cruel and medically pointless regulations, like a ban on doctors using video technology to guide patients through medication abortion, a safe and innovative approach to providing care to women in rural areas.

Bullock knocked the measures down with a trilogy of vetoes. “Montana’s elected officials have no business substituting their personal beliefs for the sound medical judgment of our health care professionals,” he said.

That sentiment sums up the state of affairs in 2015—politicians playing doctor and anti-choice activists ignoring scientific fact to advance their assault on women’s rights. “Faced with the reality that a woman’s right to an abortion is a fundamental human right enshrined in constitutional law—not to mention supported by most Americans,” observes Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, “anti-choice politicians have gotten desperate, turning to junk science and disingenuous tactics.”

At the same time, there are promising bright spots. Women’s advocates like Gov. Bullock have defeated bad legislation across the country while others have made strides in expanding insurance coverage for abortion care. But a cadre of politicians remains committed to curtailing reproductive rights, and they’ve proven they won’t let the truth—or women’s well-being, for that matter—stand in their way. 

Legislators in Arizona and Arkansas enacted bills that force physicians to lie to their patients by telling them that abortion can be “reversed,” despite the chorus of real doctors who slammed the measures for being contrary to basic medical science and a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. A coalition of groups including the National Physicians Alliance, the American Academy of Family Physicians and others denounced the laws for forcing doctors “to violate their medical training and ethical obligation to their patients.”

Kansas and Oklahoma both passed similarly invasive laws that criminalized physicians who provide the best care they can to their patients rather than follow the dictates of anti-choice politicians. The Center for Reproductive Rights, joined by other organizations, challenged the Arizona and Kansas laws, and the courts have blocked their enforcement for the moment.

Reproductive rights are in jeopardy particularly across the South, where mandatory waiting periods force women to delay obtaining abortion care in every state in the region, for up to 72 hours. State-mandated waiting periods are hardest on low-income women, especially in rural areas far from abortion clinics, by saddling them with the costs of two visits to a clinic: multiple tanks of gas, hotel stays, time off from work, and child care. These laws are patronizing to all women but they can be downright deadly to women who face abuse at home, for whom finding the time to get to a clinic without an abuser discovering their plans can be nearly impossible. 

Several states in particular are poised to launch all-out assaults on women’s rights by testing the limits of Roe v. Wade. Tennessee voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that enabled lawmakers in 2015 to attack reproductive rights. The floodgates to anti-choice laws opened, putting women and families at risk throughout the region, where abortion clinics are scarce and many women have depended on Tennessee’s facilities in the past.

Arkansas unleashed an anti-choice blitz of its own, with six separate bills attacking reproductive health services from all angles, while Texas doubled down on its ongoing campaign against reproductive rights. Just two years after passing a massive anti-choice law that could have left just nine clinics open in America’s second biggest state, Texas politicians passed new regulations aimed squarely at low-income and undocumented women and teens, like requirements that all adult patients show an official ID proving they are not a minor, a virtually impossible hurdle for undocumented women and a cause of dangerous delays in time-sensitive medical care for others.

West Virginia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Ohio are some of the states that attempted to pass unconstitutional bans on 20-week abortions. West Virginia went so far as to override Gov. Ray Tomblin’s veto, enacting the bill into law and eliminating a rarely used but vital medical option for West Virginian women.

Fortunately, reproductive rights advocates haven’t taken this onslaught sitting down.

After Virginia’s Board of Health buckled under pressure from anti-choice politicians and imposed onerous new construction standards designed to do nothing more than close abortion clinics, Attorney General Mark Herring issued a legal opinion that called for existing facilities to be exempt from the medically unnecessary rules.

Louisiana politicians introduced two-pronged legislation in 2015 intended to force abortion patients to learn the sex of the fetus and ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus. The bill’s under-handed intent was to intimidate women while doing nothing to combat actual gender-based discrimination. In its cynical subtext, the measure fueled racist stereotypes that Asian Pacific Islander families don’t value girls, which led the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum to denounce the bill, forcing anti-choice politicians to back down.

Advocates continued to push forward in Oregon and Washington State, where lawmakers worked to advance bills to restore insurance coverage for abortion, and local officials in Madison, Wisconsin, joined a growing chorus calling for full insurance coverage of abortions.

Get the big picture. View the State of the States interactive map.

STATE OF THE STATES: 2015 AT THE MIDPOINT

Ignoring Objections of Major Medical Groups, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Signs Cruel Ban on Abortion at 20 Weeks of Pregnancy

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 10:07
Ignoring Objections of Major Medical Groups, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Signs Cruel Ban on Abortion at 20 Weeks

07.20.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a measure into law today which bans safe and legal abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy with an extremely narrow exception for medical emergencies.

HB179—which is slated to take effect next year—was opposed by major medical groups in the state, including the Wisconsin Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, and the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the dangers to a woman’s health and wellbeing.  A group of 100 obstetrician-gynecologists directed a letter to Governor Walker and the Wisconsin legislature opposing the ban because “SB 179 would block Wisconsin ob-gyns from being able to treat our patients in a medically appropriate and humane manner. This bill would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time.” 

Wisconsin women who seek abortion services already face extreme barriers to care, as there are only four clinics providing abortion services in the entire state.  Additionally, Wisconsin clinics have been fighting to keep their doors open in the face of a clinic shutdown law since 2013.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Wisconsin politicians have criminalized safe, legal abortion services at the same time they are attempting to eliminate all abortion services by shutting down clinics with sham laws and red tape.

“With this law, women in Wisconsin will soon face a catch-22 of shrinking options earlier in pregnancy and a complete ban on services later in pregnancy. Women deserve to make their own health care decisions with the medical professionals she trusts, not interference from her governor or legislature who presume to know better. ” 

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Last year, the Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and courts in Idaho and Georgia have also recently blocked similar pre-viability bans.

