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Fifth Circuit Court Continues to Block Mississippi Anti-Abortion Regulation, State’s Only Clinic to Remain Open While Legal Battle Continues

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 23:00
Fifth Circuit Court Continues to Block Mississippi Anti-Abortion Regulation, State’s Only Clinic to Remain Open While Le

07.29.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today upheld a preliminary injunction blocking a Mississippi law designed to close the last remaining abortion clinic in the state—ensuring the Jackson Women’s Health Organization can remain open and continue to provide safe, legal care to its patients pending the outcome of the legal battle.

The measure forces any physician who provides abortion services to adhere to an arbitrary and medically unwarranted requirement to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Today’s decision affirms that “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.”

Following a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Dr. Willie Parker, the law was partially blocked in July 2012 and later fully blocked in April 2013—barring the state from imposing criminal and civil penalties on the clinic doctors and staff pending the outcome of the litigation.  A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on the preliminary injunction in April 2014.

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

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state.

“But there is still only one clinic in the entire state, and it is still threatened by a law advanced by politicians over the opposition of respected medical organizations, with the sole intent of closing that clinic permanently.

“For far too long, women in Mississippi have been teetering on the precipice of a reality similar to the dark days before Roe v. Wade, where reproductive health care options were limited at best and life-threatening at worst. This is unacceptable, unconstitutional, and contrary to the consensus of the strong majority of Americans who do not wish to see Roe’s constitutional protections overturned.

“The promise of the U.S. Constitution is one that ensures all of our rights are protected no matter where we happen to live. We will continue this fight to ensure the fundamental rights established by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago remain a reality for women in Mississippi and across the country.”

The measure, which was advanced by anti-choice politicians, not doctors, forces any physician performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at an area hospital— a requirement that is often difficult to meet because of some  hospitals’ inclination to deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for political or other reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.  Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose hospital admitting privileges as a requirement for physicians providing abortion services and medical experts confirm that abortion care has a 99% safety record, with less than 1% of patients experiencing any complications and even fewer requiring further treatment at a hospital.

Although all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Mississippi clinic are board-certified ob-gyns, the physicians responsible for providing abortions to the vast majority of the clinic’s patients have been unable to obtain privileges at any hospital in the area—in fact, no hospital would even process the physicians’ applications, with several hospitals citing their policies on abortion care.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has served women and families in Mississippi for over 17 years, and has been the sole reproductive health care provider offering abortion in the state since 2002. The next nearest clinics for Mississippi residents are approximately three hours away, with most neighboring states requiring a mandatory 24-hour waiting period. 

The Center filed the suit on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization & Willie Parker, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc. v. Mary Currier, M.D., M.P.H. & Robert Shuler Smith, with Julie Rikelman as lead counsel, along with co-counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Robert B. McDuff in Jackson, Mississippi.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Mississippi 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. 

Fifth Circuit Considers Mississippi Law Designed to Shutter Last Clinic in the State Federal Judge Blocks All Enforcement of Mississippi Admitting Privileges Requirement Cases:  Jackson Women’s Health Organization, et al. v. Mary Currier, et al.

Las Naciones Unidas Recomiendan a Perú Expandir el Acceso al Aborto Legal

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 23:00
Las Naciones Unidas Recomiendan a Perú Expandir el Acceso al Aborto Legal El Comité para la Eliminación de la Discriminación contra la Mujer (Comité de la CEDAW) define la negación en el acceso a servicios de aborto legal como una violación de derechos humanos

25.07.14 - (COMUNICADO DE PRENSA) Las Naciones Unidas han hecho un llamado al gobierno peruano para que reforme sus actuales leyes en materia de aborto y reconozca las violaciones de derechos humanos, incluyendo la negación de servicios de aborto legal y la discriminación basada en género a la que las mujeres se enfrentan cuando buscan remedios legales.

En recomendaciones emitidas esta semana por el Comité de la CEDAW, expertos del Comité citaron cómo durante muchos años Perú ha negado a las mujeres el acceso al aborto legal y ha fallado en la provisión de reparaciones individuales y generales integrales en los casos de L.C. y K.L., adolescentes a las que les fue negado el aborto terapéutico legal. El Comité de la CEDAW instó a Perú expandir el aborto legal a casos de violación, incesto, y malformaciones fetales severas. Actualmente, el aborto es legal en Perú sólo en casos donde la salud o vida de la mujer está en riesgo.

El mes pasado, Perú adoptó un protocolo nacional para prestar servicios de aborto legal para dar claridad a los médicos y pacientes sobre el aborto legal terapéutico en el país, noventa años después de la despenalización del aborto terapéutico. Funcionarios del Estado anunciaron el cambio en la política poco antes de la sesión No. 58 del Comité de la CEDAW en Ginebra, Suiza. El Comité de la CEDAW recomendó diseminar el contenido del protocolo de aborto terapéutico a todo el personal de la salud.

Declaró Nancy Northup, presidenta y directora ejecutiva del Centro de Derechos Reproductivos:

“Una vez más las Naciones Unidas ha reconocido el principio vital que los derechos reproductivos de las mujeres son derechos humanos fundamentales, que incluye el derecho al aborto legal y seguro.

“Las experiencias de mujeres peruanas a las que se les ha negado cuidado en salud que es un derecho fundamental son inexcusable y no debe ser repetido en la vida de otras mujeres.

“Si bien Perú ha dado algunos pasos recientes para expandir los derechos de las mujeres, no está ni cerca de ser suficiente. Ahora es el momento en que el gobierno peruano debe construir sobre el progreso alcanzado y emitir legislación que realmente expanda el acceso a cuidado esencial en salud reproductiva para las mujeres”.

En sus observaciones el Comité de la CEDAW expresó su preocupación sobre las barreras significativas que las mujeres de escasos recursos y marginalizadas tienen que enfrentar al buscar acceso a la justicia en las cortes nacionales, regionales e internacionales –subrayando los casos de L.C. y K.L. El Comité instó al Estado para que capacite a la policía, los jueces y los abogados respecto de sus obligaciones en materia de derechos humanos, especialmente los derechos humanos de las mujeres y el derecho a la igualdad de género.

“Por demasiado tiempo a las mujeres en Perú les ha sido negado el acceso a servicios de aborto seguro, legal, y en ocasiones para salvar su propia vida”, dijo Mónica Arango, Directora Regional para América Latina y el Caribe del Centro de Derechos Reproductivos. “Las Naciones Unidas ha dejado en claro que Perú debe responder rápidamente para implementar el nuevo protocolo de aborto terapéutico e inmediatamente proveer reparación integral a L.C., K.L., y sus familias por el sufrimiento causado dada la falla del gobierno en la provisión de servicios médicos esenciales”.

De acuerdo con lo establecido por el Comité de la CEDAW, Perú debe también asegurar la disponibilidad de servicios de aborto y cuidado post-aborto. También instó a que Perú asegure el acceso a servicios de planificación familiar, en particular en las áreas rurales, y adopte todas las medidas necesarias para distribuir gratuitamente anticoncepción de emergencia dentro del sistema de salud pública, particularmente para las mujeres sobrevivientes de abuso sexual.

El Centro de Derechos Reproductivos, Planned Parenthood Federation of America y la ONG peruana PROMSEX presentaron un reporte en conjunto al Comité de la CEDAW, señalando las preocupaciones en materia de derechos humanos derivados de las leyes peruanas que restringen el aborto, la falta de acceso a anticoncepción de emergencia en los servicios de salud pública, y los obstáculos existentes en cuanto al acceso de adolescentes a servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva.

