Monday, October 29, 2007

The adoption vs. abortion myth

Why politicians are wrong to trumpet the former as a solution to the latter.
By Cory L. Richards
October 29, 2007

Striving to find the "middle ground" on abortion -- that is, coming up with ways acceptable to pro-choice and pro-life Americans alike to reduce the number of abortions in the United States -- is a worthwhile undertaking. But it also has given rise to some fairly resilient myths about the best way to achieve this goal.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani prominently featured one such myth in his speech Oct. 20 to a group of social conservatives. The former New York City mayor stated that "we increased adoption by 133% over the eight years before I came into office. And we found that abortions went down by 18% during that period of time. I believe we can do that in the United States."

But Giuliani's implied causality between these two statistics is unsupportable for this simple reason: The increases he cites were in the rate of adoptions of children out of New York City's foster care system, not in the rate at which women were continuing unwanted pregnancies and placing their infants for adoption rather than having abortions. Nothing in the data he cites indicates that there was any significant increase in the city's newborn relinquishment rate while he was mayor.

Giuliani is not alone in misrepresenting the adoption-abortion link in this way. Politicians from both parties frequently promote tax credits and other incentives to ease the way for adoptive parents to demonstrate that they want to "do something" about abortion. Facilitating adoptions, especially of hard-to-place children, deserves our strong support. But it does nothing to affect the abortion rate. To assert that it does is either ill-informed or simply cynical, and it should stop.

Meanwhile, we know that very few women actually place their infants for adoption. In the United States, fewer than 14,000 newborns were voluntarily relinquished in 2003 (the latest year for which an estimate is available), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That proportion -- just under 1% of all the children born to never-married women -- has remained constant for almost two decades. It's down considerably from the early 1970s, but even in those days, more than nine in 10 unmarried women who gave birth kept their babies.

The 2003 infant relinquishment figure is minuscule when compared to the almost 1.3 million abortions that took place that year. And even then, it would be wrong to assume that every one of those relinquishments actually averted an abortion. Many women placing their baby for adoption may never have considered abortion in the first place.

Among the main explanations cited in the HHS report for decline in relinquishments since the '70s are that "the increased social acceptance of single parenthood has led more unmarried women to keep their children" and that "a higher proportion of unmarried mothers are in their 20s rather than their teens, so the personal and financial stresses may not be as great as in the past." More important, the researchers do not consider abortion to be a significant factor and suggest that "the decline in abortion rates shows that the decline in relinquishment is not a result of increasing selection of abortion over relinquishment."

Politicians of all stripes, and whatever their position on abortion, should face reality. Increasing the rate of completed adoptions, however valid on its own merits, is irrelevant to the abortion rate. And increasing the rate of newborn relinquishments, even assuming it could be done in an ethically and socially acceptable way, at best would be tinkering at the margins. Even if relinquishments doubled, and each one of them represented an averted abortion, it would make hardly a dent in the abortion rate.

In his recent speech, Giuliani did leave himself an opening to embrace evidence-based policies when he offered that he would "support any reasonable suggestion that promises to reduce the number of abortions."

In fact, there are plenty of proven, common-sense policies that he (and all those who are still promoting adoption as a viable anti-abortion strategy) could support. Chief among them is to expand women's access to high-quality contraceptive counseling and services and to support comprehensive sex education that teaches young people about both delaying sex and using protection when they do become sexually active.

As a just-published Guttmacher Institute study shows, abortion rates are extremely high in many countries where contraceptives are not readily available and contraceptive use is not encouraged, even though abortion is highly restricted in those places by law. And the world's lowest rates of abortion by far are found in Western Europe, where very few legal restrictions are placed on abortion but contraceptive use and comprehensive sex education are widespread.

Behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. The sooner politicians accept that the only way to meaningfully achieve fewer abortions is to do better in helping women and their partners prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place, the better.


Cory L. Richards is senior vice president and vice president for public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, an independent think tank in the field of sexual and reproductive health.

'RH Reality Check' Counters Anti-Choice Rhetoric

By Sheila Gibbons
WeNews commentator

The Web has provided a vibrant breeding ground for the anti-choice movement and its rhetoric. Sheila Gibbons prefers a dose of reality from a new site that tackles misinformation and aims to build advocacy support for women's health.

(WOMENSENEWS)--It's troubling to see how much distortion is presented as fact on sites operated by abortion opponents.

Take, for instance, VirtueMedia, which produced an ad asserting that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, a claim debunked by the American Cancer Society.

Or try going to It's operated by the Life Issues Institute of Cincinnati and describes its founders--a physician and his wife who draw parallels between abortion and euthanasia--as "the greatest single resource of educational information on abortion and related issues in the world."

As silly as these examples might seem when they're isolated and pulled out one by one, they have, as a concerted onslaught, achieved considerable influence.

For one thing, they have helped shift the abortion debate from women's rights to unborn babies, says Deana Rohlinger, a sociology professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee who has conducted several studies on media tactics employed by pro-choice and anti-choice groups.

She found that where abortion opponents initially focused their efforts on religious media, believing that secular media would not give them a fair hearing, they became more sophisticated in their message development and distribution.

"The pro-life movement both put a human face on a fetus and vividly illustrated the 'violence' done to unborn children," Rohlinger told me. "With its April 2007 ruling outlawing the D and X procedure, the Supreme Court has demonstrated a willingness to redefine the contours of the abortion debate and the pro-life movement has taken up the call. Armed with this ruling, pro-life activists have adopted the language of pro-choicers and are pushing legislation that advocates 'informed choice.'"

Poor reality. It's undergoing such intense manipulation it's hard to know where to look for it.

Web Site to the Rescue
Fortunately, a Web site offering verifiable facts has recently come to the rescue.

RH Reality in 2006 to rebut misinformation and disinformation and to demonstrate how progressives can harness new media--provides information, analysis, news, commentary and links to sources that support sexual and reproductive health.

"We began as a simple little blog to introduce the concept to the leadership of the major advocacy organizations in the reproductive health community," says Editor Scott Swenson. "Then we began to put the pieces together to grow what is a thriving new media site."

A project of the United Nations Foundation, RH Reality Check is packed with content generated by its own small staff (five, some part-time), freelancers and bloggers.