Bans on abortion at 20 weeks take critical medical decisions out of the hands of women and their trusted health care providers at a time when those services may be the best medical option for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, measures like Wisconsin’s prohibit services at a point at which a woman is just receiving the results of critical tests to determine the health of her pregnancy—and potentially the presence of life-threatening complications and severe fetal abnormalities.

The devastating impact of these cruel laws are evident in stories like Whitney’s, a woman who has spoken out about her experience needing an abortion after 20 weeks in North Carolina, one of 11 states in the U.S. where the services are currently banned. After receiving a difficult diagnosis, she was forced to travel out of state to get the safe, legal care she needed and had a constitutional right to obtain.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Wisconsin from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

Supreme Court Refuses to Review Arizona Abortion Ban

U.N. Committee Calls on Uganda to Reform Abortion Laws

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 23:00
U.N. Committee Calls on Uganda to Reform Abortion Laws 07.17.15 - 

(PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (U.N. CESCR) has called on the Ugandan government to reform and clarify its laws severely restricting abortion services.

In its concluding observations, the committee recommended that Uganda consider decriminalizing abortion and expanding the circumstances under which services are made legal and available. Further, the committee called on Ugandan officials to immediately improve awareness among women and health care officials in the country about the country’s existing abortion laws and available services for safe care following unsafe abortion. The committee also called for immediate steps to eradicate the continued practice of early and forced marriage in the country.

Ahead of these new recommendations, the Center for Reproductive Rights submitted to the committee its 2013 report, The Stakes Are High: The Tragic Impact of Unsafe Abortion and Inadequate Access to Contraception in Uganda, which documents personal stories of women impacted by the widespread and false impression by even health care professionals that abortion is illegal in all circumstances in Uganda—when in fact the country’s laws permit abortion for women with life-threatening conditions and victims of sexual assault.

Said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“For too long, countless Ugandan women are forced to take illegal and unsafe measures to end their pregnancies due to severe criminal laws and deep confusion about critical services that are in fact legally available.

“It is time Uganda immediately reform these harsh laws and increase awareness among women and their health care professionals of available family planning and safe abortion services.” 

Unsafe abortion is one of the most easily preventable causes of maternal mortality, yet more than a quarter of maternal deaths in the country occur because of unsafe abortion, according to an estimate by the Ministry of Health in Uganda. Many of these deaths are in large part because of confusion and ignorance of reproductive health laws.

The Stakes are High: The Tragic Impact of Unsafe Abortion and Inadequate Access to Contraception in Uganda

Mandatory Delays and Junk Science Among New Abortion Restrictions in 2015

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 12:04
Mandatory Delays and Junk Science Among New Abortion Restrictions in 2015 New policy brief details troubling trends in abortion restrictions

07.16.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Anti-choice politicians in states across the U.S. have continued to pass harmful restrictions on women’s reproductive health care services, either through sham laws that shutter clinics or by intruding in women’s personal private decision-making—according to a new policy brief released today by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The brief—The States of the States: 2015 at the Midpoint—highlights six troubling trends in state laws passed so far this year.  From junk science used to further interfere in the doctor-patient relationship in Arizona and Arkansas to a surge of mandatory delays for women seeking safe and legal abortion services across the South, each measure poses a threat to women’s health, rights, and personal decision-making.

The briefing also details six proactive efforts to improve and expand reproductive rights and access—including information on four states’ work to restore full insurance coverage for abortion services and successful efforts in Louisiana to defeat a measure that would have forced women seeking abortion services to learn the sex of their pregnancy and then banned any abortion services based on that information. 

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Already this year, politicians have advanced a new crop of underhanded laws devised to interfere with women’s personal, private decisions and block access to safe, legal abortion..

“But that is not the end of the story. In the face of these relentless attacks on women’s health and rights, lawmakers are fighting back with measures of their own that would repair the this nation’s patchwork system of abortion access and help millions of women struggling to obtain basic health care.”

The brief outlines the six separate abortion restrictions passed in Arkansas this year, as well as Texas politicians efforts to further chip away at access to reproductive health care in a state already devastated by underhanded abortion restrictions.

Many of the measures outlined in today’s brief have been challenged—and successfully blocked—by the Center for Reproductive Rights.  In June 2015, the Center filed four new challenges to unconstitutional state laws, including:

  • Florida’s 24 mandatory delay for women seeking abortion services,
  • Kansas’ unconstitutional law which criminalizes doctors for providing the most common method of abortion in the second trimester,
  • Tennessee’s Texas-style clinic shutdown law, and
  • Arizona’s measure which forces health care providers to lie to women about medical abortion “reversal.” 

Today’s brief further underscores the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

STATE OF THE STATES: 2015 AT THE MIDPOINT

Global NGOs Urge U.N. Human Rights Committee to Reaffirm the Right to Life Begins at Birth

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 23:00
Global NGOs Urge U.N. Human Rights Committee to Reaffirm the Right to Life Begins at Birth

07.15.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) More than 50 NGOs are calling upon the U.N. Human Rights Committee (U.N. HRC) to reinforce and elaborate on the measures states must take to guarantee women’s right to life on the basis of equality and nondiscrimination, including by eradicating preventable maternal mortalities and morbidities and guaranteeing access to safe and legal abortion.

A broad coalition of human rights organizations, spearheaded by the Center for Reproductive Rights, submitted a joint statement during the U.N. HRC’s consultation on the right to life urging the committee to continue to protect women’s health and lives by calling on states to eradicate preventable maternal deaths, ensure access to modern contraceptives and expand access to safe and legal abortion.    