“Los defensores de la salud de las mujeres han sido sistemáticos en denunciar como los derechos de las mujeres y niñas en Perú han sido violados por demasiado tiempo,” dijo Rossina Guerrero, Directora de Incidencia Política de PROMSEX. “Ahora, con el foco global sobre las violaciones de derechos humanos en Perú, el gobierno debe actuar de forma rápida para poner en práctica la guía para el aborto terapéutico con el fin de que los servicios de aborto seguro sean una realidad para las mujeres peruanas.”

Actualmente el aborto es legal en el Perú solamente cuando la vida o la salud de la mujer está en riesgo, y no en casos de violación sexual. El impacto devastador de la criminalización del aborto en casos de violación tiene especial relevancia en el Perú, por ser el país con las más altas cifras de denuncia por violación sexual en  América del Sur. Las niñas y adolescentes peruanas conforman una proporción mayoritaria (78 por ciento) de los casos de violación, y peor aún, los servicios de salud pública tienen prohibido suministrar anticoncepción de emergencia.

Un estudio de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y el Instituto Guttmacher reforzó el hecho que las leyes que restringen el aborto no están asociadas con menores cifras de aborto. De acuerdo con el estudio, la cifra de abortos para América Latina en 2008 –una región donde el aborto se encuentra altamente restringido en la mayoría de los países- era de 32 por cada mil mujeres en edad reproductiva, mientras en Europa del Este, donde el aborto está ampliamente permitido, la cifra es de 12 por cada mil.     

Cases:  L.C. v. Peru (UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women)

United Nations Calls on Perú to Expand Access to Legal Abortion

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 23:00
United Nations Calls on Perú to Expand Access to Legal Abortion Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) Cites Denial of Legal Abortion Services As Human Rights Violations

07.25.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations (U.N.) has called for the Peruvian government to liberalize its current abortion law and to address human rights violations, including the denial of legal abortion services and gender-based discrimination faced by women when they seek legal recourse.

In recommendations released this week by the U.N. CEDAW Committee, committee members recognized Perú’s long history of denying women access to legal abortion and failure  to provide comprehensive individual and general reparations in the cases of L.C. and K.L. In these cases, adolescent women were denied legal, therapeutic abortions. The CEDAW Committee also called on Perú to permit legal abortion in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairments. Currently, abortion in Perú is legal only when the health or life of a woman is at risk.

Last month, Perú adopted a national protocol for safe abortion services to provide clarity for physicians and patients on legal therapeutic abortion in the country, ninety years after therapeutic abortion was decriminalized. State officials announced the policy change leading up to Perú’s evaluation at CEDAW Committee’s 58th session in Geneva, Switzerland. The CEDAW Committee recommended that Perú disseminate the abortion guidelines included in the protocol to all health staff.

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

“Once again, the United Nations has underscored the vital principle that women’s reproductive rights are fundamental human rights, which include the right to safe and legal abortion care.

“The experiences of Peruvian women denied the health care that is their fundamental right are inexcusable and must not be repeated in other women’s lives.

“While Perú has taken some recent steps toward expanding the rights of women, it’s nowhere near enough.  Now is the time for the Peruvian government to build on this progress and bring forth legislation that will truly expand women’s access to critical reproductive health care.”

In its observations, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the significant barriers low-income and marginalized women face seeking legal recourse in national, regional and international courts—highlighting L.C. and K.L.’s cases. It called on the State to train police, judges and lawyers on its human rights obligations, specifically women’s human rights and the right to gender equality.

“Women in Perú have been denied access to safe, legal, and often life-saving abortion services for far too long,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The United Nations has made it abundantly clear that Perú must work quickly to implement its new therapeutic abortion guidelines and immediately provide comprehensive reparations to L.C., K.L., and their families for the suffering caused by their government’s failure to provide essential medical care.”

According to the CEDAW Committee, Perú must also ensure the availability of abortion services and quality post-abortion care. The CEDAW Committee also recommended that Perú ensure access to family planning services, in particular in rural areas, and adopt all the necessary measures to carry out the free distribution of emergency contraceptives within the public health system, particularly to survivors of sexual abuse.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Perú-based PROMSEX submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee, addressing the human rights concerns stemming from Perú’s restrictive abortion law, lack of access to emergency contraception within the public health system, and limited sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents.

“Women’s health advocates have systematically denounced how the reproductive rights of women and girls in Perú have been trampled for too long,” said Rossina Guerrero, Director of Political Advocacy at PROMSEX. “Now with the global spotlight on human rights violations in Perú, the government must work diligently to put the therapeutic abortion guidelines into action so that safe abortion services are a reality for Peruvian women.”

Currently abortion in Perú is legal only when the health or life of a woman is at risk, and not in cases of rape. The devastating impact of criminalizing abortion in cases of rape is particularly far-reaching in Perú, which has the highest rate of reported rape in South America. Peruvian girls and adolescents account for an overwhelming proportion (78 percent) of rape cases and, adding insult to injury, public health services are prohibited from distributing emergency contraception.

A study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforced the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate is just 12 per 1,000.

Cases:  L.C. v. Peru (UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) KL v. Peru (United Nations Human Rights Committee)

Combatting Child Marriage

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 13:40
Combatting Child Marriage

07.24.14 - The numbers are disturbing. According to a recent UNICEF study, one in nine girls in the developing world will marry before age 15; one in three will marry before 18. Some are as young as eight. Child marriage remains an all-too-common reality throughout large swaths of the world—particularly South Asia. And the repercussions are often devastating—both for the young girls and for their communities.

Early marriage usually ends a girl’s education. It leaves her vulnerable to sexually contracted diseases as well as domestic violence and marital rape as a result of the power imbalance in the relationship. It also exposes her to life-threatening complications. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women over 20. The risk is far greater for girls under 15.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been working to combat the ravages of child marriage through legal advocacy. This week, this important issue takes center stage in London at the Girl Summit 2014, a first-ever event co-hosted by Unicef and the British government aimed at rallying efforts to end the practice of child marriage, as well as female genital mutilation, within a generation. 

“The Girl Summit reminds us that much more needs to be done by governments across the world to end the egregious practice of child marriage and stronger action is needed to achieve this goal,” says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s Regional Director for Asia. “Governments must step up their efforts to end the impunity surrounding child marriage by using the law and legal institutions to effectively deter child marriage and to provide legal remedies to girls and women who suffer from its consequences. This includes not allowing religion to be used as a justification for the practice.”

The Girls Summit comes on the heels of a promising development in India, where—despite the country’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, it is estimated that a third of child marriages take place. This June, following testimony from human rights groups—including a shadow letter authored by the Center and our partners, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)—the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued Concluding Observations urging India to take measures “to ensure the effective implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,” specifically by clarifying that that the PCMA supersedes India’s religious-based Personal Status Laws. One of eight UN human rights treaty bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child is the body responsible for ensuring children can enjoy their human rights and live with dignity, respect, and equality.

As detailed in the Center’s new Fact Sheet on Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia, personal status laws are among the greatest barriers to ending child marriage practices in India. Personal laws generally govern matters related to family affairs such as marriage and divorce for specific religious groups—Muslim and Hindi, among others. The laws accommodate the religious and cultural differences in a pluralistic society such as India’s, but are frequently discriminatory against women and can undermine human rights protections. Personal laws establish their own age of marriage, legal status for marriages conducted before the age of 18, and penalties for child marriage.

