In a letter to President Obama, the UUWF has joined a broad-based coalition of leading domestic and global organizations spanning women’s rights, health, human rights, reproductive justice, young people, the LGBTQ community, faith, and development calling for an end to the incorrect implementation of the Helms Amendment in order to save women’s lives and protect their well being.
The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds “to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning.” For more than 40 years, the law has been incorrectly implemented as a complete ban on all abortion-related services. The letter urges swift action to allow support for abortion care for women who have been raped, who are victims of incest, or who face a life-endangering pregnancy in countries where those services are legally available.
And then there’s the large matter of places where surgical abortions are not permitted, or virtually unavailable.
A recent cover of the New York Times Sunday magazine was a photo of white mailer with a New Delhi postmark with the stark words: Abortion by Mail. The inside story by Emily Bazelon described the reality of post-clinic abortions, pregnancy termination achieved not by a medical procedure but by the use of the drugs including mifepristone (used to be called RU-486) and misoprostol. These pills are given to women in the first trimester to induce a miscarriage.
Reproductive justice activists like Rebecca Gomperts, whose Women on the Web offers “telemedicine support” services for women around the world without legal, practical and/or financial access to surgical abortion, began their work internationally. They have targeted the almost 40 percent of the world’s population living in countries where this abortion method is either banned or severely restricted, as the Times article pointed out. In places like much of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Persian Gulf, a pharmaceutical abortion, while longer in duration and often painful, can be the only safe alternative. Especially when women have access to them through the mail and with the availability of a help desk.
Most of the thousands of emails that have come to Women on the Web have come from outside the United States. Forty to 60 a month now are from women in this country, double the number from two years ago. Gomperts’ group will not serve these women, believing that there are resources here to fight the onerous laws making it hard for doctors to dispense these medications and difficult for rural women and other women who live far distances from these physicians to have a medical abortion. Efforts to set up means of telemedicine consultation with supervising medical staff have proved safe and practical. They are also being shut down.
Legal abortion is not available abortion. Whether in India or Mississippi or Texas, barriers of geography and cost can render women unable to follow through on their reproductive decisions.
That’s where reproductive justice comes in.