Its "Leading Voices" feature showcases longtime advocates such as Gloria Feldt, former president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who is also an occasional commentator for Women's eNews.

There are also contributions from writers making a name in the blogosphere, and from young writers around the world who offer unique viewpoints from a rising generation.

It also serves as a reference hub for material coming out of reproductive and maternal health advocacy groups, think tanks, universities and health research organizations.

'Reckless Rhetoric'
But the "Reckless Rhetoric" department--which steers readers to comments that are misleading, dangerous or just plain ridiculous--might just be the most jaw-dropping reading.

A recent display: "There are two questions at issue here. One is medical (Is there ever need for an abortion to save the mother's life?) and the other is moral (Would an abortion in that case be justified?). The answer to both questions is no." The quote is attributed to Father Frank Pavone, the anti-choice crusader who heads the New York-based Priests for Life.

I also found this gem from Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly. "According to an Australian-Chinese study published in the International Journal of Cancer, moderate exercise such as housework decreases the risk of ovarian cancer in women. The more and the harder the housework the housewife does, the more she benefits . . . The doctor who presented the findings recommended the exercise of walking. (He neglected to suggest walking behind a vacuum cleaner)."

In addition to blunting these kinds of salvos, RH Reality Check is focused on uniting a diverse reproductive health advocacy community that, as Swenson puts it, "doesn't always agree with itself."

"The advocacy community is very strong but a lot of conversations seem to have been behind closed doors," says Associate Editor Amie Newman. "RH Reality Check has the potential to bring the dialogue out in public. It's a little scary for the reproductive health communities to have this out in the open, but through the site we can host articles from major leaders and writers who can discuss political strategies and a whole range of issues."

Spotlight on Global Gag Rule
The site has gotten into full swing at a timely political juncture as the "global gag rule," one of the major controversies in reproductive health circles, is claiming wider attention.

The global gag rule--or more formally the Mexico City Policy because it was first announced by President Reagan at the International Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984--is the nickname for a federal policy prohibiting overseas organizations that provide abortion counseling, services or advocate for changes in their nation's abortion laws from receiving U.S. funding.

This summer, for the first time, both houses of Congress repudiated it.

"We're sort of at this historic place where the House and the Senate are in some sort of agreement that this should no longer be in place," Newman says. "I don't know how large an issue this will be in the presidential campaign, but global women's health issues should be a larger issue for all the candidates."

RH Reality Check visitors can customize their content preferences so they regularly receive what they want.

But Swenson and his staff also push information out to target audiences. Swenson, for instance, says they offer a daily package to the progressive blogosphere "where we feel there's a dearth of information on female health issues."

There's also a monthly editorial memo to 1,600 journalists. The goal, he says, "is to elevate the profile of people who are writing on our site so journalists can go directly to them."

In a reproductive health debate dominated by hype, spin and claims of moral superiority, RH Reality Check is a welcome newcomer. Check it out.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism," Strata Publishing Inc., which received the "Texty" Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association, and of "Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, publishers.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at


For more information:
Scott Swenson, "Building Community,"
RH Reality Check Oct. 2007 report:

"Strategic Gains Nurture Bolder Anti-Choice Moves":

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

With Facts on Our Side - by Katha Pollitt

The Nation
Click here for article
[from the November 5, 2007 issue]

For years feminists and prochoicers have pointed out that women have abortions whether or not the procedure is legal.

That was true here before Roe v. Wade, and it is true today in countries where abortion is restricted or banned. The difference is that when abortion is legal it is a remarkably safe procedure; when it is illegal, women are injured, women die, children are left motherless. (True, these are already-existing, sinful children, not embryos or fetuses, but still.) This simple public health argument has gotten lost in a thicket of theology, sexual morality, "family values," politics, spin and outright disinformation. The coat hanger has become a political cliché, a relic of the '60s, like the peace sign. Oh, that old thing.

Now comes an article in The Lancet that shows in cold hard data how right we've been all along. "Induced Abortion: Estimated Rates and Trends Worldwide," a study conducted by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, is the first global analysis of abortion incidence since 1995. It finds that rates of abortion (the number of abortions per 1,000 women) are relatively unaffected by whether it is legal. Thus, in South America, where abortion is largely illegal, the rate is 33; in northern America, where it is legal, the rate is 21. "The legal status of abortion doesn't predict whether abortions occur," study co-author Gilda Sedgh told me by phone. "It predicts whether they are safe. South Africa liberalized its abortion laws in l997, and maternal deaths from unsafe abortion have plummeted by 90 percent." Around the world 48 percent of abortions are unsafe--that's more than 20 million. Some 67,000 women die from unsafe abortions--13 percent of maternal deaths, almost all of them in the developing world, where abortion is mostly restricted or banned. Many times that number are injured or maimed.

The good news is that the global trend is toward legalization: as Susan Cohen reports in the upcoming Guttmacher Policy Review, since the Beijing conference on women seventeen countries have liberalized their abortion laws, while three have tightened restrictions (including, most recently, Nicaragua, where abortion is now illegal even to save the woman's life--thank you, Daniel Ortega). The bad news is that, due to population growth, the percentage of abortions that are unsafe has increased since 1995.

The big takeaway from the Lancet article is this: there is basically only one thing that lowers the rate of abortion for more than the minute and a half it takes women to figure out how to evade a new legal restriction: contraception. The countries with the lowest abortion rates, like the Netherlands, have few abortion restrictions and lots of birth control. Consider Eastern Europe. Under communism, abortion was virtually the only family planning method. As contraception has become more available, the abortion rate has plummeted--from 90 in 1995 to 44 in 2003. Indeed, Eastern Europe accounts for almost the entire worldwide decline in abortion in the period covered by the study. Meanwhile, for all our Sturm und Drang, with women in many states having to jump through more hoops than a circus tiger, the decline in the US abortion rate has been small.

I was curious to know how antichoicers would respond to what certainly seems like a devastating refutation of their position. "Anybody can look at data and pick and choose whatever they want," Jim Sedlak, vice president of the American Life League, told me. "The real fact is that abortion is ending life in the womb and should never be legal." I asked him if he accepted the finding that abortion was more dangerous where it was illegal. No, he said. "When something is illegal, people are more careful." So legal abortion is more unsafe? According to Sedlak, it is indeed.