During the consultation, groups seeking to undermine women’s reproductive rights urged the U.N. HRC to contradict well-established international human rights law recognizing that the right to life begins at birth and expand the scope of when life begins. This could compel women to carry to term pregnancies that jeopardize their health and lives, and undermine women’s reproductive autonomy and equality. 

Said Rebecca Brown, director of Global Advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Close to 300,000 women around the world needlessly die each year because of governments’ failure to provide quality, comprehensive reproductive health care.

“Efforts to undermine women’s rights and access to essential services are an outright attack on their lives.

“The U.N. Human Rights Committee is a champion for women’s fundamental human rights, and we are confident the committee will do everything in its power to protect the well-being of women worldwide by rejecting efforts to deny access to critical health services.”

In the joint statement to the U.N. HRC, the Center and coalition partners address the ways that women’s health and lives continue to be jeopardized as a result of persistent discrimination which manifests in preventable maternal mortalities and morbidities, lack of reproductive health information, inadequate access to modern contraception and restrictive abortion laws. Specifically, the statement calls on the committee to reaffirm that the right to life provision in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights begins at birth and must not be invoked to jeopardize women’s fundamental human rights.  

International human rights law has long-established that the right to life begins at birth, and any other approach would be in direct contradiction and violation of reproductive rights. However, states continue to violate their human rights obligations and put women’s lives and health in grave danger in the name of protecting a fetus. El Salvador denied a 22-year-old pregnant woman from accessing abortion services even though she was pregnant with a non-viable fetus and suffering from complications related to lupus and kidney disease.

The Center has led some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. In 2008, the U.N. HRC ruled in the Center’s case of KL v. Peru that the denial of abortion services to an adolescent carrying a non-viable fetus constituted a violation of her rights to privacy and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, among other rights. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured a historic victory stemming from the preventable maternal death of a young Brazilian woman who was denied quality maternal health services—the first time an international human rights decision named a maternal death a human rights violation.

Joint Statement for Human Rights Committee Day of Discussion on the Right to Life Inter-American Court of Human Rights Orders El Salvador Government to Allow Pregnant Woman with Critical Complications Access to Life-saving Health Care Interights: UN Human Rights Committee Decision in K.L. v. Peru Brazilian Government Gives Monetary Reparations As Part of Historic United Nations Maternal Death Case

A Vision of Health

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 15:06
A Vision of Health Many of the nation’s top reproductive rights voices convened in Washington, DC, to nourish our shared vision of reproductive health policy for the future.

07.08.15 - The audience clusters attentively around her as she describes a morning two years ago—taping a catheter to the inside of her thigh, lacing up her pink running shoes, and assembling a binder of emails from hundreds of women.

Right now she is standing in stylish heels, while behind her—out the giant windows of the United States Institute of Peace—one airplane after another makes its steady descent over the Potomac as another steamy summer dusk settles on the nation’s capital.

The “she” here—of course—is former Texas state senator Wendy Davis, sharing the story of her fabled filibuster against the sham law that now threatens to shutter all but nine abortion clinics in the state.

The rapt audience includes more than 150 state legislators, state advocates, and national allies from across the country who have gathered for the day at the Center’s State Leadership Summit. They’re here to share innovative ideas and strategize about moving forward a proactive vision for reproductive health, rights, and justice in the states.

While the mood was upbeat, the day was not without tearful moments. Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson told the heartbreaking story of a woman who was unable to end a pregnancy due to a fetal heartbeat bill and spent 6 torturous weeks waiting to miscarry.

Under an enlarged black-and-white photograph of a woman handcuffed to a hospital bed while in labor, reproductive justice activist La’Tasha Mayes talked about the groundbreaking work her organization, New Voices Pittsburgh, has done to stop the inhumane practice of shackling of incarcerated women who are giving birth.

Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores recalled the difficult but empowering experience of sharing on the statehouse floor the story of her abortion at age 16.

There was also plenty of laughter. Comedian Lizz Winstead reminded the group of the power of humor and creativity to shift the reproductive health narrative during the lunchtime keynote speech. Referencing the current trend of sham laws aimed at shutting down clinics across the country, she quipped, “If a politician wants to legislate abortion, make them get hospital admitting privileges.”

But mostly there was valuable networking, exciting panel discussions, and energized breakout sessions. Topics ranged from effective messaging on reproductive rights issues to sharing promising new state policies such as the recently passed Oregon bill allowing for women to obtain a year’s supply of birth control at once.

“There is an ongoing need to come together and recognize the areas where we have had success as a movement so that we can capitalize on and replicate them,” says the Center’s director of state advocacy, Kelly Baden, one of the key organizers of the summit. “If the ideas and policies that emerge from the summit are any reflection of its participants, they will be smart, diverse, inclusive, and bold.”

More details of the day—including pictures and quotes from summit participants such as U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Gwen Moore (D-WI), MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Texas abortion provider Amy Hagstrom Miller, and many more—can be found at the State Leadership Summit Storify page.

Without a Prescription

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 14:57
Without a Prescription Over-the-counter birth control. It’s a great idea in theory. But how do we get there?

07.08.15 - On the first day of her first year in college, Savannah remembers feeling “extremely uneasy”—and it wasn’t just freshman jitters or homesickness.

She was headed to the student health clinic to ask for birth control, and she only had $25 in her bank account. She knew that was not nearly enough pay for both the visit and the contraception she needed.

Four hundred dollars later, Savannah was right. And she spent the next three months using her paychecks from her job at Subway to pay off the balance.

“I am absolutely tired of having to choose between buying groceries and maintaining my reproductive health,” Savannah says.

