Wake Up And Smell the Funeral Pyre: “Pro-Life” Policies Are Costing Us Lives

Abortion.  I know.  It’s one of the most contentious issues of our time, played out across the political arena in the United States over several decades, and most recently appearing in the form of the battle over Planned Parenthood’s funding.  But this is much bigger than whether or not clinics in Kansas can meet arbitrary standards for state approval.  For any of my readers who are Harry Potter fans, do you remember when, in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore tells Harry that, being rather cleverer than most men, his mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger?  Well, being rather more influential than most countries, the United States’ mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger as well. And while the politicians in Washington DC rave about so-called American family values, people in the developing world are dying because of American policies regarding aid funding and family planning programs.

This post may come across as a little sensationalist at first, but before anyone says anything about my rhetoric, take a look at the conservative agenda the international family planning movement is up against, and take a look at the facts that I’m going to discuss.  Because rhetoric aside, America is gambling with the lives of women around the world, and the so-called “pro-life” movement is a big part of it.

Americans like to think that we stand for democracy–decisions being made by the people we elected to choose them.  But I promise you that women in Kenya and Egypt and China had nothing to do with the election of conservative leaders in America…and they are the casualties of the battle over abortion.  Let me break this down for you in terms of some facts and figures:

Fact: Five million women are hospitalized each year due to abortion-related complications, usually from illegal, unsafe abortions.  

Fact: Unsafe abortion procedures are responsible for 67000 maternal deaths per year, or 13% of all maternal deaths.  Over half of these deaths occur in Africa (approximately 36000 per year)

Fact: About 220000 children worldwide lose their mothers to unsafe (illegal) abortions each year.

Map of Women Having Unsafe Abortions, 1996

Does that sound pr0-family or pro-life to you?  Didn’t think so.  Those are 67000 women a year who may not have had to die if abortion were legal and they had access to it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: the United States does not actually dictate whether or not abortion is legal in other countries.  People in those countries have their own elected officials.  Fine, that’s perfectly true.  But don’t think that the United States, which has never managed to keep its nose out of anything, has stayed away from that issue: the anti-abortion movement, which reached its peak in America during the presidency of George W. Bush, absolutely reached out to other countries to gain support for their cause.  In 2004, when Uruguay moved to make abortion legal in the first trimester of pregnancy, six Republican representatives in Congress faxed a letter to every member of that country’s parliament urging them to defeat the bill, which went on to lose by four votes.  Maybe it would have lost anyway, maybe not.  When you are one of the world’s biggest providers of international aid, you do tend to have a lot of influence on developing countries–especially when we have a pattern of making compliance with our own domestic beliefs a condition of our financial support.

The irony of all of this is painful.  The United States remains one of the world’s largest financial supporters of family planning, as long as it is on our terms.  But back in the day, we were THE family planning advocates, and that includes back in the days when family planning often did mean “abortion”.  Back in the 1970’s, the United States was actually instrumental in making abortion safer in the developing world–USAID (the US Agency for International Development) created a new population programs branch under the leadership of Reimert Ravenholt who, through the General Services Administration, ordered 1000 “menstrual regulation kits”, as designed by Harvey Karman.  These kits included tools used to induce uterine bleeding, so that women could be cleaned up at legitimate hospitals, thereby enabling the abortion of the unwanted fetus.  The program was so successful that Ravenholt ordered and distributed 10000 more of these kits, which have been used worldwide to perform hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of illegal abortions.

I know it sounds bad.  But which is worse: an obstetrician with a needle or a guy with a coat hanger?  Think about it.

The United States was also the primary champion of the United Nations Population Fund in its early days, an organization that promotes, funds and coordinates population programs around the world, including contraceptive distribution, STD testing, and in countries where it is legal, the operation of abortion clinics.  But under the Bush Administration decided to de-fund the UNFPA (despite the fact that Colin Powell was an outspoken advocate of the organization) based on accusations of the organizations complicity in coerced abortion/sterilization in China—despite the fact that the State Department found these accusations to be false.  In fact, UNFPA was working to steer China in the direction of voluntary family planning, and de-funding the organization was antithetical to the efforts to end their coercive policies.

Pro-choices doesn’t necessarily mean “pro-abortion”: it just means that the government should not have a right to tell women what they may or may not do with their bodies…and I ESPECIALLY do not think that the AMERICAN government has a right to tell women in Africa or Latin America what they may or may not do with their bodies.  Sacrificing mothers in the name of motherhood is not a solution…and pro-life advocates who fail to recognize this are just hiding from the unpleasant truth that too often, keeping abortion illegal doesn’t mean saving a life: it means losing two.


The World Health Organization, http://www.afro.who.int/en/clusters-a-programmes/frh/sexual-and-reproductive-health/programme-components/prevention-of-unsafe-abortion.html

Goldberg, Michelle.  2009.  The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World.  The Penguin Group (New York, NY).


~ by Randi Saunders on August 1, 2011.