As for contraception lowering the rate of abortion, that's an illusion: contraception is abortion. "Most methods of birth control kill babies in the womb by preventing implantation," said Sedlak, who'd like to see the pill, the IUD and most other methods outlawed. The American Life League, although not an official Catholic organization, explicitly follows Catholic teaching--unlike most Catholics, as Sedlak admitted. But so far as I know (and Sedlak agreed with me here) there is no antichoice organization that endorses contraception. Not one. Even Democrats for Life of America has refused to support Congressional legislation expanding funding for contraception. "Between Title X and Medicaid, the government has made a tremendous investment in contraception," DLA executive director Kristen Day told me. Actually, the government has done the opposite. Title X, which funds contraception for low-income women, has 61 percent less money in real terms than it had in 1980, to serve a much larger population. Had funding merely kept pace with inflation, it would be more than $725 million, instead of $283 million. As for Medicaid, skewed eligibility rules actually deny contraceptive benefits to many poor women who qualify for pregnancy care.

In the past few months, due to a technicality in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, the price of contraception in campus clinics has skyrocketed, from around $15 for a pack of pills to more than $50. Some college health centers have simply stopped offering the pill. When you consider that 3 million college women take the pill--38 percent of female students--you can see the disaster in the making. That won't bother the new head of the HHS Office of Family Planning, Susan Orr, a longtime opponent of birth control formerly with the Family Research Council. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," Orr told the Washington Post in 2001, praising a Bush proposal to stop mandating contraceptive coverage in federal employees' health plans.

Between facts and theology, antichoicers choose the latter every time.

* * *

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare

Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare
Click here for NYT Article

ROME, Oct. 11 — A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

The results of the study, a collaboration between scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a reproductive rights group, are being published Friday in the journal Lancet.

“We now have a global picture of induced abortion in the world, covering both countries where it is legal and countries where laws are very restrictive,” Dr. Paul Van Look, director of the W.H.O. Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a telephone interview. “What we see is that the law does not influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.”

But the legal status of abortion did greatly affect the dangers involved, the researchers said. “Generally, where abortion is legal it will be provided in a safe manner,” Dr. Van Look said. “And the opposite is also true: where it is illegal, it is likely to be unsafe, performed under unsafe conditions by poorly trained providers.”

The data also suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available, said Sharon Camp, chief executive of the Guttmacher Institute.

In Eastern Europe, where contraceptive choices have broadened since the fall of Communism, the study found that abortion rates have decreased by 50 percent, although they are still relatively high compared with those in Western Europe. “In the past we didn’t have this kind of data to draw on,” Ms. Camp said. “Contraception is often the missing element” where abortion rates are high, she said.

Anti-abortion groups criticized the research, saying that the scientists had jumped to conclusions from imperfect tallies, often estimates of abortion rates in countries where the procedure was illegal. “These numbers are not definitive and very susceptible to interpretation according to the agenda of the people who are organizing the data,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund in Washington.

He said that the major reason women die in the developing world is that hospitals and health systems lack good doctors and medicines. “They have equated the word ‘safe’ with ‘legal’ and ‘unsafe’ with ‘illegal,’ which gives you the illusion that to deal with serious medical system problems you just make abortion legal,” he said.

The study indicated that about 20 million abortions that would be considered unsafe are performed each year and that 67,000 women die as a result of complications from those abortions, most in countries where abortion is illegal.

The researchers used national data for 2003 from countries where abortion was legal and therefore tallied. W.H.O. scientists estimated abortion rates from countries where it was outlawed, using data on hospital admissions for abortion complications, interviews with local family planning experts and surveys of women in those countries.

The wealth of information that comes out of the study provides some striking lessons, the researchers said. In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

The Bush administration’s multibillion-dollar campaign against H.I.V./AIDS in Africa has directed money to programs that promote abstinence before marriage, and to condoms only as a last resort. It has prohibited the use of American money to support overseas family planning groups that provide abortions or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Worldwide, the annual number of abortions appeared to have declined between 1995, the last year such a broad study was conducted, and 2003, from an estimated 46 million to 42 million, the study concluded. The 1995 study, by the Guttmacher Institute, had far less data on countries where abortion was illegal.

Some countries, like South Africa, have undergone substantial transitions in abortion laws in that time. The procedure was made legal in South Africa in 1996, leading to a 90 percent decrease in mortality among women who had abortions, some studies have found.

Abortion is illegal in most of Africa, though. It is the second-leading cause of death among women admitted to hospitals in Ethiopia, its Health Ministry has said. It is the cause of 13 percent of maternal deaths at hospitals in Nigeria, recent studies have found.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

South Dakota Supreme Court Will Hear Abortion Ban Campaign Finance Case

Feminist Daily News Wire
October 11, 2007

State officials have asked the South Dakota Supreme Court to rule on whether or not the identity of a major contributor to a campaign to uphold a state law that would have banned abortion must be disclosed. The contribution came from Promising Future, a corporation established by State Rep. Roger Hunt (R) that gave a total of $750,000 to, which campaigned in favor of the ban.

A Circuit Judge ruled last month that Hunt and his corporation had not established a ballot question committee, which would have required the donor’s name to be reported. South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson, however, told the Associated Press that Promising Future acted like a ballot question committee by distributing the $750,000 to a campaign. According to South Dakota law, a ballot question committee has two or more members who raise funds to influence a ballot issue.

After the state Legislature passed a law in 2006 banning abortion except to save the woman’s life, women’s rights groups fought successfully to put the law to a referendum. In November 2006, voters rejected the ban by a margin of over 10 points.

Media Resources:Feminist Daily Newswire 11/6/06; Associated Press 10/6/07; Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report 10/10/07

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anti-Abortion Movement Borrows Tactics from the KKK

By Carrie Kilman, In These Times. Posted October 10, 2007.

Every Wednesday and Friday morning, two or three volunteers wearing bright green shirts that read "Pro-Choice, Y'all" assemble in front of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Ala., to escort patients from the parking lot to the front door, past a small sea of anti-abortion protesters.

The protesters carry handmade signs and pictures of fetuses sucking their thumbs. They play violins and blow loudly into horns. They thrust graphic pamphlets at the patients, form prayer circles on the sidewalk, and teach their children to plead with women to not murder their babies. The protesters are mostly women. They look like Sunday school teachers, housewives and hip grandmas. And, during the past few months, they have grown more vocal and more organized, emboldened by the recent closure of the only clinic in Mobile.