For millions like Savannah across the country, the contraceptive care benefit under the Affordable Care Act—which requires most private health plans to fully cover contraception and well-woman visits with no cost to the patient—has provided much-needed relief from this all-too-familiar dilemma.

Now women’s health advocates and federal lawmakers would like to expand access even further by making oral contraceptives available without a doctor’s prescription. Although the authority to permit over-the-counter birth control ultimately lies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two different bills proposed in Congress in the past month seek to encourage this process.

Senator Patty Murray recently introduced the “Affordability Is Access Act,” which requires that insurance companies cover over-the-counter birth control pills without co-pay and with no restriction on age. The bill notes that 1 in 3 women report having struggled to afford birth control at some point in their lives.

A recent study indicated that over-the-counter birth control pills coupled with insurance coverage could decrease the rate of accidental pregnancies by 25 percent—a significant drop in a country where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

“Senator Murray’s bill is a bold move in the right direction,” says Amy Friedrich-Karnik, the Center’s interim director of federal policy and advocacy. “More than 99 percent of sexually active women have relied on birth control at some point in their lives. It is absolutely central to a woman’s ability to determine her future and manage her health. We know from research that some birth control can be provided safely without a prescription.  Any other barrier—including price tags, doctors’ schedules, and pharmacy hours—should be examined and addressed so women can get the care they need without delay.” 

Another bill, introduced by Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Kelly Ayotte, falls short in key areas. While the “Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act” would make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to apply to the FDA for certain birth control drugs to be available without prescription, it would limit over-the-counter access to women over the age of 18. It also does not include any provisions to ensure the pill remains affordable for the millions of women who currently benefit from the contraception coverage required by the ACA.

Oral contraception costs can amount to as much as $600 each year, in addition to insurance premiums—a potential deal breaker for countless women. Yet reliable, affordable birth control is particularly essential for women in precarious financial situations and for teens, where the added expense and burden of an unplanned pregnancy could be catastrophic.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has long been involved in supporting efforts to make birth control more accessible. We led a decade-long battle with the FDA to make emergency contraception available without a prescription for women of all ages.  From a Citizen Petition filed in 2001 to a suit in federal court, the battle eventually concluded when a federal judge denied the government’s request to delay the availability of emergency contraception for over-the-counter use. 

Today we are proud to support state measures such as Oregon’s new law allowing women to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at one time—as well as federal legislation to restore access to affordable health coverage and care—including birth control—for immigrants. We are also working to address the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows some companies to deny their employees coverage for birth control based on their employer’s personal religious beliefs.   

Senator Murray Introduces Bill to Dramatically Expand Birth Control Access

Keep Wanjiku Safe

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 14:46
Keep Wanjiku Safe Every year, thousands of Kenyan women and girls are forced to risk their lives to end a pregnancy. Now they’re fighting back to ensure their safety.

07.08.15 - This past winter, a 14-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl found herself in a desperate situation. After being coerced by an older man into her first sexual relationship, she discovered she was pregnant and feared she would be blamed and rejected by her family if she were to reveal her condition.

Wanjiku is not her real name. In Kenya, Wanjiku is symbolic of an ordinary person: any woman, every woman. In a country where one in three girls under 18 experience sexual violence and over 40 percent of pregnancies are unintentional, Wanjiku represents the stories of many.

Living away from home in order to attend a good school, Wanjiku turned to a friend, an older girl, for advice on how to end the pregnancy. The older girl knew of someone nearby who could help. 

This is how Wanjiku found herself doing what hundreds of thousands of women in Kenya are forced to do each year: seeking abortion care from an unqualified provider. 

Although abortion is technically legal in certain circumstances in Kenya, women are largely unable to get legal abortions due to an atmosphere of intimidation and confusion generated by mixed messages from the government.

“Without clear standards and guidelines, many qualified health workers refuse to treat women for fear of possible prosecution,” says Jade Maina, executive director of the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH), a Kenyan women’s health rights group advocating on Wanjiku’s behalf. “Abortion has been pushed back to being a clandestine activity and a risky venture for health care providers—hence exorbitant fees that women cannot afford—making a woman’s chances of falling into the hands of a quack higher.”

In 2010, Kenya’s new constitution eased the country’s severe restrictions on abortion, legalizing safe abortion services when the life or health of a woman is in danger and in cases of emergency—a measure aimed at decreasing the country’s high rates of maternal death and injury due to unsafe abortion. 

In 2013, however, the Ministry of Health withdrew the established standards and guidelines for reducing unsafe abortion and then issued a memo a year later stating that “the Constitution of Kenya 2010 is clear that abortion on demand is illegal”—without clarifying the grounds under which abortion is legal. The memo also imposed a ban on abortion trainings for health care professionals and threatened punishment of those who continue to receive trainings.

But without trained professionals, approximately a quarter of the estimated 465,000 illegal abortions performed in Kenya each year result in severe complications and hospitalizations. Thousands of women and girls do not survive—or are injured for life.

Tragically, Wanjiku is one of these girls. Two days after seeking an abortion from a “doctor” in the backroom of a local pharmacy, she began vomiting and bleeding heavily. She was taken to a hospital where she was found to be experiencing kidney failure. 

After she was stabilized, she was detained by the hospital because her mother—a poor tea farmer—could not pay the hospital bills. There, Wanjiku was forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor, where her health again deteriorated.

Six months later, she continues to fight for her life. If she survives, she will face dialysis and an eventual kidney transplant. Her life will never be the same.

This week the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case on behalf of Wanjiku and her mother, as well as two women’s rights advocates and the Federation of Women Lawyers–Kenya, affirming that the Kenyan Ministry of Health is undermining women’s constitutional rights and contributing to cases of maternal death by denying countless women access to safe, legal abortion.