28 Responses to “Wake Up And Smell the Funeral Pyre: “Pro-Life” Policies Are Costing Us Lives”

  1. Wait! I thought abortions were made to be safe and rare?

    • Abortions ARE made to be safe–as long as they’re legal! Where abortions are ILLEGAL, obstetricians are often placed in a lot of danger if they help perform abortions, which means the procedures are done by unqualified abortionists.

      In some places, abortion is restricted to instances of rape, incest, and health reasons (like therapeutic abortion, which is used to save the mother’s life), and in those cases, it IS meant to be rare. But in other locations, they are a much more commonly used tool of family planning, because of high rates of unintended pregnancies.

      Legal or not, abortion is hardly rare; tens of thousands of illegal abortions occur each year in countries where abortion has been outlawed. But the only way for it to be SAFE is if it is legal and can be performed in sterile environments by qualified health professionals.

  2. They’re legal in the US, and yet they’re not safe…

    Abortion should not be used as a means for botched birth control. But even where it is legal, it’s not safe. Planned Parenthood is caught often with having to rush patients to the hospital because of abortions gone wrong. Considering that there are no standards of sterility in Planned Parenthood clinics, I can see why.

    You’re right about hardly rare. We’ve killed fifty million helpless citizens in the US alone in 30 years. But legalizing abortion here was supposed to make them safe and rare, neither of which is true. All that legalization of abortion has done is to increase the number of STDs and to give girls the idea that life has no meaning.

    • First of all, they’re a heck of a lot safer than they would be if they were left solely to illegal, unqualified abortionists. And as we move towards making them even safer by forcing clinics to meet higher standards, we are making progress in that area. You say Planned Parenthood has to rush patients to hospitals, but maybe there are two things to consider here: 1) there is the potential for complications with ANY surgical procedure, including abortion, and 2) PP may be rushing patients to hospitals, but they may not be getting ahold of these patients until after dangerous abortion procedures are attempted outside of PP.

      And this post was not so much about the costs of abortion in the United States as it is about the costs of losing it abroad. Too many women in the developing world die from problems from attempted abortions, so much so that even pro-life health officials in some of these countries have come out in favor of legalized abortion to prevent a public health crisis.

      Lastly, your comment about abortion causing an increase in STDs is based on a false assumption of causation; if anything there may be a correlation caused by a third variable, namely increased sexual activity among 15-30 year-olds , as a result of liberalized ideas about premarital sex and changing dialogues about relationships and how sex fits into them. If anything, getting rid of abortion is not a solution, but rather, introducing comprehensive sex ed would be much more valuable.

      • Got any proof that they’re safer? Safer than what? “Safe” is a relative term. Cigarettes are safer now than they were 50 years ago.
        And what, exactly, is PP doing with all that government money if not being made to provide safe and sanitary conditions? The fact is, most things are only safer if used as directed. And most things aren’t used as directed, so they are no safer by being more regulated.

        The birth control mentality, where birth control only fails 5 % of the time, yet take that stat and extrapolate it out, and someone who uses birth control for 5 years has a 50% chance of pregnancy, then women seek abortions, this whole mentality of sex whenever and however you want is where the STDs come from. The only real viable solution would be to educate young people that sex outside of marriage is wrong.

  3. First, in response to your allegation that abortion is not getting safer (seriously? a doctor with a scalpel is definitely safer than a guy with a coat hanger…) you should really check out this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/us/11abortion.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=abortion&st=cse%20detailing and the report it references, since it talks about how safe abortion IS becoming more available.

    Second, that’s not how probability works. Each cycle has a 5% chance of failure. That means at any given time, a woman has a 5% chance of failure. That doesn’t somehow magically add up to 50% over time. It’s still 5%.

    Sex outside of marriage is a personal choice, not one that should be forced on people. If you choose to practice celibacy outside of marriage, then that’s excellent. But it has been well proven that programs like “just say no” don’t work, and that in fact teens who are part of such programs are at an even HIGHER risk for pregnancy/STDs because when they finally DO say yes they are ill-prepared to deal with their actions.

    • First off, the coat hanger analogy is bogus. I know, it was in a novel and a movie, but the woman did that to herself. No man used a coathanger to perform an abortion. Secondly, certainly, a scalpel is safer, but so is a paring knife. Thirdly, you should really make this statement-“When all standards and practices are followed, abortion is safer now than before it was legalized.” That doesn’t mean that a lot, and I mean an awful lot, of abortions turn into major medical events, from medical complications to major loss of blood to death.

      If that’s not how probability works, how come we have so many abortions due to failure of birth control?

      Regarding sex outside of marriage, it is always, ultimately your own choice. But EVERYWHERE marriage in the marital bed is proposed and tried, HIV and AIDS are far less prevalent, as are unwanted pregnancies and other STDs. And everywhere that condoms are thrown at the people, you find that HIV, AIDS, other STDs, and unwanted pregnancies are elevated. If you want to have 100% chance of not conceiving a child, DON’t HAVE SEX! Every other way you use, whether it’s NFP, hormone, barrier, or whatever, you’re playing Russian Roulette with another life.

