Denial of abortion is “torture,” says United Nations report #Vaw #reproductiverights


Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

report recently presented to the United Nations (PDF link) says that a denial of abortion can be considered torture, in line with actual methods of female torture such as female genital mutilation.

ultrasoundThe report by Juan E. Méndez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is cited as a report “on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Méndez, a visiting professor at American University’s law school, makes some bold statements in Section B, entitled “Reproductive rights violations.” His assertions show just how far the quest for abortion has come in the world – to a point where the torture of a baby ripped from the womb and sucked away and thrown into a medical incinerator is considered a human right that spares someone else from torture.

Section 46 of his report notes:

International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.  Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings;   involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services  such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations; female genital mutilation[.]

To compare involuntary sterilization and female genital mutilation – permanent methods of actual torture – with the denial of a “right” to take another life is tragic. In fact, it doesn’t actually line up with the U.N.’s own statements.

The U.N.’s Committee against Torture defines torture in its Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and it actually reads more like a pro-life statement in its language:

Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Recognizing that those rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person …

The U.N. then goes on to define what torture is:

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Clearly the U.N.’s version of torture doesn’t seem to allow for the killing of a baby in utero, but Méndez does. Though many current exceptions to abortion laws note that “mental suffering” is justification for that exception and include it as a health reason to have an abortion, the comparison of who suffers more, a woman who carries a baby to term and gives the baby up for adoption or the one who lives forever with the reality of choosing to kill her baby, cannot adequately be evaluated by one man making a report to the United Nations.

While it would be wrong to assume that a woman carrying a child she is not prepared to raise would not be painful, it is also wrong to call it torture. Torture would be punishing her for the pregnancy or forcing her to raise a child she isn’t prepared to raise. However, the real torture is inflicted on the baby in her womb, who will be sucked out and discarded if that abortion happens.

Méndez goes on to note that:

For many rape survivors, access to a safe abortion procedure is made virtually impossible by a maze of administrative hurdles, and by official negligence and obstruction. In the landmark decision of K.N.L.H. v. Peru, the Human Rights Committee deemed the denial of a therapeutic abortion a violation of the individual’s right to be free from ill- treatment. In the case of P. and S. v. Poland, ECHR stated that “the general stigma attached to abortion and to sexual violence …, caus[ed] much distress and suffering, both physically and mentally.”

It’s unquestionable that a rape survivor who gets pregnant (notably, this is about 1% of all rape victims, so not a majority of those seeking abortions, though a valid minority) needs great care. The tragedy inflicted on her must be handled well, but the torture has come from the rapist, not from the denial of taking another life. Our torment should never allow us the right to kill another. A culture that seeks to nurture and care for victims of torture needs to put its focus on caring for the victim, giving resources, and providing many other solutions that will help heal the tragedy by giving a woman lasting comfort to the effect that she has helped to redeem a tragedy, not to create another.

Méndez is insistent that denial of abortion is torture, though, for all cases. He says in section 50:

The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. On numerous occasions United Nations bodies have expressed concern about the denial of or conditional access to post-abortion care. often for the impermissible purposes of punishment or to elicit confession.  The Human Rights Committee explicitly stated that breaches of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include forced abortion, as well as denial of access to safe abortions to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape and raised concerns about obstacles to abortion where it is legal.

Here forced abortions are presented as on par with denial of abortion. But the fact is, they are not. A forced abortion takes a life, and the denial of abortion saves one. A forced abortion can never be undone. A woman is subjected to the horror of having her body violated (possibly a second time, if she was a victim of rape), and knowing life has been taken from her. Denying someone a right to have a life taken is not torture; it’s a basic human right for the unborn life.

By all accounts, Méndez would consider the North Dakota legislature torturers for deciding that life begins at conception. He would consider Kansas and Arkansas as inflicting torture for passing laws that protect life. However, denying abortion isn’t torture, because the motive isn’t torment; the motive isn’t to make someone suffer, but to prevent the suffering of the baby destroyed and of the mother, who will have to live with it.

The extra tragedy in this culture of death is that we have walked forward into the past, where we justify death as a merciful thing, when truly it brings destruction. Méndez has stretched the definitions to a point that distorts them and, in the process, manages to reduce the true suffering of victims of such horrific crimes as female genital mutilation to the level of carrying a living baby to term. Protecting life can never be equated with killing it.

 

 

The Word on Women – Forced sterilization and the Millennium Development Goals


 

By Widney Brown

Two reports by the BCC this month raise the spectre that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals which include reducing maternal mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability may actually be undermining women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

The BBC has reported on the UK government’s Department for International Development is funding a program of forced sterilization of both men and women in India.