“It is time for the Ministry of Health to take decisive action to protect the health, lives, families, and future of Kenyan women before more women are needlessly harmed by its policies,” says the Center’s regional director for Africa, Evelyne Opondo, who is also the head litigator in the case before Kenya’s High Court. “Women are dying, and, even more alarmingly, many of these deaths are eminently preventable. The Kenyan government must restore standards and guidelines for medical professionals to provide abortion care as soon as possible.”

Widespread sexual violence against women and a dearth of contraception access makes the need for safe, legal abortion all the more urgent in Kenya, yet abortion remains highly stigmatized across the country due to conservative religious beliefs.

As the Center pursues policy reform in the Kenyan court, groups on the ground such as TICAH are drawing national and international attention to the issue by sharing Wanjiku’s story and petitioning Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to take the necessary steps to keep her—and the thousands of other Wanjikus across Kenya—safe.

Add your voice to the call to #KeepWanjikuSafe today.

Congresswomen Introduce Historic Bill to Ensure Coverage of Abortion Services for All Women

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 09:22
Congresswomen Introduce Historic Bill to Ensure Coverage of Abortion Services for All Women EACH Woman Act would restore abortion coverage to millions, regardless of income, insurance plan, or zip code

07.08.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) today introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that would ensure all women have access to health insurance coverage for abortion services, no matter how much money they make, what insurance plan they have, or where they live.

Today’s new legislation would finally put an end to the Hyde Amendment, a policy prohibiting federal Medicaid coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. First passed in 1976, this discriminatory policy has had a severely disproportionate impact on women who already face significant barriers to health care, including abortion services, such as low-income women, immigrant women, young women, and women of color.

The EACH Woman Act would restore coverage for abortion services to women enrolled in insurance plans and programs offered or managed by the federal government, including Medicaid, Medicare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Indian Health Services, and TRICARE, the federal health care program for military families. The bill would also prohibit political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage of abortion care.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“No woman should ever be denied critical reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion, simply because her health insurance refuses to cover her care. Yet for decades, politicians have allowed discriminatory policies to block low-income women from the full range of reproductive health care coverage they need and deserve.

“The EACH Woman Act would finally guarantee every woman can get the reproductive health care she needs, no matter how much money she makes or where she lives.

“It’s time for our government to put an end to the discriminatory policies that unjustly target women who are hit hardest by tough economic circumstances, especially young women and women of color.

“We are proud to stand with the co-sponsors of the EACH Women Act and the committed reproductive health and justice leaders who have made history today in defense of the health and safety of all women across the U.S.”

Restrictions on coverage for abortion services seriously impact women across the U.S. According to recent data, approximately 1 in 6 women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid and more than 1 million women are federal employees. And studies show that when politicians place severe restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion, it forces one in four poor women seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

In response to discriminatory bans on health care coverage for abortion, reproductive justice, health, and rights organizations—including the Center for Reproductive Rights—launched a bold new campaign, All* Above All, in 2013 to build support for lifting bans on abortion coverage that disproportionally harm low-income women and communities of color.

Earlier this year, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL)—all original cosponsors of the EACH Woman Act—reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (S217/HR 448), a bill that would prohibit states from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.​.

Together, these two proactive legislative measures would remove many of the significant, and too often insurmountable, barriers to affordable, safe, legal, and high-quality abortion services that face millions of women throughout the United States.

U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 12:10
U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

07.02.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) This week the U.N. Human Rights Council—principal body at the U.N. that promotes and protects human rights for all—reaffirmed its commitment to women’s and girl’s human rights by passing key resolutions to end violence against women and eradicate child, early and forced marriage.

Today, the U.N. Council passed a resolution condemning all forms of violence against women and calling on states to implement policies that promote gender equality, prevent and protect women and girls from domestic violence, as well as improve legal procedures for women seeking justice from abusers.

The U.N. Council also unanimously adopted its first substantive resolution to prevent and end child, early and forced marriage, an illegal practice that affects 15 million girls every year.

Said Rebecca Brown, global advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Governments have a clear obligation to respect the human rights of women and girls by taking every step necessary to prevent violence, abuse, and forced marriage.

“Today’s critical U.N. resolutions fully recognize the impact this global pandemic has on the livelihood and rights of countless women and young girls, and rightfully calls on government officials to take immediate action.

“Domestic violence and child, early and forced marriage reinforce discrimination against girls and women across the globe. The UN needs to continue to be outspoken on these issues and show leadership in calling for advancements in the realization of women and girls human rights.”

The U.N. Council’s resolution on violence against women recognizes the human rights abuses that stem from domestic violence and how this is a societal problem and manifestation of gender inequality. The resolution urges states to condemn all forms of violence against women and girls, and to “refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination, including harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” It also underscores that domestic violence is of public concern and that states have the primary responsibility for protecting and promoting the human rights of women and girls facing violence, including those facing domestic violence.

In unanimously adopting the child, early and forced marriage resolution, the U.N. Council also urges governments to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls, including their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. The resolution calls on states to implement national action plans on child marriage, and encourages partnering with civil society groups to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls.

In 2013 the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the consequences of child marriage, which subjects girls to serious crimes, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and lives at serious risk. The report questions the failure of governments to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage. Since the launch of the report, the Center has supported the efforts of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), in building a regional commitment to end child marriage and applauds the progress being made under the leadership of SAIEVAC to promote stronger legal accountability to end child marriage in the region.