Although the PCMA states that all marriages of girls younger than 18 are voidable and penalizes involvement in child marriage, under the Hindu Marriage Act this is only an option to a girl who was married before 15 and who contests the marriage before she turns 18. In contrast, under the uncodified Muslim personal laws, a girl can only void a marriage performed before puberty—presumed to be age 15—if the marriage has not been consummated. These inconsistencies exemplify the legal maze faced by girls in these regions, as well as by human rights bodies attempting to enforce international human rights standards.

The UN Committee’s recommendation to India to clarify that the PCMA supersedes personal laws takes an important step towards eradicating this harmful practice that has been too long protected by the cloak of tradition.

“The Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken a bold step by trying to tackle a delicate issue—the problematic relationship between religion-based personal status laws and general secular law,” notes Upreti. “The PCMA could be a stronger law and diligent enforcement is needed to make a national law aimed at prohibiting child marriage work, however, a profound challenge to ending child marriage in India is the precedence and deference given to personal laws on marriage, despite the fact that they are outrightly discriminatory and perpetuate inequality within marriage. The Committee’s recommendations to India send a clear signal that this must end as a matter of human rights.”

In addition to stressing the PCMA’s supremacy over personal status laws, the Committee’s Concluding Observations also responded specifically to a recommendation articulated in the Center and HRLN’s shadow letter for more educational efforts promoting reproductive health and rights. The Committee recommended that India take steps to combat the practices of dowry payment, child marriage, and devadasi (a form of sexual enslavement) by “conducting awareness-raising programmes and campaigns with a view to changing attitudes, as well as counselling and reproductive education, to prevent and combat child marriages, which are harmful to the health and well-being of girls.”

Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity (Press Release) Childhood Discarded Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity UN Takes Major Action to End Child Marriage

United Nations: Ireland Must Expand Access To Safe And Legal Abortion Services

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 23:00
United Nations: Ireland Must Expand Access To Safe And Legal Abortion Services

07.24.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) A United Nations (U.N.) Committee has ordered Ireland to amend its law and constitution to legalize abortion services for pregnant women facing serious threats to their health, as well as in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal impairment.

In its recommendations, the U.N. Human Rights Committee explicitly recognized the severe mental suffering caused by the denial of abortion services to women seeking abortions due to rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities or serious risks to their health. It also criticized the burdensome procedures women must endure to have doctors certify that the pregnancy poses a threat to their life, and cited the discriminatory and disproportionate impact the restrictive law has on women who are unable to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion services.

The Committee already told the Irish government to amend its abortion law—which only allows legal abortion when there is a “real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman”—after its periodic reviews in 2000 and 2008. While the Irish government pointed to the recent adoption of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, today the United Nations told the government that the law is wholly inadequate and does not comply with the country’s human rights obligations. 

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“When a woman needs safe, legal abortion services, she should be able to depend on her government to provide her with that essential medical care and necessary information.  

“Yet women in Ireland continually suffer the indignity of choosing between carrying their pregnancy to term—regardless of the harm and risk to their lives—or traveling abroad to a neighboring country.

“The Committee’s recommendations send a clear message to the Irish government: the recent abortion law reform is too little too late.  The Irish government must immediately work to amend its law to expand access to safe and legal abortion and respect the basic human rights of all women.”

The U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed Ireland as part of its oversight of states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of all civil and political rights, including the rights to life and to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and paid extensive attention to the very restrictive abortion law.

During the review, the Irish government admitted that not only are women without certain financial resources unable to travel, officials have no solution or plan to address the situation. In response, the Committee demanded that the government undertake the required reforms to protect women’s rights to life, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, privacy, and equality and non-discrimination. These reforms are not only required by the ICCPR, they are also broadly supported by the Irish people giving the government ample reason to proceed with the necessary abortion law reforms.

In the last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed two challenges to Ireland’s abortion law before the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The Center filed these cases on behalf of two women, Amanda Mellet and Siobhán Whelan, who were forced by Ireland’s harsh abortion policies to travel to the United Kingdom to obtain safe and legal abortion services after they were diagnosed with fatal fetal anomalies.

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a report to the Committee about the severe physical and mental anguish women have suffered as a result of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law. The full Concluding Observations from the U.N. Human Rights Committee can be found here.  

Irish Woman Forced to Travel Abroad for Abortion Brings Case to United Nations Center for Reproductive Rights Brings Second Case Against Ireland Abortion Laws to United Nations

Indian High Court Orders Chhattisgarh Government to Respond to Allegations of Denying Women Access to Safe Abortion Services

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 23:00
Indian High Court Orders Chhattisgarh Government to Address Allegations of Denying Women Access to Abortion Services Millions of Filipinos will finally have universal, free access to contraception and expanded reproductive health education

07.21.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) –The Chhattisgarh Government was ordered by judges to immediately address allegations that women in the state lack sufficient access to safe abortion services.

Justices Navin Sinha and Rangnath Chandrakar of the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur issued an order on July 18 in response to a petition filed last month by human rights lawyer Anubha Rastogi—with technical support from the Center for Reproductive Rights—on behalf of the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR), an alliance of civil society organizations raising awareness of maternal health as a human rights issue. The next hearing has been set for October 8.

Despite national laws and policies on abortion, notably the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 (MTP), and regulations introduced in 2003 that prescribe a system for registering safe providers in the private sector, the Chhattisgarh government has failed to take the steps required by law to ensure practical access to safe abortion services for women in the state.  Under the National Health Mission (NHM), all government run district hospitals are required to provide first and second trimester abortion services and yet these services are not widely available. The petition argues that this consequential denial of care is in direct violation of India’s constitution, specifically the rights to health, life, nondiscrimination and equal protection under the law.

Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Every woman is entitled to access to quality health services, including safe abortion. Yet for decades the government in Chhattisgarh has neglected its legal duty to protect the health and lives of women in the state. 

Despite national health laws and policies, constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and international obligations, the government continues to discriminate against women by denying them necessary reproductive health services—causing agony and irreparable harm to the health and lives of women in poor and marginalized communities.

The High Court must hold the government accountable for its continued failure to ensure women’s access to safe abortion services and call for immediate implementation of laws, guidelines and spending so that no woman is denied the essential medical care she needs.”

Abortion has been legal in India for over 40 years, yet more than half of all abortions are unsafe. The Chhattisgarh State Report of 2009 indicates that abortion services are not widely available in public health facilities. Additionally, the Report indicates that the limited number of facilities that do offer abortion services frequently practice antiquated, unsafe, and invasive methods. Due to the unavailability of trained abortion providers in government hospitals and licensed facilities in the private sector, many women turn to unskilled providers for abortion procedures that are both expensive and highly dangerous.

In the petition, NAMHHR is asking the High Court to direct the Chhattisgarh Department of Health to fulfill its legal obligations and effectively implement the provisions of the MTP Act, which includes the appointment of District Level Committees, as mandated by abortion regulations adopted in 2003, for ensuring the registration of abortion facilities in the private sector to meet the demand for safe services. The petition also calls for the court to penalize government officials who have failed to perform their duties under the broad legal framework of the MTP Act and the NHM, and allocate funds for the establishment of well-equipped MTP centers in rural areas.