Every state in the Deep South -- Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina -- restricts low-income women's access to abortion. Most ban abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. None explicitly protect heath care facilities from harassment or violence. All have mandatory delay laws that unfairly burden women who have limited access to transportation and time off work, and Louisiana and South Carolina both passed unconstitutional laws requiring a husband's consent for a married woman's abortion. In the past 16 months, two abortion clinics in Alabama have closed, and new regulations are making it difficult for other clinics to stay open. Now, anti-abortion groups are strategizing ways to outlaw birth control and eliminate sex education.

Michelle Colon, president of the National Organization for Women's (NOW) Mid-South region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) calls it a "war on women" -- the gravity of which citizens in more progressive parts of the country don't appreciate. "The rest of the country kind of writes off the South -- people feel the battle has been lost here," Colon says.

Colon is part of a vocal, scrappy cadre of grassroots activists challenging the well-funded, entrenched anti-abortion movement that has long dominated state legislatures and local pulpits across the region. One Southern feminist put it this way: "Women here are sick and tired of being sick and tired." "It's not legal, is it?"

Every morning when June Ayers arrives for work, she scans the parking lot for suspicious people and packages before getting out of her car. Ayers owns Reproductive Health Services, one of seven clinics that provide abortions in Alabama. She's been followed home, trailed at the mall and harassed on her front porch.

Ayers was close friends with David Gunn, a doctor who performed abortions at clinics throughout Alabama and Florida. Anti-abortion protesters plastered Gunn's face and home phone number to "Wanted" posters and distributed them at rallies. He answered their harassment by blasting Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", singing along, and wagging his finger in their direction. In March 1993, Gunn died when a protester shot him three times in the back outside of his clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The doctor on Ayers' staff now wears a bulletproof vest.

Ayers recently invested in a sprinkler system to keep the protesters at bay. She has also installed concrete stepping-stones across the lawn so patients and escorts can avoid the protesters crowding the sidewalk. She bought orange vests for the escorts, so startled patients can distinguish between protesters and volunteers.

"At least once a month, I have women who call me and ask whether abortion is legal. That type of misinformation is rampant," says Ayers. "We're in the middle of the Bible Belt. It's not just religion, it's the fanatical religious aspect that keeps stirring people up who are opposed to us."

It's a place where the Christian Coalition holds sway over politicians, and many people vote the way they're told in church. The legislative climate is "very hostile" toward abortion, says Felicia Brown Williams, who oversees Planned Parenthood's advocacy agenda in Mississippi, one of two states with only one abortion clinic.

Mississippi has passed so many laws governing what abortion clinics can and cannot do that it is virtually impossible to open a second clinic without breaking state law. Mississippi requires permission from both parents for women under 18, except in cases of incest. The state's conscience clause allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. And earlier this year the Mississippi legislature passed a "trigger law," immediately making abortion illegal should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

From 'pro choice' to 'reproductive justice'

In the early-1990s, researcher Loretta Ross noticed the anti-abortion movement was borrowing tactics from the Ku Klux Klan -- things like "Wanted" posters and targeted bombings. Ross now directs SisterSong, a national reproductive health collective in Atlanta. She travels the country, encouraging groups like Planned Parenthood to adopt a philosophy that SisterSong terms "reproductive justice."

"Stopping at the right to terminate a pregnancy is woefully inadequate when it comes to the realities of people of color," Ross says. "We have to fight for three different dimensions of the struggle: We join our pro-choice sisters to fight for the right not to have a child; but as women of color, we have been subjected to various strategies of population control, like forced sterilization, so we also have to fight for the right to have a child, especially in the context of people accusing us of having babies to get on welfare or to stay in the country. And we have to fight for the right to parent the children we already have, thanks to a criminal justice system that's trying to capture them earlier and earlier."

Moving from "pro-choice" to "reproductive justice" may prove crucial in the Deep South -- home to a fast-growing Latino population -- and towns like Montgomery, Ala., which is about 50 percent black.

"There is an unholy alliance between the legislators who oppose civil rights and the legislators who oppose reproductive rights," Ross says. "As long as we look at reproductive rights only as the politics of gender, we will be missing the guiding script."

Each year, Operation Save America (OSA) targets different clinics across the United States. Last summer, the group traveled to Jackson, Miss., for a weeklong "siege" to temporarily shut down the state's only abortion clinic. OSA members, who compare themselves to Martin Luther King Jr., liken abortion to black genocide and lynching. While the anti-abortion movement has made inroads with some black churches, OSA's references to lynching and Rev. King went too far.

Jackson's abortion rights community mobilized to protect the last clinic in Mississippi. With volunteers coming from as far as Canada, they organized a door-knocking campaign, traversing Jackson's communities of color and poor white communities, educating residents about OSA.

Abortion rights supporters from across the South flooded Jackson that week, in a series of counter-rallies and speak-outs called Reproductive Freedom Summer. OSA's tactics -- burning a Gay Pride flag and pages of the Koran, and picketing two Christian churches -- created a local uproar. The clinic stayed open. So goes the nation

Other states, like New York or Wisconsin, have achieved a kind of equilibrium, with a mass of vocal supporters on both sides. Outside of cities like Atlanta, this isn't true of the Deep South.

"People are afraid to be seen at pro-choice events for fear of losing their jobs, or being rejected from church, or their kids being ostracized at school," says Colon, of Mid-South NOW. In some places in the South, abortion is referred to as the "A word"; and many women, upon arriving for an abortion, tell clinic staff they think abortion is wrong.

"Most of the time, women think they actually deserve the ridicule and harassment from the street protesters," says Ayers, from the Montgomery clinic. "It's self-punishment: 'I deserve to be accosted, because this is the choice I'm making.'"

Last year, Deirdra Harris Glover realized her silence implied tacit approval of Mississippi's proposed abortion ban. So Glover, an admitted "professional geek," launched to encourage closeted abortion rights supporters to come out. "Shame is an incredibly dehumanizing tactic used by the anti-abortion movement," Glover wrote in an email. "They've managed to paint abortion as too awful to ever be dragged into the light of day."