The Center has played a part in some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured historic financial reparations for the family of a young Brazilian woman who died from preventable pregnancy complications—the first time an international human rights decision named maternal health a human rights. And at the European Court of Human Rights, the Center called upon Poland to ensure adolescents’ reproductive rights after access to a legal abortion for a rape survivor was repeatedly obstructed.

Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity (Press Release)

The Waiting Game

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 15:17
The Waiting Game Mandatory delays for abortion care hurt women. Yet they’ve become a popular weapon in the anti-choice assault on reproductive rights.

07.01.15 - Faith is a nurse from San Antonio, Texas. She has a full life—a challenging job, a fiancé, two daughters, a house, a couple of dogs. She also has a seizure condition that makes pregnancy especially risky and requires her to be under the care of an obstetrician for three to six months before conception.

A few years ago she became pregnant despite being on birth control. At the time, doctors told her that she had a 40 percent chance of suffering a life-threatening grand mal seizure if she did not end the pregnancy. She could lose consciousness at any time, she says, “while I’m driving to work, or while I’m at home by myself.”

“I want my two daughters to have a mother,” she says of her decision to have an abortion. “I’m just not willing to take that risk.”

However, Texas law required Faith to not only have an ultrasound before being permitted to have the abortion, but then wait 24 hours to return to the clinic to have the procedure.

In tears, Faith describes this process as nothing short of torture.

“You are made to feel like a criminal,” she says. “To go home and just sit there and ponder on this. You’re being tortured for that whole 24 hours.”

Waiting periods have become an increasingly popular restriction among anti-choice proponents around the country, with a number of states now looking to expand the mandated period of delay to up to 72 hours.

In 2015 alone, 23 pieces of legislation to create or worsen existing waiting periods were introduced in 16 states.

“Waiting periods are part of a web specifically designed to ensnare women and undermine their ability to make non-coerced decisions about their reproductive health,” says Kelly Baden, director of state advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “At bottom, these kinds of restrictions are about not trusting women. There is of course no medical reason to require a waiting period before an abortion.”

Comments from waiting-period proponents offer a telling view of the presumptions underlying this trend in anti-choice legislation. “We owe women the time to control their fear and emotion and make an informed decision,” said one supporter of the North Carolina legislation—as though women are incapable of making thoughtful decisions about their health and lives without government-mandated delays.

Last year, a Missouri state legislator underscored the demeaning and offensive attitudes behind that state’s 72-hour law by comparing the procedure to buying a car: “Even when I buy a new vehicle . . . I don’t go right in there and say, I want to buy that vehicle, and, you know, leave with it.”

“In some cases,” Baden points out, “states have simply run out of abortion restrictions to enact so they’ve turned their attention to making existing restrictions even harsher. We always see trends in abortion restrictions, and as laws aiming to force clinics to shut down are tied up in the courts, lawmakers are back to targeting women’s decision-making.”

Due to the shame and stigma that such restrictions create around abortion care, Faith felt that she could not be straightforward with her employer or family about what she was doing.

“I didn’t want to be made to feel like a bad person any more than I already do—and you have to go through that just to get through the process,” she recalls.

In order to navigate the increasingly complex web of requirements—finding a provider in a state where anti-choice laws and funding cuts have shut down more than half of the state’s clinics, taking time off work to make two trips to the clinic, as well as recovering from the procedure—Faith, who is the only nurse at the private practice where she works, had to wait until she was 17 weeks pregnant to be able to take the full week off work she needed.

“If I take time off, the clinic where I work shuts down,” she says. “Finding the time—because of what a lengthy process it is—is very hard.”

Although this delay increased health risk and created a logistical challenge, Faith was fortunate to be able to receive the care she needed. For some women—particularly those with little or no income—mandatory delays and two-trip requirements can be even more dangerous. The burden of additional child care, lost wages (or lost jobs), transportation, and a possible overnight stay can quickly turn a waiting period into an absolute barrier to obtaining an abortion at all.

“These medically unnecessary bills make it clear that these are simply thinly veiled political attempts to get women to try to change their minds,” Baden notes.

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida, filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to block a recently passed Florida measure forcing a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion care. The state is appealing the decision.

Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU Challenge Unconstitutional Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion Oklahoma Governor Signs Measure Tripling State’s Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services Missouri Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto, Triples Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services

City of Manila Health Official Apologizes for the Denial of Reproductive Health Services and Violations Against Women

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 23:00
City of Manila Health Official Apologizes for the Denial of Reproductive Health Services and Violations Against Women 06.30.15 - 

(PRESS RELEASE) This week, a Manila City Health Office official has apologized for the barriers facing women with unplanned pregnancies when seeking reproductive health services after hearing from community activists.

Dr. Benjamin Yson, acting City Health Officer of Manila, made the remarks during a convening with Philippine government officials and civil society organizations—including the Center for Reproductive Rights and EnGendeRights—to address the U.N. recommendations that the Philippines ensure universal and affordable modern contraceptives, decriminalize abortion, and implement the country’s Reproductive Health Law.

Although Dr. Yson recognized the grave and systematic rights violations suffered by women seeking reproductive health services in Manila City, he stated the government sees no need to revoke prior local policies that restricted access to modern contraceptives. Despite passing the Reproductive Health Law in 2012, other local government units have continued to introduce and implement restrictive reproductive health ordinances, including recently in Sorsogon City where a local ordinance has been relied upon to provide trainings stigmatizing contraceptives.

Said Payal Shah, senior legal adviser for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While the health official’s apology is a welcome first step, much more needs to be done to address the injustices and harms suffered by countless women and families under Manila’s contraceptive ban.

The promise of the Reproductive Health Law must be made real for the women throughout Manila City who still face significant ongoing misinformation about contraceptive access and barriers to reproductive health care.