Said Anubha Rastogi, lead lawyer in the case and an individual member of NAMHHR:

"By consistently failing to set up District Level Committees to register and issue licenses to safe abortion providers, the state government of Chhattisgarh makes a clear statement that saving women's lives and ensuring that they have access to affordable and acceptable reproductive health care is not a priority. In a state like Chhattisgarh, where the majority of the population is tribal, this refusal coupled with other concerns such as the unavailability of blood for emergency transfusions and the prevalence of malaria and sickle cell anemia results in great harm to women’s health and even death from preventable causes.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights provided technical support to Anubha Rastogi on the Chhattisgarh petition, which was developed as part of the South Asia Reproductive Justice and Accountability Initiative (SARJAI), a partnership spearheaded by the Center. SARJAI brings together lawyers in the region to promote the use of legal accountability strategies, including litigation, to address ongoing violations of women’s reproductive rights in South Asia that result from government failure to ensure access to contraceptive information and services and access to safe abortion.

Historic Hearing on the Hill

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:59
Historic Hearing on the Hill

07.17.14 - At the end of June, the Center for Reproductive Rights led an energized group of women’s health advocates to Capitol Hill to lobby for a piece of legislation called the Women’s Health Protection Act. The groundbreaking bill aims to stop the current assault on women’s health by prohibiting state laws that restrict access to abortion services.

Only two weeks later, the Judiciary Committee confirmed that the Advocacy Day had been wildly successful in garnering support and attention from Congress when they called for a July 15th hearing to discuss the historic bill. This opportunity signified important progress, bringing us another step closer to cementing federal protection against the state-by-state erosion of women’s constitutionally protected rights.

In her testimony at Tuesday’s hearing, the Center’s president and CEO, Nancy Northup, spoke straight to the heart of the need for such legislation: “Women’s access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual laws designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through brute force—the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive health care to the women of this country.” In the last three years, more than two dozen states have passed 200 such laws—more than were passed during the previous decade. This wide-reaching attack on reproductive health access has imposed waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, hospital admitting privilege requirements, and even regulations dictating the width of clinic hallways.   

“Without the ability to access it, the right to abortion is meaningless,” testified Rep. Judy Chu at the hearing. Chu, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act in November 2013. Senator Blumenthal, a champion of women’s health and safety and a member of the Judiciary Committee, presided over the hearing where two panels of witnesses and legislators from both sides of the abortion debate offered testimony. In his opening comments, Blumenthal expressed his hopes that the proposed bill would “stop politicians from playing doctor.”

Given the aggressive and duplicitous nature of recent state regulations, it should not be surprising that opponents of the bill offered skewed data depicting abortion as harmful and dangerous. We were nonetheless shocked at the extent of the opposition’s disregard for sound science during the hearing, when just weeks ago the state legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, an organization whose president—Carol Tobias—testified at the hearing, publically admitted that concerns over abortion safety were unfounded.   

Abortion is indeed one of modern medicine’s least risky medical procedures, with medical experts confirming that it has a 99% safety record. It is also extremely common. “One in three women in the US makes the decision that ending a pregnancy is the right choice for her,” said Nancy Northup. “None of us walk in her shoes; none of us know the factors that lead to her decision."

The Center’s Federal Policy Counsel, Kristine Kippins, said after the hearing, “While our opponents attempted to mischaracterize the bill and the safety of abortion care, our witnesses stood firm, relying on the actual language of the bill and science to convey just how measured and needed the Women’s Health Protection Act really is.” 

In clear yet impassioned terms, abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker’s testimony articulated a respect for—and trust in— women that was noticeably lacking in the statements of the bill’s opponents. “I want for women what I want for myself. I want a life of dignity, good health, self-determination,” he said. “We know that when women have access to abortion, contraception, and sex education, they thrive in just the manner that I mentioned. It should be the same for all women no matter where they live.”

Dr. Parker practices medicine in Mississippi, where these targeted restrictions have shut down all but one clinic. The women who live in Mississippi—many of whom already face poverty and disenfranchisement—now have an increasingly difficult time accessing the health services they desperately need. As supporters of the act consistently emphasized in their testimony, state-by-state regulation of abortion services has created a situation where a woman’s ability to assert her constitutional right to make the personal, private decisions of her life is increasingly determined by where she happens to live. 

 “Women’s constitutional rights should not depend on their zip code, and we are grateful that this hearing could raise that point on a national stage,” said Kristine Kippins. “We will be encouraging supporters of reproductive rights to engage with their elected officials on the Women’s Health Protection Act during the upcoming recess in August, and we look forward to the bill’s reintroduction next Congress so that we can continue this important discussion and fight for women’s health.”

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NYT Editorial Endorses Women's Health Protection Act Senate Judiciary Committee To Hear Testimony On Historic Women's Health Protection Act Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women History in the Making

Despite Support of a Majority of Senators, Opponents of Contraceptive Coverage Block “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act”

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 23:00
Despite Support of a Majority of Senators, Opponents Block “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act” 56 Senators voted to advance the bill introduced last week in response to harmful, far-reaching Hobby Lobby decision

07.16.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Despite a clear majority of U.S. Senators voting today to advance the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act,” the bill did not garner the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to an up-or-down vote on the measure.

The bill was introduced last week to ensure that bosses cannot deny employees full coverage of contraceptives and other essential health care in company insurance plans based solely on their personal beliefs—a direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell.

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

“Despite swift efforts and the support of a majority of Senators to advance a critical health benefit for millions of women, opponents of contraceptive insurance coverage have chosen to allow bosses to dictate which health care choices are best for their employees.

“Personal beliefs and demonstrably false scientific assertions should not be the basis for health care policy in any form, but that is exactly what the opponents of this bill have opted to support.

“Affordable access to contraception leads to immense, far-reaching benefits for our society, our economy, and the 99 percent of women who will rely on contraception in their lives to plan their families and their future.

“We urge the champions of this bill to continue their dogged efforts to protect this essential benefit for women across the U.S.”

Introduced by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall and Representatives Diana DeGette, Louise Slaughter, and Jerry Nadler, the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act” (S. 2578) would ensure that employers cannot interfere in their employees’ decisions about contraception and other health services by barring employers from refusing to cover any health care service—including contraception—guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law. The bill also establishes that other federal laws—including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—do not permit employers to refuse to comply with federal health care coverage requirements.  Lastly, the bill maintains the existing exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement for houses of worship and the accommodation for religious non-profits.

Last month’s ruling in Hobby Lobby allowed closely held corporations to deny their employees insurance coverage for birth control under the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health provisions, which were designed to greatly expand affordable health care services for all women in the U.S. 

Federal Legislation Introduced to Restore Full Insurance Coverage of Contraceptives in Wake of Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court Lets Private Companies Deny Birth Control Coverage to Employees

U.N. Committee Questions Ireland On Its Track Record Of Denying Women Access To Safe Abortion Services

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 23:00
U.N. Committee Questions Ireland On Its Track Record Of Denying Women Access To Safe Abortion Services

07.16.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Ireland’s minister of justice, Frances Fitzgerald and other representatives of the Irish government were questioned this week by a United Nations (U.N.) Committee on Ireland's record of denying women access to essential reproductive health care, including access to and information on safe abortion services.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed Ireland as part of its oversight of states' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of all civil and political rights, including the rights to life and to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Almost one year ago, Ireland's President Michael Higgins signed the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.” This act was designed to provide women and medical professionals clarity about abortion services, which are only legal when continuing a pregnancy poses a real and substantial threat to a woman’s life. Though the act is a critical step in implementing the existing abortion law in the country, women who want to terminate their pregnancies beyond this incredibly narrow circumstance are still denied access to safe abortion services in Ireland.

Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While Ireland has taken steps to clarify the criteria for legal abortion, the current law denies too many women access to safe abortion.

“Forcing women to choose between carrying an unwanted pregnancy and traveling abroad to access abortion not only causes severe suffering and hardship, it violates women’s rights to dignity, autonomy, equality, life, and health.

“The United Nations Human Rights Committee must be firm and demand that Ireland expand access to safe and legal abortion services without further delay and ensure that women get the necessary information about legal abortion options in line with human rights standards.” 

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a report to the Committee about the severe physical and mental anguish women have suffered as a result of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law.

During the review, the Human Rights Committee recognized that Ireland’s very restrictive abortion law is inconsistent with its human rights obligations under the ICCPR. The committee specifically underscored that states must at a minimum make abortion legal and safe when the pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the woman, when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, and in cases of severe or fatal fetal anomalies. .

The Committee was also critical of women being forced to travel abroad to access abortion services and the discriminatory impact this has on disadvantaged and vulnerable women. The government recognized that women without adequate financial resources are unable to travel and noted that at this time it does not have a solution to this situation. In closing remarks, the Committee’s chair said that the Committee hoped that a constitutional referendum to consider the liberalization of the abortion law would take place before the next review.

The U.N. Committee, which will issue its conclusions and recommendations later this month, has consistently questioned states about reproductive rights as part of its mandate to monitor states’ implementation of their human rights obligations. After its previous review of Ireland in 2008, the U.N. Committee expressed concern about Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion law and called on the government to bring the law in line with international human rights standards.

In the last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed two challenges to Ireland’s abortion law before the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The Center filed these cases on behalf of two women, Amanda Mellet and Siobhán Whelan, who were forced by Ireland’s harsh abortion policies to travel to the United Kingdom (U.K.) to obtain safe and legal abortion services after they were diagnosed with fatal fetal impairments. Both women received no help from medical staff to facilitate contact with U.K. hospitals nor were they given information about what a termination entails. Adding insult to injury, they were not offered appropriate bereavement counseling from their local hospitals.

Both Amanda and Siobhán are members of Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR Ireland), an advocacy group campaigning for Ireland to amend the abortion law to allow women to terminate pregnancies due to fatal fetal abnormalities. TFMR Ireland released the following statement:

“TFMR came to Geneva to highlight the ongoing trauma that couples are experiencing every week in Ireland when diagnosed with a fatal fetal abnormality. For those who wish to end the pregnancy they continue to be stigmatized and treated like criminals. They are often given little information and support. Having to travel for a termination under these circumstances makes an already horrific situation infinitely worse.

 “The Human Rights Committee has made it very clear over the past two days that Ireland continuing not to allow terminations for these circumstances amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. It is our hope that the UN Human Rights Committee will put pressure on the Irish government to change this outdated law.”

Irish Woman Forced to Travel Abroad for Abortion Brings Case to United Nations Center for Reproductive Rights Brings Second Case Against Ireland Abortion Laws to United Nations

Women’s Rights Leaders Talk to Cosmo

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:46
Women’s Rights Leaders Talk to Cosmo

07.15.14 - Three prominent voices of the women’s reproductive rights movement knock it out of the park in a compelling interview over at Cosmopolitan.com this week. Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, and NARAL president Ilyse Hogue answer writer Jill Filipovic’s questions regarding increased birth control restrictions, the pro-choice movement’s new strategy of playing offense, and most urgently what is at stake with the pending Women’s Health Protection Act, a piece of federal legislation that aims to prohibit states from passing laws that limit abortion access.

Discussing the need for the Women’s Health Protection Act, all three leaders underscore the increasingly dishonest strategies anti-choice politicians have employed to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom. Nancy Northup, testified about the bill in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 15, stresses the geographical inequality created by state measures that function to subvert the constitutional protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade:        

In the last three years there have been over 200 restrictions on access to abortion service enacted at the state level. This has created a crisis in the country, and it's hurling us toward returning to the landscape before Roe v. Wade, where women in some states have access and some don't. . . . The Women's Health Protection Act stops the kind of underhanded tactics that are being introduced in the states, where anti-choice politicians [are] trying to do by the back door what they can't do in the front, which is to make abortion illegal.

Ilyse Hogue notes that the anti-choice movement is out of sync with what American women want, citing that that seven in ten women in this country currently support Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion.

For this reason, women’s health advocates feel that the timing couldn’t be better to become more proactive. The Cosmo piece reflects the movement’s united resolve to go on offense. These underhanded state laws are often falsely paraded as measures to protect women’s health, but as all three women’s rights champions stress, abortion is extremely common and safe. Cecile Richards notes the importance of destigmatizing abortion, as well as setting “the record straight that this is a very safe procedure, and the legislation is driving it underground and behind closed doors and into the back alleys, where women will be dramatically less safe.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act currently has more than 160 sponsors in Congress. The July 15th hearing before the Judiciary Committee marks a significant step forward in the passage of this essential legislation.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee To Hear Testimony On Historic Women's Health Protection Act Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women

Admitting that Abortion is Safe

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:37
Admitting that Abortion is Safe

07.15.14 - For years, extremist activists and politicians have offered up false science and feigned concern for women’s health as part of their strategy to limit abortion access. The safety of abortion procedures is disingenuous though—abortion is one of modern medicine’s safest procedures with medical experts confirming that it has a 99% safety record. Finally a leading member of the anti-choice movement has acknowledged this false tactic.

A recent article from RH Reality Check features news from the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention where the organization’s state legislative director, Mary Spaulding Balch, admitted that abortions—even “riskier” second-trimester abortions—are safer than many common medical procedures.

Balch cited data from a 2010 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, noting that procedures such as liposuction, facelifts, c-sections, and even natural vaginal deliveries carry a higher risk to a woman’s health than a second term abortion. According to Balch’s numbers, there are on average .19 deaths for 1,000 liposuction procedures, compared to .09 deaths for every 1,000 second-trimester abortion procedures.

According to RH Reality Check, Balch made this point at a political and legislative strategy session, using the data to critique legislation crafted by other anti-choice organizations to pass bans on abortion after 20-weeks of pregnancy by claiming the procedure is dangerous to women.

“Who would ever say that we should ban liposuction because of the risk to the women?” Balch asked the crowd. We think that’s an excellent question. And in an opinion striking down Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban, the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed this line of thinking, writing that the proper response to dealing with the risks of a medical procedure is informed consent, not a ban of the procedure.

Although it is not news that the National Right to Life Committee avoids framing their anti-abortion arguments in terms of concern over women’s health, it is not every day that anti-choice leaders publically admit that abortion is safer than pregnancy itself.

The National Right to Life Committee is known for their focus on “the rights of the unborn.” The organization’s “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” claims that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, a disproven theory that is unsubstantiated in science.

Extremism in Overdrive

NYT Editorial Endorses Women's Health Protection Act

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:24
NYT Editorial Endorses Women's Health Protection Act

07.15.14 - On the eve of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s historic hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act, The New York Times has published an opinion piece that endorses the bill’s goals and incisively contextualizes its importance.

The Times calls the act, which was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) in November 2013, “a vital measure that would safeguard the reproductive rights of women all across the nation, regardless of where they live.” In addition to sponsoring the bill, Judiciary Committee member Senator Blumenthal will also preside over the hearing.