The Deep South's reproductive rights community has few political allies. In Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats run on anti-choice platforms. "We don't have any judges on our side. We don't have many in the media on our side," says Colon. "The pro-choice allies in the state legislature are the older black men. The women in the legislature sell us out every time."

And yet thinking that anti-choice zealotry is only an issue south of the Mason-Dixon line is a mistake. Laws restricting women's access to healthcare have chipped away at abortion rights in almost every state. In fact, only seven states have laws protecting the right to an abortion.

"In some ways, the South is behind; but in some ways, the South is dictating the rest of the country," says Ross, of SisterSong. "There wouldn't be a resurgent right-wing if the rest of the country wasn't becoming Dixie-fied."

Colon adds: "If we lose the South, the middle of the country won't be long."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Killer Law: Nicaragua's ban on abortion results in deaths of at least 82 women

Last November it became a crime for a woman to have an abortion in Nicaragua, even if her life was in mortal danger. So far it has resulted in the deaths of at least 82 women.

* * *

Monday October 8, 2007
The Guardian
By Homa Khaleeli
Click here for article

María de Jesús González was a practical woman. A very poor single mother, the 28-year-old's home was a shack on a mountain near the town of Ocotal in Nicaragua. She made the best of it. The shack was spotless, the children scrubbed. She earned money by washing clothes in the river and making and selling tortillas.

That nowast quite enough to feed her four young children and her elderly mother, so every few months González caught a bus to Managua, the capital, and slaved for a week washing and ironing clothes. The pay was three times better, about £2.60 a day, and by staying with two aunts she cut her costs. She would return to her hamlet with a little nest-egg in her purse. She bought herself one treat - a pair of red shoes - but she would leave them with her family in Managua, as they were no good on the mountain trails she had to go up to get home.

During a visit to Managua in February she felt unwell and visited a hospital. The news was devastating. She was pregnant - and it was ectopic, meaning the foetus was growing outside the womb and not viable. The longer González remained pregnant, the greater the risk of rupture, haemorrhaging and death.
What González did next was - when you understand what life in Nicaragua is like these days - utterly rational. She walked out of the hospital, past the obstetrics and gynaecological ward, past the clinics and pharmacies lining the avenues, packed her bag, kissed her aunts goodbye, and caught a bus back to her village. She summoned two neighbouring women - traditional healers - and requested that they terminate the pregnancy in her shack. Without anaesthetic or proper instruments it was more akin to mutilation than surgery, but González insisted. The haemhorraging was intense, and the agony can only be imagined. It was in vain. Maria died. "We heard there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain," says Esperanza Zeledon, 52, one of the Managua aunts.

González was not stupid and did not want to die. She knew her chance of surviving the butchery was small. But being a practical woman, she recognised it was her only chance, and took it. The story of why it was her only chance is an unfolding drama of religion, politics and power that has made Nicaragua a crucible in the global battle over abortion rights. This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

González was told at the hospital that any doctor who terminated her pregnancy would face two to three years in jail and she, for consenting, would face one to two years. "Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

For the Nicaraguan rich, a problematic pregnancy need not be a death sentence. You can fly to Miami or bribe a discreet private clinic in Managua. But in this wretchedly poor country most young women do not have money. Their choice is to go through with a pregnancy that may kill them, or attempt a DIY termination that may kill them.

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups. "This new law intentionally denies women access to health services essential to saving their lives, and is thus inconsistent with Nicaragua's obligations under international human rights law," says Human Rights Watch.

Nicaragua is famous for its misfortunes: the Somoza dictatorship, the civil war, the impoverishment, the natural disasters. Pro-choice groups say article 143 of the new penal code should be added to that list since it bucks the international trend towards greater abortion access and drags women back to the dark ages.

The anti-abortion camp, in contrast, is euphoric. The new law, it says, is a beacon in the fight to protect the unborn. It is time to celebrate. "Now it is all penalised. And Catholics agree that is should be this way," says Roberto González, 50, a Franciscan priest in Managua. "The population sees the church as behind the law - behind the pressure that succeeded in getting the government to change the law."

Abortion has long been illegal in Nicaragua but there had been exceptions for "therapeutic" reasons if three doctors agreed there was a risk to the woman's life. Those exceptions were no longer necessary, said the Nicaraguan Pro-Life Association, because medical advances obviated the need to terminate pregnancies. "The conditions that justified therapeutic abortion now have medical solutions," says a spokesman. Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the ban but added that women should not suffer or die as a result. "In this regard, it is essential to increase the assistance of the state and of society itself to women who have serious problems during pregnancy."

Nicaragua provides no answer to the debate about when, between conception and birth, life begins. But in the case of González it is clear when it ended: at 28 years. According to Zeledon, the doctors left González with few illusions. "When she came back from the hospital she was very upset. They said they couldn't help her. She knew what this meant: I think she knew she was going to die." Her children have been taken into care and her mother now lives alone. The only mementos of González's visits to her aunts in Managua are some clothes and the red shoes.

No one knows how many other women have died, or are going to die, as a result of the law. The Pope seemed to acknowledge an increased risk to women's health but Nicaragua's government has made no formal study of the law's impact. Women's rights organisations say their 82 documented deaths are the tip of the iceberg. The Pan-American Health Organisation estimates one woman per day suffers from an ectopic pregnancy, and that every two days a woman suffers a miscarriage from a molar pregnancy. That adds up to hundreds of obstetric emergencies per year.

Human Rights Watch, in a recent report titled Over Their Dead Bodies, cited one woman who urgently needed medical help, but was left untreated at a public hospital for two days because the foetus was still alive and so a therapeutic abortion would be illegal. Eventually she expelled the foetus on her own. "By then she was already in septic shock and died five days later," said the doctor.

Another woman, named Mariana, said she obtained a clandestine abortion because her pregnancy aggravated a permanent health condition. "I was very afraid. It was very traumatic not to be able to talk about it, because it is a crime. The abortion saved both me and the two children I already have." The report said the potentially most harmful impact was that girls and women were afraid of seeking treatment for pregnancy-related complications, especially haemorrhaging, in case they were accused of having induced an abortion.

Doctors say they have been put in an impossible position. "We face extremely grave ethical conflicts, all because of politics," says Carla Serrato, a gynaecologist from Nicaragua's state-run Alemán Nicaragüense Hospital. Ligia Altamirano Gómez, an obstetrician, says they fear being overruled by the law. "We are pushed toward illegality."