As happens all too often, poor tribal women seem to be particularly targeted for the forced sterilization.

And if being sterilized against your will is not bad enough, there are also reports of long term suffering because the procedures were botched.

The BBC also ran a shocking exposé on allegations of forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan. In the report, an unnamed government official made the link between reducing fertility rates and the MDGs.

Since the world’s population topped 7 billion people toward the end of 2011, the language of “population control” has increasing crept back into the discourse. Implicit in the concept is a focus on preventing poor people from having a lot of children, echoing the ideas promoted by Thomas Malthus, a British clergy and economist in the late 1700s.

There is no question that an increase in the number of people in the world has a negative impact on the environment and biodiversity. However, returning to the draconian measures of forced sterilization undermines fundamental principles of human rights and ignores what we have learned about how to lower fertility rates without resorting to force.

Amnesty International has long warned the international community of the dangers of defining quantitative development goals without a strong normative human rights framework.

Public health logic may hold that reducing fertility rates leads to slower population growth and lowers maternal mortality rates. But forced sterilization violates the principle that men and women have a right to make independent choices regarding the number and spacing of their children without discrimination, coercion and violence.

Study after study demonstrates that empowering women through ensuring access to education, promoting women’s economic independence, and providing women access to comprehensive contraceptive and other health services reduces fertility rates and leads to better public health results. Where women are able to decide independently when, how often, with whom, and with what frequency to have children, the consequence is more often than not only do maternal and infant mortality rates go down, so too do fertility rates.

To be clear, forced sterilization is in and of itself a violation of human rights. It is the type of violation that has long term consequences for individuals and society. Perhaps most immediate is its destruction of the bond of trust between patient and medical service provider. When that bond is broken, women are less apt to see critical pre and post-natal care when they are pregnant.

There is speculation that the report by the BBC on Uzbekistan may mask another issue: women seeking sterilization but not informing their families because they will be ostracized for not wanting to have more children. But this alternative narrative underscores the importance of promoting women’s rights and gender equality to ensure that women and their partners can freely exercise their reproductive rights. Women who feel their only control over their fertility is to be secretly sterilized are clearly not able to make their own decisions.

Regardless of which explanation is correct in Uzbekistan, it highlights the integral connection between promoting women’s rights and gender equality and reduced fertility rates. Like Uzbekistan, India has a long way to go toward demonstrating its commitment to women’s rights and gender equality.

Rejecting forced sterilization policies does not leave governments’ with no alternatives. They can ensure that young people have access to comprehensive sex education and contraceptive services. They can discourage early marriage and promote education at the secondary and tertiary level paying particular attention to why women and girls often drop out of school.

Anti-natalist policies adopted by governments should not be discriminatory or undermine people’s fundamental rights.

The international community needs to pay heed to stories like these on India and Uzbekistan which so clearly illustrate how agreeing the Millennium Development Goals without ensuring a human rights framework for the goals, contribute to undermining women’s rights.

People living in poverty can be empowered through direct engagement in identifying the problems, defining and implementing solutions, and in evaluating the effectiveness of those solutions, thus promoting the sustainability of progress.

When the international community convenes in the next couple of years to decide a post 2015 development strategy, it is important that it take on board the dangers of promoting quantitative goals while ignoring the importance of human rights in empowering people living in poverty.

Without a human rights framework, people become the objects of government policies and practices, rather than empowered, unique, and autonomous rights holders. Development practices designed with normative human rights standards in mind enable people living in poverty to be the subjects actively working their way out of poverty.

Read Article here

BBC Provides Horrific Testimonies on Forced Sterilization in Uzbekistan


April 12, 2012 –

The BBC has a horrifying new report on the forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan.

Stories have been leaking out for years about doctors secretly performing hysterectomies on women who have given birth in hospitals. The surgeries are described as “voluntary,” but EurasiaNet.org has reported how increasing numbers of women are choosing to give birth at home, fearing doctors will tie up their fallopian tubes or cut out their uteri without their consent.

The UN Committee Against Torture and the US State Department have both expressed concern. Nevertheless, it appears Tashkent is issuing doctors quotas for the procedures.

“Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilized,” a gynecologist from Tashkent told the BBC’s Natalia Antelava.

Several doctors I spoke to say that in the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in Caesarean sections, which provide surgeons with an easy opportunity to sterilize the mother. These doctors dispute official statements that only 6.8% of women give birth through C-sections.

“Rules on Caesareans used to be very strict, but now I believe 80% of women give birth through C-sections. This makes it very easy to perform a sterilization and tie the fallopian tubes,” says a chief surgeon at a hospital near the capital, Tashkent.