Pointing to the duplicitous campaign of restrictions that anti-choice state legislators have enacted to limit abortion access—from absurd clinic building regulations to requiring that providers have hospital admitting privileges—the editorial offers a straightforward assessment of the goals of the Women’s Health Protection Act: “Its purpose is to stop states from implementing laws billed as protecting women’s health and safety but actually meant to undermine their constitutionally protected right to choose.”

To underscore the need for such legislation, the NYT editors directly cite the Center for Reproductive Rights’ president and CEO:

“Nancy Northup . . . who is scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing in support of the bill, accurately terms these disingenuous restrictions ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ devised and promoted by politicians, not the medical profession.”  

The New York Times affirms the urgency of the Women’s Health Protection Act and perceives its advancement through the legislative process as a significant shift in the momentum of the reproductive rights movement.

Senate Judiciary Committee To Hear Testimony On Historic Women's Health Protection Act Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women History in the Making

Senate Judiciary Committee To Hear Testimony On Historic Women's Health Protection Act

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 23:00
Senate Judiciary Committee To Hear Testimony On Historic Women's Health Protection Act

07.15.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hear testimony today regarding the Women’s Health Protection Act— a historic piece of legislation that would enforce and protect a woman’s right and access to safe, legal abortion care no matter where she lives.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—who introduced the legislation last November with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge in the House—will chair today’s hearing.  Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, will testify in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act.

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

“Today, women’s access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual laws that do nothing to protect women’s health and safety.  They are designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through brute force—the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive health care to the women of this country.

“And now millions of women’s constitutional rights are hanging by a thread—and entirely dependent on where they happen to live.

“The Women’s Health Protection Act will ensure that the fundamental right to safe, legal abortion services is unhampered by regulations passed by politicians designed to choke off women’s access to reproductive health care under the guise these laws protect their safety and well-being.  This bill will fulfill the promise of our Constitution, guaranteeing that all women are able to make private, personal decisions about their health care without intrusion from politicians who presume to know better.

“Congress has the unique opportunity to truly act on behalf of women’s health and safety, and to push aside downright dishonest claims that fail to hold water against decades of medical and scientific facts. Today I stand before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act and to call on our elected leaders to put an end to the games politicians have been playing with women’s health care.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act ensures women's access to essential reproductive health care services, including abortion.  Designed as a response to the unrelenting assaults on women's reproductive health care in recent years, the bill would prohibit states from: imposing restrictions on abortion providers that apply to no similar medical care; interfering with women's personal decision making; or blocking access to safe and legal abortion services.  It is a crucial step toward defending access to safe, legal, essential health care and the constitutional rights of every woman in the U.S.

According to a recent report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, politicians in nearly forty states have attempted to restrict women's access to their constitutionally protected right to abortion since the start of 2014—introducing more than 250 pieces of anti-choice legislation.  Women in many states already face extremely limited options when needing to access the full range of reproductive health care services.  For example, some states—including North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi—have but a single remaining clinic offering abortion care to women, who often must travel hundreds of mile to reach it.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been on the frontlines of defending women’s access to reproductive health care for over twenty years.  The Center is currently challenging harmful and unconstitutional restrictions on women’s access to essential reproductive health care across the country, including admitting privileges requirements in Texas and Mississippi which threaten to severely restrict—if not completely eliminate—safe, legal, and high-quality abortion services.

The Women’s Health Protection Act currently boasts 35 sponsors in the Senate and 125 in the House.  The Center for Reproductive Rights will live stream today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at http://www.drawtheline.org/

File Upload:  Testimony of Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women Women's Access to Constitutionally Protected Health Care Still Under Siege in 2014 Fifth Circuit Considers Mississippi Law Designed to Shutter Last Clinic in the State Texas Continues to Fight Back: Center for Reproductive Rights To File Second Lawsuit Against HB2’s Devastating Abortion Restrictions

Coming out of the Abortion Closet

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 13:32
Coming out of the Abortion Closet

07.11.14 - An excellent piece by Katie McDonough over at Salon.com this week summons the feminist battle cry: the personal is political. McDonough’s article explores the power and impact that can be derived from telling one’s own personal abortion narrative, which she sees as a crucial tool in the reproductive rights movement’s strategic shift to playing offense, using more proactive approaches in hopes of “turning things around.”    

Recently we have seen evidence that the trend of publically coming out of the so called “abortion closet” is gaining traction. This spring a woman from New Jersey filmed her abortion and posted it to YouTube with the hopes of showing that there can be such a thing as a positive abortion story. The popular and critically acclaimed film Obvious Child, starring comedian Jenny Slate, achieves a similar goal. In her article, McDonough focuses on Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who in 2012 candidly shared her experience of undergoing an abortion at age 16 while testifying before the assembly on the subject of expanding school health programs. She also mentions California Representative Jackie Speier, who shared her own abortion story publically in 2011.

As McDonough points out, current data indicates that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Statistically speaking, this means that there are a lot of women in prominent political positions who could be sharing their stories. McDonough notes that these women could be leading the policy debate:  

If more women like Flores started coming out with their own experiences about abortion care — how far they had to drive to reach a clinic, how much it cost them, the protesters they confronted on their way, their experience with the doctors and clinic staff — it would demystify the experience for the many Americans who are getting their information about reproductive healthcare from caveman fools like Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry.

Flores’s compelling story, disclosed in McDonough’s article, highlights the humanizing effect such a narrative can have, particularly in the heated, overly politicized chambers that are the battlegrounds of the abortion debate.

Irish Woman Tweets Abortion Story Sharing Our Stories

United Nations Report Underscores Inequalities In Women’s Reproductive Health And Human Rights Worldwide

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 23:00
United Nations Report Underscores Inequalities In Women’s Reproductive Health And Human Rights Worldwide

07.11.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Despite a 14-year-old international commitment to dramatically reduce maternal deaths, almost 300,000 women worldwide died in 2013 from pregnancy and childbirth related causes, according to a new United Nations report.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 provides an overview on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—the U.N. blueprint for eradicating poverty, hunger and disease worldwide established in 2000 and set to expire next year. In the report, the U.N. notes there has been limited progress in ensuring access to reproductive health services—including contraceptives and maternal health services—for a wide range of women in developing nations, including rural women and adolescents.

Member states at the U.N. are currently working on a new set of international development commitments – the Post-2015 Development Agenda – that will go into effect when the MDGs expire in 2015. This U.N. report identifies the persistent gaps in development that the new agenda will need to address, including the need for countries to increase their investment in reproductive rights.

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

“The United Nations’ recognition of the importance of ensuring that women are on equal footing with men in all aspects of life is crucial, and must be reflected in its new development agenda.

“Too many women worldwide still do not have adequate access to modern contraceptives, and too many risk their health and lives during pregnancy and childbirth.  

“Ensuring sexual and reproductive rights is crucial to promoting gender equality. It gives women the ability to control their fertility which affects many other aspects of their lives – employment, education, family life, and civic participation.

“If the U.N.’s admirable goals of combating inequality and poverty are to be realized, the new development agenda must be grounded in human rights and acknowledge that robust protections for sexual and reproductive rights are essential to gender parity and women’s health.”

Two of the eight Millennium Development Goals—improving maternal health and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment—attempted to address the deep deficiencies in women’s equality and their well-being worldwide. Although there has been substantial progress on achieving many of the MDGs over the past fourteen years, the U.N. report identifies that many states are far from achieving the goals related to women. Disparities are particularly large for women from marginalized groups such as adolescents and women from rural areas. The MDGs themselves also failed to link development commitments to states’ human rights obligations and provide an effective means of holding states accountable to those commitments, limiting the prospects for achieving many of the goals.