In an attempt to clarify matters, the health ministry issued protocols last December that said doctors should respond to most obstetric emergencies, including ectopic pregnancies and post-abortion care. To terminate an ectopic pregnancy is legal, it turns out, because since the foetus is not in the womb the procedure would not be an abortion. But such is the climate of fear and confusion that the protocols are widely ignored and misunderstood. The doctors who turned González away from the hospital in Managua thought it was illegal, as did medical staff the Guardian interviewed in Ocotal, González's home town.

"The ban has people frightened. You could lose everything - that's the first thing on your mind," says Dr Arguello, a leading critic of the ban. So far there have been no prosecutions but many doctors are unwilling to take the risk on behalf of women who are often poor, uneducated and from a lower social class.

It is a grim irony that this is happening under a Sandinista government - a movement whose ranks once included advocates for feminism and abortion rights. That was in the 1980s, when the Sandinistas were secular marxists, wore combat fatigues and fought a bloody civil war against US-backed Contra rebels. Things changed. The war ended and the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, lost the presidency in a 1990 election. Church and state were supposedly separate but clerics wielded political clout, none more so than Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. His hostility sank Ortega's attempted comebacks in 1996 and 2001 elections.

In the run-up to last November's election, the cardinal spearheaded a campaign for a blanket abortion ban. Ortega, desperate to regain power, mobilised the Sandinistas behind the cardinal's campaign and helped get the ban enacted just days before the poll. The former revolutionary, now reinvented as a devout Catholic, was rewarded with the presidency.

Ortega, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, has stayed pious in power. Last month he whipped Sandinista assembly deputies into voting with rightwing parties 66-3 to uphold the ban. Many former officials are disgusted with a leader and party they no longer recognise. "It's cynical and it's sad, especially when you consider our high rate of sexual violence and very young mothers," says Moisés Arana, a former mayor of Bluefields. "Here there is a lot of religiosity but only a little Christianity."

The Sandinistas may have changed but Nicaragua's revolutionary heritage has left it with some of Central America's most outspoken feminists. That their former comrades-in-arms are the agents of conservative oppression, as they see it, has them breathing fire. "This is wrong, all wrong. And we are going to fight it all the way," says Ana María Pizarro, a doctor and leading activist. Earlier this month feminists interrupted mass in Managua's metropolitan cathedral to protest against the ban.

The legal strategy is to ask the supreme court to declare the law unconstitutional - while fully expecting to lose since it is stacked with government supporters - to clear the way for a campaign involving the UN and international courts of human rights. They expect to get a sympathetic hearing in Europe, not least at an abortion conference in London later this month organised by Marie Stopes. There are likely to be calls for donor countries such as Britain, Spain and Denmark to threaten to cut aid to Nicaragua. So far there has been so sign of that.

The campaign's problem is that at home it is politically outgunned and unpopular. Lobbying for abortion rights, however limited, is a hard sell to a population largely deferential to the pulpit. The taboo is especially strong in rural areas. Edith Morales, an extrovert mother of two in Sahsa on the Miskito coast, is loud and proud when discussing indigenous rights and her impoverished community's needs. But when discussing the termination of an ectopic pregnancy she had 15 years ago, an act that probably saved her life, she lowers her voice, as if it was something shameful. "People here are very conservative," she explains. Asked if she supports the ban on therapeutic abortions, she shakes her head, and murmurs no.

At the other end of the country, in Bluefields, Inspector Martylee Ingram has the same, almost apologetic tone. She is discussing the harrowing case of an 11-year-old girl, Vera, who has been raped and is now 27 weeks pregnant. Asked if Vera should have the baby, she hesitates. The law says yes and her job is to enforce the law. The inspector shakes her head. "But me, as a woman and policewoman, I'd say no. I feel like she shouldn't have it. It's a baby having a baby. She might not survive."

Last month an assembly vote on whether to uphold the law was an emotional and boisterous affair with dozens of girls and women in the public gallery chanting in protest. Separated by just a sheet of glass, the two sides were a study in contrasts. One comprised mostly elderly men in suits, some of whom opened their speeches by saying "I am a Catholic". The other comprised mostly young women in jeans and T-shirts. "Shame, shame, shame on you all," shouted one teenager. "Daniel Ortega is a rapist," shouted another, a reference to allegations the politican raped his stepdaughter. (He was acquitted of all charges.)

Among the police officers keeping an eye on the protesters was a twentysomething woman with a slight bump beneath her blue uniform. She was four months pregnant and anxious, it turned out, because she had been diagnosed with toxic plasmosis, a bacterium that enters the bloodstream during pregnancy and can gravely damage the foetus. She watched the votes stack up in favour of the blanket ban and shook her head, but said nothing.

A crime in one country, a right in another: the different laws on abortion around the world

Women who become pregnant after being raped, or whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy, are banned from having abortions in just three countries around the world: Nicaragua, Chile and El Salvador. These countries refuse to take into account a woman's age or her ability to care for a child and will prosecute any woman who has an abortion.

In 2006, a UN committee report stated that one of the main causes of maternal mortality in Chile was women turning to illegal abortions and asked the government to stop imprisoning women who sought them.

According to the US-based Centre for Reproductive Rights, currently 26% of the world's population live in the 69 countries that ban abortion. However, 34 of these countries, including Ireland and the United Arab Emirates, make exceptions when a mother's life would be at risk, and 32 countries allow their laws to be interpreted to mean abortion is allowed in these circumstances, including Iran.

Countries such as Rwanda and Morocco allow a woman to end her pregnancy if her physical health is threatened, with some of the 34 countries in this category saying the threat could be serious or permanent.

Malaysia and New Zealand, along with 21 other countries, specifically allow abortion to protect a woman's mental health, and this can be interpreted to include the psychological distress suffered by a woman who is raped or the strain of economic circumstances.

Women can cite socio-economic reasons for an abortion in the UK, India and Luxemburg as well as 13 other countries, while in the 56 countries that are home to 39.3% of the population of the world, there are no restrictions on the reasons given to terminate a pregnancy.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Nicaraguan Abortion Ban Jeopardizes Women’s Health, Lives

Click here for Ms. Magazine article

A study released yesterday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that Nicaraguan women’s health and lives have been put at risk by the country’s blanket ban on abortions, imposed one year ago. The ban includes "therapeutic abortions" (abortions meant to save a woman’s life or health) and has no exceptions for rape or incest.

