The Edmonton Sun
August 21, 2007
By MINDELLE JACOBS
Do women matter to Catholics?
Predictably, the Roman Catholic church has reacted with outrage at Amnesty International's support for abortion when women have been raped or when their health or human rights are in danger.
The Vatican, which opposes abortion under any circumstances, has urged Catholics to stop donating to AI.
However, I suspect that many good-hearted Catholics will quietly continue supporting Amnesty, realizing that the Catholic church's unwavering condemnation of both birth control and abortion is causing profound misery to the world's most impoverished families.
It's estimated, for instance, that about 20 million unsafe abortions occur annually and five million women are hospitalized worldwide each year because of complications of illegal abortions.
In addition, tens of thousands of women die annually from botched abortions because they don't have access to the safe, legal procedures women in the privileged West enjoy.
Pro-lifers live in a fantasy world where every child is wanted. The grim reality is that for millions of struggling women in developing countries, another pregnancy means just another mouth to feed when there already isn't enough food.
ACCESS TO BIRTH CONTROL
A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Centre for Reproductive Rights released a report on the hardships experienced by women in Manila because of a law that severely limits access to birth control.
Contraception isn't explicitly banned, but it might as well be because it's virtually impossible for women to get free birth control pills, IUDS, injectables and sterilization.
Three poor Filipino women interviewed for the study said they'd had far more children than they'd planned because they no longer had access to free birth control.
One women, aged 36, has eight children but she only wanted two. She tried to get her tubes tied after her fourth pregnancy but her local hospital no longer provided the service. All the family can afford is bread for dinner and her children are malnourished.
The world is full of such harrowing stories, but we rarely hear about them because these women don't matter to powerful politicians and religious leaders who value dogma over women's lives.
An article on unsafe abortion in the Lancet last year put it succinctly. "The underlying causes of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion today are not blood loss and infection but, rather, apathy and disdain toward women."
The authors described unsafe abortion as "a persistent, preventable pandemic" as well as an urgent public health and human rights issue.
When abortion is made legal and easily accessible, it noted, women's health rapidly improves. In contrast, the health of women deteriorates when access to safe abortion is made more difficult or illegal.
Women in poor countries are so desperate to terminate their pregnancies that they swallow bleach, detergent or tea made with livestock manure. Others insert foreign bodies into the uterus, such as sticks, chicken bones or bicycle spokes.
Unsafe abortion deserves the same scientific approach to solutions as other threats to public health, the authors rightfully argued.
Women will continue to have abortions "irrespective of prevailing laws, religious prescriptions or social norms," they added.
And the Catholic church will keep its head in the sand, it seems, while scores of women die. Zygotes matter. Women don't.