“The passage of the Reproductive Health Law was a victory for millions of Filipino women. The city of Manila must immediately address these strong U.N. recommendations and take action to implement the law and undo the years of suffering caused by the contraceptive ban.”

Said Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights:

“The City of Manila should allocate funds, source contraceptive supplies, and designate medical providers to address the prevailing reproductive rights needs of its residents particularly poor women and adolescent girls who are unaware of contraceptive methods, many of them ended up giving birth at early age even as young as 15 years old.

“Although the EOs have already been declared moot, a new EO or ordinance providing universal access to contraceptives including allocation of funds is a definitive action that clearly manifests its commitment to implement programs to implement the RH Law and the recommendations of U.N. Committee on the inquiry.”

Government representatives from the Departments of Health, Justice and Foreign Affairs, alongside the Philippine Commissions on Women, Human Rights and Population and the National Anti-Poverty Commission sat down with reproductive health groups to discuss reproductive health violations and systemic human rights violations women have faced in the Philippines for decades. These groups included Catholics for Reproductive Health, Women’s Health Care Foundation, KAKAMMPI, SAMAKANA, ZOTO, Philippine Center for Population and Development, The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Population Services Pilipinas, Inc., and PROCESS.

The reproductive health groups called for the government to implement recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW), including by clarifying the revocation of the Manila City executive orders, introducing a mechanism for oversight of local government policies on contraceptives, establishing a local complaints mechanism where women can seek remedies for violations of their right to reproductive health care, and creating awareness and education campaigns to address misinformation and misconceptions about contraceptives as guaranteed under the Reproductive Health Law.

The Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception contributed to an estimated 610,000 illegal abortions in 2012, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In May 2015, U.N. CEDAW released a report criticizing the government for failing to prioritize women’s human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes, which has led to widespread discrimination against women and hindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. For the report, designated members from U.N. CEDAW traveled to the Philippines in November 2012 to conduct the inquiry after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other NGOs raised concerns over the human rights violations women in the country were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively banned women’s access to modern contraceptives inManila City.

The Center has worked on reproductive health issues throughout Asia, with major initiatives addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. Residents of Manila City filed a case against the government in 2008 challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 003 and demanding its revocation. It was quietly dismissed in 2014 after a judge determined that the case is “a moot point,” given the passage of the 2012 Reproductive Health Law. To date, women in Manila City do not have access to a full range of modern contraceptives and related information and services.

Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Historic Reproductive Health Law U.N. Committee Finds Women in the Philippines Face Reproductive Rights Violations and Discrimination Download Report: Imposing Misery (Updated Edition)

State Court Blocks Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 23:00
State Court Blocks Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion

06.30.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) A state court judge today blocked a recently passed Florida measure forcing a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion care.  The law—which was slated to take effect on July 1, 2015 and will remain blocked while the case proceeds--  fails to include any protections for a woman whose pregnancy threatens her health or a meaningful exception for survivors of rape, incest, or intimate partner violence.

“Women are fully capable of making thoughtful decisions about their lives, families, and health care, and this ruling will keep them from being second-guessed or delayed by politicians who presume to know better,” said Autumn Katz, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We will continue to fight this demeaning law until the courts permanently strike it down and ensure no Florida woman is ever forced to wait for purely political reasons to get the health care she needs.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Richard Johnson of Tallahassee challenged the unconstitutional measure earlier this month on behalf of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center—a Gainesville reproductive health care provider—and Medical Students for Choice—an organization dedicated to making reproductive health care, including abortion, a part of standard medical education and residency training.

“The court has recognized that this law serves only to demean women and the choices they and their families make about their own medical care,” said Renée Paradis, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This decision ensures that the right to privacy guaranteed to women by the Florida Constitution will be protected and allows women to receive the care they need while the courts hear our legal challenge to this unconstitutional law.”

“This decision supports the right of all women patients to make the healthcare decisions they feel are most appropriate for them and enables their physicians to support their decisions,” said Lois Backus, Executive Director of Medical Students for Choice.  “We are grateful for the court’s decision today.”

Waiting periods can create a variety of burdens on a woman who needs safe and legal abortion care—from stigmatizing women and abortion providers, to requiring additional trips to the clinic, which means additional travel time, transportation costs, child care, and time off work.  Women of color, low-income women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships already face challenges when they seek health care services, and waiting periods only increase these barriers.  Additionally, mandatory waiting periods can lead a woman to delay the abortion to later in pregnancy, which can increase the risks of the otherwise extremely safe procedure.

In a region devastated by similarly underhanded restrictions, Florida’s strong state constitutional protections have ensured the state serves as a safe haven for women from neighboring states seeking safe and legal abortion services.  From clinic shutdown laws—which have closed clinics in Texas and threaten to shutter abortion providers in LouisianaOklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama—to outright bans on abortion, women in the South often face innumerable hurdles when trying to exercise their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services. 

Harmful restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Florida from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.​

Center for Reproductive Rights, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Call on Florida Governor to Veto Bill Forcing Women to Delay Abortion Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU Challenge Unconstitutional Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion Texas Clinics Closed by Fifth Circuit Can Reopen in Light of Supreme Court Ruling Federal Court Blocks Enforcement of Louisiana Law Threatening Women’s Access to Safe and Legal Abortion Oklahoma Supreme Court Blocks Two Unconstitutional Measures Designed to Severely Restrict Access to Abortion Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Clinic Shutdown Law Federal Court Permanently Strikes Down Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban as Unconstitutional

European Committee of Social Rights Protects Swedish Women’s Rights to Access Reproductive Health Services

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 08:21
European Committee of Social Rights Protects Swedish Women’s Rights to Access Reproductive Health Services

06.29.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) The European Social Charter does not entitle health professionals in Sweden to invoke personal or moral objections as an excuse to deny women reproductive health services, according to a recent decision by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the body that oversees states’ adherence to the Charter. 