The HRW report, "Over Their Dead Bodies," found that the ban has not only discouraged women from seeking abortions but has also had a ripple effect on basic obstetric and gynecological care. According to the report, many women are no longer seeking medical help for pregnancy-related complications for fear that they will be accused of inducing an abortion.

"Doctors in Nicaragua are now afraid to provide even legal health services to pregnant women," said Angela Heimburger, Americas researcher at HRW’s Women's Rights Division.

The study also notes that the Nicaraguan government hasn’t enforced guidelines meant to curb these unintended effects of the ban and has no plans to study its effect on women’s health.

On Sunday, protesters with the Nicaraguan Feminist Movement interrupted mass at a church in Managua to protest the ban, the Associated Press reports. Women’s and human rights groups filed petitions in January asking the Nicaraguan Supreme Court to declare the ban unconstitutional, but the Court has yet to rule. The only other countries with blanket bans on abortion are Chile and El Salvador, according to HRW.

Media Resources: The Associated Press 10/2/07; Human Rights Watch Press Release 10/2/07; "Over Their Dead Bodies" 10/07

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Falls Church Planned Parenthood Counter Protest Footage, 9-22-07

Aurora Planned Parenthood Clinic is Open!!!

Good News from Planned Parenthood:

Yesterday, local officials confirmed that Planned Parenthood followed all proper procedures while developing our health center in Aurora, and found no grounds to deny us our permit.

As we write this, the doors of Planned Parenthood's newest health center are open, and the women of Aurora are coming through them. And the best part is, they'll be greeted by your ribbons, representing the warmth and welcome of thousands of people like you.

Your support, in person and in spirit, has been a heartwarming experience for those of us at Planned Parenthood. This is what it means to be part of this community. Just as the women of Aurora are Planned Parenthood, and the Aurora clinic is Planned Parenthood, so, too, are you Planned Parenthood.

We are Planned Parenthood. Standing together, we sent a message that we will fight for access to reproductive health care for women in Aurora and for women everywhere.

We've said this throughout these challenging weeks: "What happens in Aurora, happens in America." We expect fights like this for other health centers around the country in the months ahead. It won't be easy. But today, we're reminded that when you combine 90 years of history and courage with tens of thousands of people like you, we can win.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Documentary About Abortion: "Lake of Fire"

Hothead plays it cool with "Lake of Fire"
Fri Sep 28, 2007 4:20am EDT
Click here for full article
By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Back in 1998, when he battled New Line Cinema and star Edward Norton over the final cut of "American History X," director Tony Kaye earned a reputation as something of a hothead, a metaphoric bomb-thrower who wasn't afraid to challenge the Hollywood establishment.

Now that Kaye is about to release his latest film, a 2-1/2-hour documentary about abortion called "Lake of Fire," filmgoers might expect the director to offer up a fiery polemic. Instead, the film, which ThinkFilm is releasing October 5 in New York and a week later in Los Angeles, is something else entirely.

Eschewing narration, Kaye sublimates his own voice. Instead, "Fire," which covers the passionate battles waged in the U.S. during the past 15 years between pro-life and pro-choice forces, allows the various antagonists to speak for themselves.

Early in the film, Kaye presents an abortion procedure, complete with the remains of a fetus. Although the material is presented clinically, it's the type of imagery that pro-lifers use to support their contention that abortion is murder. But that scene is countered much later in the film by a sequence in which a woman named Stacey, an abuse survivor who is just beginning to get her life back on track, seeks out an abortion, secure in her conviction that she is not ready to bring a child into the world.

"The film opens as a pro-life film," Kaye concedes. That early footage of an actual abortion "sets up an interesting bar as to how you come back from that, but I think the film does. In the end, you are in a gray area, really. There is a woman who has an abortion, and it's obviously the right choice for her, but there's also a sense of loss as well. It's ironic."

The filmmaker didn't set out to become the arbiter of this debate -- or even to prove himself as a documentary filmmaker.

The London-born Kaye, who made a name for himself directing commercials, moved to Los Angeles in 1990 eager to embrace Hollywood. Searching for a subject that he could turn into a narrative film, "My naiveté," he says, "led me to this issue of abortion as a worthy endeavor." But Kaye couldn't find the right story to tell, so he stumbled into shooting a non-narrative film.

One key decision he made early on was to film in 35mm black and white. In part, it was an aesthetic decision. "I thought it would even everything out, and it is much easier to create a good image with black and white than with color," he says. But it also took on a thematic meaning, for as the director explains, the film isn't "entirely pro-choice or pro-life. There are lots of gray (areas) in there."

Abortion access for female inmates in Missouri still up for grabs

Abortion access for female inmates in Missouri
From Feministing
Click here for link to original post

In the ongoing legal battle over whether Missouri inmates have a right to access abortion services, an appeals court panel heard arguments this week as to whether the state is required to transport incarcerated women off-site to have an abortion.

As we've noted before Missouri usually has from 35 to 50 pregnant inmates in any given month and surveys of incarcerated women have shown that more than 83 percent have had a history of unplanned pregnancy.

RH Reality Check sums up nicely what’s at stake here:

For more than twenty years, courts have ruled that incarcerated women retain their abortion rights, and yet for all those twenty years, jails and prisons have continued to violate those rights. Across the country, women have been told by sheriffs to get a judge’s permission, something that takes time, money, and the services of a lawyer. Women are routinely told that they must pay not only for the abortion, but for the costs of employees’ time and of transportation, down to turnpike tolls, even though people in prison have a constitutional right to medical care. In many cases, these requirements are unwritten and ad-hoc, reflecting the whim of local officials. From California to New York, from Louisiana to Pennsylvania, women have wound up carrying pregnancies to term because jail officials stood in their way until it was too late to have an abortion – or until they gave up.

Every woman has a lot to think about when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, but for women inside, the question takes on special urgency. Women may be concerned about the kind of prenatal care they will receive in prison and worried about what the future holds. Those facing long prison sentences may find the prospect of having a child unbearable. A woman serving as little as fifteen months can lose her parental rights if she has to place her child in foster care, even if she has never been accused of child abuse or neglect.