One local expert estimated tens of thousands of forced sterilizations have happened in the past few years across Central Asia’s most populous nation, a vast country of, officially, 28 million.

Adolat comes from Uzbekistan, where life centers around children and a big family is the definition of personal success. Adolat thinks of herself as a failure.

“What am I after what happened to me?” she says as her hand strokes her daughter’s hair – the girl whose birth changed Adolat’s life.

“I always dreamed of having four – two daughters and two sons – but after my second daughter I couldn’t get pregnant,” she says.

She went to see a doctor and found out that she had been sterilized after giving birth to her daughter by Caesarean section.

“I was shocked. I cried and asked: ‘But why? How could they do this?’ The doctor said, ‘That’s the law in Uzbekistan.'”

One mother of three describes regular visits from a nurse warning her to get a free hysterectomy before the state starts charging. “Another mother says she experienced months of mysterious pain and heavy bleeding following the birth of her son. Then she had an ultrasound check and discovered that her uterus had been removed,” the report said.

Why? Some observers believe Tashkent is obsessed with statistics. Unhappy that maternal mortality rates place the country between Palestine and Botswana (Central Asians dread being compared to Africans), officials seem to see sterilizations as a way to improve their rankings.

“It’s a simple formula – less women give birth, less of them die,” said one surgeon.

The result is that this helps the country to improve its ranking in international league tables for maternal and infant mortality.

“Uzbekistan seems to be obsessed with numbers and international rankings,” says Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“I think it’s typical of dictatorships that need to construct a narrative built on something other than the truth.”

The government denies women are being sterilized by force and says Uzbekistan should be considered a role model for maternal health.

Listen to BBC Radio Program

 

Where Is the Anti-Choice Outcry Over North Carolina’s Forced Sterilization of Women of Color?



January 27, 2012 |

A task force in North Carolina recently ruled that survivors of that state’s eugenics program should be paid $50,000 each in financial compensation. Eugenics is often defined as the science of “improving” a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of “desirable” heritable characteristics. The practice of eugenics was not limited to Nazi Germany nor is it a well kept secret that’s been waiting to be discovered by organizations opposed to reproductive justice.

In America, state governments set up eugenics boards that determined the reproductive future of thousands. I grew up listening to my maternal Grandmother, a Mississippi native, warn against trusting doctors and passing along lessons she learned from other poor women of color who went into a hospital to give birth only to later find out that they were given a Mississippi Appendectomy without their consent. The horrific legacy of these state eugenics boards is one of the reasons why I embrace the reproductive justice framework advocating for the right to have children, not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments.

From the early 1900s up until the 1970’s, over 30 states had formal eugenics programs. These programs enforced compulsory sterilization of individuals deemed to be “unfit” and “promiscuous.” States sterilized people that were disabled, poor, people of color, and immigrants. North Carolina had a particularly aggressive program that was alone in allowing social workers to select people for sterilization based on IQ tests. To date, only seven states have formally apologized for eugenics programs and no state has paid money to survivors. Although a task force appointed by the Governor in North Carolina ruled in favor of payment to survivors, their recommendations are now in the hands of state legislators.

Too often eugenics is looked on as a shameful part of German history and many Americans are unaware of the history of eugenics in this country. I’m reminded of the warning that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. No, I’m not about to repeat black genocide claims that modern health care centers use contraception as a weapon or the ‘easily debunked if folks just used Google Maps’conspiracy theory about abortion clinics being located in predominately black neighborhoods. I’m referring to the history of government taking control over people’s reproductive future and how that component of the history of eugenics and is very present today. While those opposed to reproductive justice appropriate the language of Civil Rights to perpetuate bizarre anti-knowledge theories about dangerous black women and how we are the greatest threat to the newly identified species of “black child,” states that actually ran eugenics programs and sterilized thousands of people get little to no attention and all too often as not held accountable for those actions.

As for the doomed to repeat it part, many of those same states continue to seek dominion over women through everything from state mandated vaginal penetration of women seeking abortion services to a record number of restrictions hindering access to reproductive health care. States are gaining more control over people’s reproductive health care decisions and some organizations have even tried to get states to seize total control.

On the most basic level, the history of state eugenics boards is about the survivors. Their stories tell the tale of the damage wrought when government policy is used as a weapon to control the masses. Clearly that’s not a tale anti-choice folks opposed to reproductive justice are interested in making a flashy YouTube video about, because the sound of their silence on the news out of North Carolina has been deafening. With the exception of a few articles that chose to launch into another rant about Planned Parenthood rather than demand support for North Carolina’s survivors and a call for justice for victims of the other 30+ state eugenics programs, those who are usually eager to toss the accusation of eugenics out appear to be uninspired by cases of actual eugenics in America.

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