Last week, the United Nation’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) presented its Global Review Report, which addresses gender inequality and access to sexual and reproductive health services across the globe. According to the report, “unnecessary restrictions on abortion should be removed and governments should provide access to safe abortion services.”
The report states that development gains made during the past 20 years cannot be sustained by ignoring equality, rights, and women’s health. Although advancements have been made, in the world’s poorest areas, women’s rights have seen little progress over the past 20 years. Adolescent girls in particular are at risk in the poorest global communities. Providing women with access to education, reproductive health services, and employment opportunities can “support higher economic growth and development.”
Less than two-thirds of countries have enforced a law protecting the “highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health,” the report states.
The evidence consistently shows that women all over the world are likely to have an induced abortion when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, irrespective of legal conditions. Where abortion laws are liberal there is generally no or very little evidence of unsafe abortion and related morbidity and mortality. In contrast, legal restrictions result in women self-inducing abortion or seeking it clandestinely.
Across the globe, an estimated 47,000 women die each year from complications of unsafe abortion. The World Health Organization has called unsafe abortion the “preventable pandemic,” and said that “Ending the silent pandemic of unsafe abortion is an urgent public-health and human-rights imperative.” According to the United Nation’s report:
In no other indicator of reproductive health is inequity due to legal restrictions and to lack of services as glaring as in access to safe abortion care. Nearly all of unsafe abortions (98%) and deaths due to unsafe abortions (99.8%) occur in developing regions. Although induced abortion is a universal practice, legal restrictions and lack of services expose women who are young, poor, and living in rural areas disproportionately more to the risk of unsafe abortion than those who are well-off and living in urban areas.
However, even in “developed” countries like the United States, women’s rights are seeing a regression. Conservative lawmakers enacted more abortion restrictions during 2011, 2012, and 2013 than during the previous ten years. Republicans are determined to suppress women’s reproductive rights, as evidenced by a record number of reproductive health-related bills, including several bills to enforce some of the most restrictive abortion bans since 1973.
At the same time, conservatives are still attempting to repress sex education, calling it a “gateway to sexual activity.” Rather than teaching children accurate, uncontrived information and preventative measures, many still want to force abstinence only education, despite the fact that seven out of ten teenagers will become sexually active by their 19th birthday, regardless of whether they’ve received accurate sex education or abstinence only teaching. Republicans are also notoriously opposed to family planning.
The ICPD reports that the Netherlands provides “an excellent example of a country where a pragmatic and comprehensive approach to family planning – especially for young people – has resulted in one of the lowest abortion rates worldwide.”
Family planning has been included in the Netherlands’ national public health insurance system since 1971, sex education is “universal and comprehensive,” sexually active young people display one of the highest rates of contraceptive use in the world, and “women in the Netherlands are among the most empowered, based on common UN indicators,” making abortion in the country “legal, safe, easily accessible and rare.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.