International human rights norms have recognized that reproductive rights are human rights, clarifying that violations of reproductive rights are primarily manifestations of discrimination, poverty, and violence. The Center for Reproductive Rights recently published Substantive Equality and Reproductive Rights: A Briefing Paper on Aligning Development Goals with Human Rights Obligations that provides concrete recommendations to states about how to ensure reproductive rights in the Post-2015 Agenda, including:

  • Ensuring that a comprehensive range of quality sexual and reproductive health information, services, and education are accessible, affordable, and acceptable for all individuals. 
  • Providing protections for women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy, including their right to decide on the number and spacing of their children; and
  • Ensuring effective local and national access to justice for individuals whose rights have been violated and international accountability for states to live up to their human rights and development commitments.
Substantive Equality and Reproductive Rights: A Briefing Paper on Aligning Development Goals with Human Rights Obligations

Fixes Proposed for Buffer Zone Ruling

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:23
Fixes Proposed for Buffer Zone Ruling

07.10.14 - The Boston Globe reports this week on some of the first proposed legislative responses out of Massachusetts after last week’s disappointing Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s current buffer zone law barring protestors from being within 35 feet of reproductive health clinics.

At a State House press conference, Governor Deval Patrick and Attorney-General Martha Coakley have proposed legislation that would, according to the Globe, “give police greater authority to break up unruly crowds and give the attorney general greater leeway to pursue injunctions against anti-abortion protesters at the clinics.” They also mentioned possible legal fixes that would give the attorney general more authority to fine and block individual protestors from clinics as well protect sidewalk and driveway access.

The Supreme Court’s decision allowed room for Massachusetts to pass laws similar to the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act which prohibits intimidation and violence against patients at abortion clinics. Although specific language has not yet been crafted for such legislation, Governor Patrick affirms that Massachusetts lawmakers “will react constructively and quickly” to the Court’s ruling.

As the Globe piece points out, lawmakers face a challenge of crafting legislation that is narrow enough to specifically address the issue of clinic safety while at the same time avoiding infringing on the protestors’ First Amendment rights as laid out in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in the buffer zone decision. 

The article references concern around this issue as articulated by Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, who says that:

“any effort to narrowly tailor the legislation could go too far and appear to target antiabortion protesters for the content of their speech.

Crafting ‘a package that is limited to the abortion situation just raises the suspicion that these are all indirect ways of suppressing antiabortion speech.’”

Joining Patrick and Coakley at the press conference was Martha Walz, chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, who proposed an additional fix that would replicate a NYC ordinance that forbids following or harassing anyone within 15 feet of an abortion clinic. The Supreme Court cited this ordinance approvingly in last week’s decision.

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Buffer Zones for Massachusetts Abortion Clinics, Hinders Women’s Access to Constitutionally Protected Health Care in the State Jurist: Examining the Constitutionality of Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

11 Things You Need to Know: State of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 10:30
11 Things You Need to Know

07.09.14 - One thing that 2014 has proved so far: this fight isn’t over by a long shot.

The assault on reproductive rights has not abated. State by state, we are facing some of the most aggressive, inhumane anti-choice legislation yet. However, 2014 has also revealed the power of those committed to protecting our reproductive freedom. Outraged and invigorated, the Center for Reproductive Rights and our allies and partners across the country have spent the first half of the year battling proposed extremist policies, as well as fostering proactive legislation to reclaim women’s health and constitutional rights. The Center’s State of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review chronicles many of these battles.

 “From Arizona to Georgia, and many places in between, lawmakers are continuing to spend their time making women’s lives harder instead of addressing the real problems their constituents face,” notes the Center’s Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Kelly Baden. “The kinds of legislation being enacted are threatening to close clinics in entire regions of this country – and could ultimately leave many women without a way to access quality and affordable reproductive health care.”

A prime example of this is in Mississippi, where the state’s last remaining clinic is fighting to stay open. At the same time, legislators—rather than addressing the state’s staggering rates of women in poverty, teen pregnancy, and maternal mortality—have passed a new ban on abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy.

Already we have seen the introduction of more than 250 anti-choice bills in nearly 40 states during the first half of 2014. The Mid-Year Review examines these new restrictions, focusing on hotspots around the country where women’s reproductive rights have been most significantly eroded. It also highlights a number of the proactive, pro-women’s health measures that have emerged at the state level to counteract such threats. 

Remember the Missouri State Representative who compared the decision to end a pregnancy to buying a car or installing carpeting? And the legislation in Tennessee that seeks to send expectant mothers struggling with drug addiction to prison if they have any kind of unfavorable pregnancy outcome? That kind of callousness and absurdity –on top of new state legislation imposing waiting periods, hospital admitting privileges, unreasonable clinic regulations, and restrictions to insurance coverage for abortion care—has the movement pretty fired up.

We were inspired by this spring’s 72-Hour Women’s Filibuster, where advocates took to the Missouri State Capitol and spent three tireless days protesting the legislature’s approval of a mandatory 72-hour waiting period.

We were energized by the words of Republican State Representative Doug Cox from Oklahoma, who— increasingly frustrated with his party’s stance—said, “I’m a physician first . . . I resent the government stepping into that exam room and standing between me and the patient, and standing between the patient and the patient's choices.”

And we stood with advocates in Louisiana as they led a national effort to stop dangerous and outrageous regulations from being implemented by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals – regulations that could have forced quality clinics to close their doors, and even institute a 30-day waiting period.

We are encouraged by the veto of intrusive legislation in West Virginia and the movement to repeal abortion restrictions in  Vermont and Virginia. We continue to rally behind proactive measures in New York, Colorado, and the state of Washington that seek to promote and defend a woman’s right to reproductive health. 

“The good news is that advocates aren’t taking this sitting down,” says Baden.  “And some state legislators are fighting back by trying to repeal bad laws and enact new ones to promote reproductive health. The groundswell of support for putting a stop to unnecessary attacks on reproductive rights is growing.

View the interactive State of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review >

Download the State of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review (PDF) >

The State of the States 2013 Mid-Year Report

Federal Legislation Introduced to Restore Full Insurance Coverage of Contraceptives in Wake of Hobby Lobby

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 23:00
Federal Legislation Introduced to Restore Full Insurance Coverage of Contraceptives in Wake of Hobby Lobby Center for Reproductive Rights Applauds Legislation, Calls the Bill “Bold” and “Necessary”

07.09.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Congressional leaders introduced legislation today designed to ensure that bosses cannot deny employees full coverage of contraceptives and other essential health care in company insurance plans based solely on their personal beliefs—a direct response to last week’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell.

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

“Personal beliefs and spurious scientific assertions are no basis for health care policy in any form, and this bold and necessary bill would rightly keep bosses from interfering with insurance coverage of vital women’s health care.

“Especially in light of the Supreme Court’s profoundly troubling decision in Hobby Lobby, all employees need solid protection from intrusion by their bosses into their private health care decisions.