In its decision, ECSR rejected claims made by the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) that health care providers in Sweden should be able to claim a “right to conscientious objection” and refuse to provide abortion services under the Charter. The Committee unambiguously confirmed that states are not obligated to recognize or protect any right of health professionals to refuse care on grounds of personal conscience under the right to health of the Charter. It firmly rejected FAFCE’s attempt to limit and restrict international legal protection of women’s reproductive rights and found that Sweden’s abortion laws and practices are wholly in compliance with the Charter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) submitted joint observations to ECSR concerning FAFCE’s complaint, urging the Committee to reject the complaint and to safeguard Sweden’s strong commitment to provide women with reproductive health services and information, including abortion services.

“States must ensure that health care professionals’ religious or moral objections do not jeopardize women’s access to quality reproductive health services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We commend the Committee for rejecting this attempt to limit women’s right to reproductive health care.”

ECSR also rejected attempts to interpret the Charter as providing protection to fetal life. Instead, the Committee affirmed that Sweden’s abortion laws and policies, which offer strong protection to women’s reproductive rights, are fully in compliance with the Charter. The Committee’s decision was adopted in March 2015, and published on June 17, 2015, per standard procedure.

Sweden’s abortion laws and policies are strongly protective of women’s reproductive rights,” said Kristina Ljungros, President of RFSU. “We are delighted that, in refusing to recognize an entitlement of health care professionals to refuse care on the basis of personal conscience, the Committee has rejected an attempt to weaken these protections and threaten women’s access to abortion services.”

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Supreme Court Steps In to Protect Abortion Access in Texas

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 23:00
Supreme Court Steps In to Protect Abortion Access in Texas Nation’s highest court blocks 5th Circuit ruling that would have shuttered all but 9 clinics in the state

06.29.15 - (PRESS RELEASE)  In a 5-4 order, the U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to suspend a recent ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which threatened to shutter all but nine abortion clinics in the state—ensuring harmful provisions of Texas’ clinic shutdown law will remain blocked while Texas health care providers ask the nation’s highest court to review the case. 

Today’s order comes ten days after Texas health care providers—represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights—asked the Supreme Court to block the June 9 ruling after the Fifth Circuit refused to do so late in the day on June 19.  This is the second time in eight months that the nation’s highest court has stepped in to block Texas’ clinic shutdown law from taking effect.

“The justices have preserved Texas women’s few remaining options for safe and legal abortion care for the moment. Now it’s time to put a stop to these clinic shutdown laws once and for all,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors.  The Supreme Court has affirmed time and again that a woman has a constitutionally protected right to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and we are confident the justices will make clear once again that the constitutional protections for safe and legal abortion are real.”

“We’re relieved that the high court has, once again, prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for Texas women.  We at Whole Woman’s Health know that reproductive care is not some political bargaining chip—that’s part of why we’re fighting this. With today’s ruling, we remain hopeful that the justice system too will stand with Texas woman and Whole Woman’s Health," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder, president, and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.”

Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ clinic shutdown law.  The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a joint amicus brief opposing the law, stating that “H.B. 2 does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”  Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, and that laws like Texas’ would do nothing to make it safer.  Meanwhile, real problems concerning women’s health in Texas, especially the state’s skyrocketing death rate for women in pregnancy and childbirth, continue to go unaddressed by Texas politicians.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to access abortion. More than 20 years ago today, the Supreme Court made this clear in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which it ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution limits a state's right to interfere with a person’s “most basic decisions about family and parenthood”--including the decision to obtain an abortion.  On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in the U.S., finding that state bans on same-sex marriage and refusing to recognize legal marriages obtained in other states was a clear violation of both the due process and equal protection rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.  

Clinic shutdown laws have swept the South in recent years, threatening to further devastate abortion access in a region already facing limited availability of reproductive health care services.  The last abortion clinic in Mississippi is awaiting a decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review its state’s clinic shutdown law and trial concluded in the challenge to Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law today.

June 9th Ruling 

The Fifth Circuit’s June 9 decision allowed the state’s requirement that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) to go into effect on July 1 for nearly all clinics in the state—a measure that amounts to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion services and would close all but nine abortion providers in the state.  While the court partially enjoined the ASC requirement as applied to the last clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, its injunction is narrow and may be of limited benefit to the clinic and the women it serves.

The ruling also reverses the lower court’s injunction blocking the state’s admitting privileges requirement except as applied to a single doctor.  This provision has already forced approximately half the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. 

The court ruled that women in El Paso—who will face a round-trip of over a thousand miles to obtain an abortion in Texas—could travel to neighboring state New Mexico – where there are no ASC or admitting privileges requirements – to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion.

Case History:  Whole Woman’s Health v Cole (formerly Whole Woman’s Health v Lakey)

On August 29, 2014 a federal district blocked two of the most harmful restriction of Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2):  the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting privileges requirement.  On October 2, 2014, the Fifth Circuit allowed the ASC requirement to immediately take effect by staying the lower court’s injunction.  For 12 days, all but seven reproductive health care facilities in the state were prevented from offering safe and legal abortion services—until October 14, 2014, when the United State Supreme Court responded to an emergency application by Texas health care providers and reinstated the injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors.

The clinics and physicians in this challenge are represented by Stephanie Toti and David Brown of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a team of attorneys from the law firm Morrison & Foerster led by J. Alexander Lawrence, and Austin attorneys Jan Soifer and Patrick O’Connell of the law firm O’Connell & Soifer.

 

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