I’d add that if the state of Missouri regularly transports incarcerated women as many as three hours off-site to take the State Board of Cosmetology exam, the legislature don'’t have grounds to complain about transporting them that far for abortion care. If they'’re worried about the cost of gas, the state legislators could always consider rolling back some of the TRAP laws that make it cost-prohibitive for abortion providers to open clinics in more counties. (Riiiight….)

Abortion wait times in Ottawa hit six weeks

Advocates say that forcing women to wait as long as six weeks puts their health at risk, lengthening the time women may suffer morning sickness and other symptoms, as well as the psychological burden of waiting to terminate the pregnancy.

Click here for article

October 1, 2007 at 9:25 AM EDT

There's a place in North America where women have to wait for weeks to get an abortion because of lack of funding for nurses, doctors and operating rooms.

This place is not some conservative U.S. state or a remote corner of Canada's far north.

It's Ottawa.

Wait times for abortions in Ottawa stretched to six weeks this summer and are expected to do so again this winter.

Right now, a woman who wants an abortion in the city must wait about 3½ weeks, a delay that's unheard of elsewhere in North America, according to abortion-rights advocates and providers.

"They just wait and wait," says Joan Wright, who runs the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Ottawa. "This reminds me of the old days ... it's getting scarier."

The consequences of long wait times for abortion are problematic, advocates and doctors say, because the window of opportunity is so narrow: The cutoff for an elective abortion in many parts of Canada, including Ottawa, is 20 weeks.

Forcing women to wait weeks for an abortion, advocates say, puts their health at risk.

The longer a woman is pregnant, the more risky and complicated her abortion will be.

"I've had people wait six or eight weeks. By that time they were really far along. It's definitely more dangerous to the patient," says an Ottawa abortion provider who asked that she not be named to protect her privacy and safety.

Waiting weeks for an abortion also means women may suffer morning sickness and other symptoms, as well as the psychological burden of waiting to terminate the pregnancy.

"I was definitely shocked to find out what the wait times were - it made the process that much more traumatic," said Holly, a 20-year-old single mother who was told she'd have to wait five weeks for an abortion in Ottawa. She decided to drive to Montreal to terminate her pregnancy.

The long wait for abortion services in Ottawa is one symptom, advocates say, of how the pro-choice movement in Canada has lost steam since the decriminalization of abortion in 1988.

Although other nations often hail Canada's system as a model for safe, legal abortion, the reality is more complicated.

Nationally, only about one in six hospitals does abortions, according to a 2007 survey of all 791 public hospitals in Canada: That's 15.9 per cent, down from 17.8 per cent in 2003.

"While I wish that a woman was never in a position where she felt abortion was necessary, I do hope that the wait times shorten," Holly, who asked that her last name be withheld, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

"From my experience, women punish themselves emotionally after an abortion and forcing women to wait over a month is salt in the wound."

"We've probably sat on our laurels. Absolutely, access has decreased," says Patricia LaRue, executive director of Canadians for Choice. "It's only when you need it that you realize there are barriers."

Women in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and most other Canadian cities can usually access abortion services within a few days.

But no hospitals in Prince Edward Island perform abortions, and in New Brunswick women are required to get referrals from two doctors before having a publicly funded abortion, a practice that's the target of an ongoing lawsuit.

Perhaps the most desperate situation exists in the nation's capital, where wait times have been a problem for years, with no solution on the horizon.

Dawn Fowler, Canadian director of the Washington-based National Abortion Federation, says Ottawa's six-week wait time is the worst she's encountered.

The main problem in Ottawa is money and time - specifically, operating room time. Doctors are willing to perform abortions, but the OR schedule is packed and there aren't enough nurses and anesthetists to go around.

The push to reduce wait times overall has actually made things worse, experts say, because the province's priority areas, such as joint replacement and eye surgery, take operating room time away from everything else, including abortion.

"The Ontario government has begun extra funding [for those priorities] but there aren't any more nurses or anesthetists, so that means other things have to be decreased," says the Ottawa abortion provider.

For example, she says, the hospital has cancelled six abortion clinic days per year - which adds up to about 120 abortions - to give more operating room time to orthopedics.

"It's insane that no more funds are given by the provincial government for abortion services," Ms. LaRue says.

The provincial government pointed the finger at local health authorities, noting that overall funding has increased for both the Ottawa Hospital and the Morgentaler clinic in recent years.

The abortion wait time is a local problem, a health ministry spokesman said.

"We do not track wait times for abortions," said A.G. Klei, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health.

Ottawa Hospital officials, meanwhile, say they try not to let the new priorities bump other surgeries, but they don't always succeed.

"It is very complex," says hospital spokeswoman Peggy Taillon. "We've tried to minimize the impact. That's not to say there's not going to be some displacement."

The hospital has recently started negotiating to transfer its abortion services to the Morgentaler clinic, which currently operates two days a week. But there's no guarantee that would solve the problem, as the clinic is already overtaxed.

In the meantime, women say the wait wears on them physically and mentally.

"That was the hardest part, my hormones were all over the place," one Ottawa woman wrote to Canadians for Choice, thanking them for their support after she waited two weeks for an abortion. "...I was bloated and so sleepy all the time."

Ms. Wright says she doesn't know how many women simply give up when confronted with the long wait time, but says women who lack the resources to travel may end up carrying their unwanted pregnancy to term.

Anti-abortion activists hope that's exactly what happens.

"A wait time is a good thing in the sense that it gives the woman in a crisis pregnancy more time to think about whether she really wants the abortion," says Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

"The unborn are human, so to us whether it happens late or early, still it's killing a human being."

One rare thing activists on both side of the issue agree on: The Canadian public doesn't think much about abortion any more.

Anti-abortion activists decry the lack of attention to their issues. "Why aren't we looking for a way to support these women and help them in their pregnancies?" asks Joanne Byfield, president of LifeCanada.

Pro-choice supporters, meanwhile, say they're struggling to lessen the stigma of abortion and bring access issues to light. "I have not figured out how to say this so people grasp what is happening and how unfair it is," Ms. Wright says.

For now, abortion wait time is an issue that's confined to the shadows.

Women who need abortions are reluctant to speak out publicly, and few people are willing to stand up for a silent, stigmatized constituency.

"They know women will never complain," Ms. Wright says. "Not about this."