“Contraception empowers women to plan their families and future, prevents millions of unintended pregnancies, and saves billions in health care costs. This bill is a common-sense response to an out-of-touch ruling, and we urge Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”

Introduced by Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall and Representatives Diana DeGette, Louise Slaughter, and Jerry Nadler, the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act” would ensure that employers cannot interfere in their employees’ decisions about contraception and other health services by banning employers from refusing to cover any health care service—including contraception—guaranteed to their employees and dependents under federal law. The bill also establishes that other federal laws—including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—do not permit employers to refuse to comply with federal health care coverage requirements.  Lastly, the bill maintains the existing exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement for houses of worship and the accommodation for religious non-profits.

Last week’s ruling in Hobby Lobby allowed closely held corporations to deny their employees insurance coverage for birth control under the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health provisions, which were designed to greatly expand affordable health care services for all women in the U.S.  The decision held that the requirement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that employers cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because, according to Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, the requirement violates “the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.”

U.S. Supreme Court Lets Private Companies Deny Birth Control Coverage to Employees

Women's Access to Constitutionally Protected Health Care Still Under Siege in 2014

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 23:00
Women's Access to Constitutionally Protected Health Care Still Under Siege in 2014 Mid-year review released by the Center for Reproductive Rights highlights growing base of pro-choice advocates in the face of relentless attacks

07.09.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Politicians in nearly forty states have attempted to restrict women's access to their constitutionally protected right to abortion since the start of 2014—introducing more than 250 pieces of anti-choice legislation, according to a mid-year briefing out today by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The States of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review features an interactive map which highlights the continuing trend of attacks on reproductive rights and access across the country. The review also draws attention to the strong and growing movement of women and men in this country who seek to protect and promote reproductive health and rights, highlighted in the introduction of over 100 proactive, pro-women's health measures in over 35 states since the start of 2014.

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

"As another legislative cycle reaches its midpoint, a new barrage of politically motivated assaults continues to make women's rights and access to critical health care increasingly dependent on where they happen to live.

"There are rays of hope in the efforts of growing numbers of women and men nationwide who are standing up, speaking out, and doing everything they can to draw the line against these attacks and the politicians and anti-abortion activist groups behind them.

"The urgency of decisive action at the federal level to truly defend the health, safety, and constitutional rights of all women across the U.S. has never been clearer.

"As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares for its first public hearing on the historic Women's Health Protection Act, we offer this mid-year review as yet more evidence that the time for Congressional action is now."

The State of the States: 2014 Mid-Year Review spans the United States and calls attention to ten states where politicians are inserting themselves into women's personal health care decisions in the first six months of 2014 to draw a picture of the ongoing state legislative trends in the country. The Review then highlights those states that made moves to buck the trend and actually advance reproductive rights and health. Examples from the report include politicians using underhanded legislative maneuvers as a way to covertly restrict abortion access in Georgia and Louisiana and outlandish statements by politicians in Missouri and South Dakota.

The briefing also features stories of women and men standing up for their constitutional rights in the face of relentless attacks. For example, in Louisiana, advocates continued to fight back against the litany of extreme anti-abortion bills considered in 2014, including a measure forcing any doctor who provides abortion care to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Designed not by doctors, but by politicians and anti-abortion activist organizations, Louisiana's law was similar to those passed in previous years in Mississippi, Texas, and other states to shutter abortion clinics, leaving many thousands of women without access to safe, legal, and high quality abortion care. Louisiana advocates gathered in Baton Rouge to protest the admitting privileges requirement and other harmful measures multiple times throughout the session, testifying, and delivering petitions. Though Governor Bobby Jindal eventually signed the measure into law, it remains clear that women's health advocates in the state are not backing down.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like those highlighted in the review further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—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. The Women's Health Protection Act will have its first hearing next Tuesday, July 15, 2014 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The State of the States Fifth Circuit Considers Mississippi Law Designed to Shutter Last Clinic in the State Texas Continues to Fight Back: Center for Reproductive Rights To File Second Lawsuit Against HB2’s Devastating Abortion Restrictions Louisiana Governor Jindal Signs Law Designed to Shutter Reproductive Health Clinics

At U.N. Human Rights Council, Slovakia Announces Plan to Increase Access to Modern Contraceptives

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 23:00
At U.N. Human Rights Council, Slovakia Announces Plan to Increase Access to Modern Contraceptives

07.07.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) At the close of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Slovak government has made a commitment to broaden access to modern contraceptives for all women. The UPR is part of a regular assessment of United Nations member states’ compliance with international human rights obligations.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Slovak NGOs Citizen, Democracy, and Accountability and Freedom of Choice submitted a joint letter to the Human Rights Council addressing the human rights violations experienced by Slovak women and adolescent girls because of the inaccessibility of the full range of reproductive health services, including safe abortion, contraceptive services, and information and sexuality education.

The organizations welcome the decision of the Slovak government to accept the UPR recommendation to increase access to contraceptive methods for all women, including by covering them under public health insurance. At the moment, the cost of contraceptives and the fact that they are not subsidized through public health insurance makes them inaccessible for many women. In 2011, a legislative ban on contraceptive public health insurance coverage was introduced.  This ban prohibits modern contraceptives from being covered under public health insurance if they are used solely to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Said Adriana Lamačková, senior legal adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Women, regardless of their age or socioeconomic status, have a right to choose the contraceptive method that works best for them.  

“We look to the government now to make good on this commitment to women’s fundamental reproductive rights and continue making progress toward securing access to a full range of essential reproductive health services for all women, including amending the law to provide insurance coverage for modern contraceptives.”

Access to contraceptive services and information to date is limited in Slovakia. The prohibitive costs of contraceptives that must be covered by individuals and misinformation about contraceptives are among the key factors influencing contraceptive use in Slovakia. Only about 18 percent of women of reproductive age are using hormonal contraception while more than 30 percent of couples rely on the withdrawal method.

The government claims that contraception could be subsidized in individual cases if a woman has a certain medical condition for which contraception is a form of treatment, such as excessive menstrual bleeding or polycystic ovaries.  

“Subsidizing modern contraceptives for health reasons other than preventing pregnancy does nothing to address the inaccessibility of modern contraception for a woman who needs contraceptives because she does not want to become pregnant,” said Janka Debrecéniová, deputy director at Citizen, Democracy and Accountability. “We urge the Slovak government to take immediate measures to guarantee access to modern contraceptives for all women not only in theory but also in practice.”   

United Nations human rights bodies have voiced concerns regarding barriers in the access to reproductive health care in Slovakia. In 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the state to “take measures to increase the access of women and adolescent girls to affordable health care services, including reproductive health care, and to increase access to information and affordable means of family planning for women and men.” In 2012, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights called on Slovakia to extend public health insurance coverage to sexual and reproductive health services, including modern contraceptives.  During the UPR of Slovakia, the Slovak government was urged to implement this recommendation.

International human rights standards recognize access to modern contraceptives for purposes of pregnancy prevention as a human right. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has included a range of contraceptives in the Model List of Essential Medicines and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has explicitly recommended that states make all drugs on this list accessible to all without discrimination. The provision of contraceptive coverage is a core human rights obligation, which the government has an immediate duty to realize.

In 2011, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Citizen, Democracy and Accountability and Freedom of Choice issued the fact-finding report Calculated Injustice: The Slovak Republic’s Failure to Ensure Access to Contraceptives. The report documents major barriers that women and adolescent girls face in access to contraceptive services and information. It shows that the costs of modern contraceptives are prohibitive for some women and pose a significant barrier to women’s access to contraceptives.  The report also demonstrates how access to contraceptive information and services is a fundamental human right that States are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill.

Calculated Injustice: The Slovak Republic's Failure to Ensure Access to Contraceptives

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