      As for making choices, how come you don’t hear of abortion, HIV, STDs etc. in the Arab world?

      • You are quite spectacularly incorrect about this subject, sir. I understand that’s probably not your fault, but it would be nice if you could do a little research to back up your claims. Perhaps a link to an article about a death resulting from a legal abortion performed in a hospital, or statistics comparing death from abortion operations to death from others such as removing an appendix or cancer.

        I would ask for a link to something regarding the rest of your arguments, but you won’t find anything useful there. Abortions do not often result from birth control failure. Of course it happens on the rare occasion, but overall birth control works just fine as long as it’s used correctly. As far as STDs and abortions being less common where people wait until marriage, that’s blatantly untrue. The most abortions in America are performed in the Bible belt, because teenagers who haven’t been taught about birth control are terrified of being ostracized by their very religious communities if they get pregnant. So when they do get pregnant, they panic and get an abortion so no one else will know about it. I don’t have any information about STDs at the moment, but condoms do prevent the spread of diseases. The problem is simply that people don’t always use them.

        Finally, the reason you don’t hear about STDs and abortions in the Arab world is because women who have sex outside of marriage are murdered there. There isn’t a lot of opportunity for someone to spread a disease or get an abortion if she’s been murdered.

      • http://realchoice.0catch.com/library/deaths/legaldeaths.htm

        “Sir”, may I ask you, if abortion doesn’t primarily result from failed birth control, why we’ve had 50,000,000 of them in this country in 20 years? • Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.

        • Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.

        The reason you don’t hear about STDs and abortions in the Arab world is that women know what sex is for-to have it with their husband for procreation and unity-not for pleasure alone.

  4. Abstinence-only education, “just say no” tactics, or laying guilt on people that sex before marriage is “wrong” or a “sin”: three things that are incredibly ignorant. Sure, it would be ideal if everybody in this country could find one partner to “have and to hold” for a lifetime (certainly STD rates would be lower), but things (realistically) don’t always work that way. Regardless of whether or not you want to admit it, people – kids, teens, adults, and everybody in between – are going to have sex. We’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t teach them every method to protect themselves.

    With regards to what should be taught in schools, I believe that we need to present kids with a rainbow of options (abstinence, contraception, etc.) and let them make choices that are right for their own, individual lives. Forcing one type of education on kids (i.e. abstinence-only) undermines their intelligence.

    David, I’m sorry, but you seem to have a lot of apathy towards sexually-active people, as if men and women who have multiple partners are promiscuous heathens who go to every length to be unsafe. Contraception isn’t 100% effective, so even people who strive to be safe may face an STD in their lifetime. But that doesn’t make them any less of a person, does it? A heathen, a sinner, a whore?

    Life is really short, so instead of criticizing people, questioning their choices, and judging them for those choices we should help and empower them as best as we can.

    • It’s more than ‘just say no’. And it’s not about laying guilt. In Uganda, it is taught that abstinence is the best way to keep from getting AIDS. Sex only with your spouse. Barrier method birth control is taught, but discouraged. Do you understand how difficult it is to use a condom properly, especially if you don’t put it on as soon as possible? In Uganda, this isn’t laid down as law, but a a proposal to the people. And abortion and AIDS are historically low compared to South Africa, where condom use is promoted and free condoms are distributed. Abortion and AIDS there are rampant.
      I didn’t say coat hanger abortions aren’t real, I said that abortion providers, even in the illegal days, didn’t use them. And if you think that legalization provides sterile environments, why is it that abortion clinics don’t have the same rigors as veternarian hospitals or tattoo parlors?

      “Trash was everywhere and roaches crawling across the countertops, with a smell of stench in the room. My partner observed the procedure room was filthy, he told me he saw dried blood on the floor and the room looked nasty to him. In a statement to me, one witness related how Rajanna was a filthy man who did not properly sterilize his equipment.” In a notarized affidavit, the detective said

      “There was an unfamiliar type stench in the room. Frankly, I was reluctant to sit down… Bear in mind, I am an experienced police officer who has worked in every aspect in law enforcement and had spent my last five years in the homicide unit where I worked countless community deaths. I thought I had heard and seen every vile, disgusting crime scene but was in for a new shock when I started this investigation.”

      Detective William Howard Jr. Kansas City. Kansas Police Department Eyewitness Testimony of Officer, House Committee on Health and Humices , March 15,2005

      Regarding what people do in their private lives, I don’t care. I treat people with dignity, above all. Their actions are another matter. I promote safety and good living. You get vaccinated against various things, you take out insurance to protect you, well, knowing how to protect yourself is important, too. And knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that sex is meant for marriage alone is one sure way to protect yourself. I don’t call or consider people whores, that’s a profession. Sinners? Yes, just like me. What I think is that people are too hung up on feeling good for no good reason. Pleasure on this earth is very fleeting, very temporary. People today use sex like a drug. In fact, they use most material things like a drug, and they find they’re never really happy, always searching for the next big thing. I don’t care that abortion is legal, but I care that the government leads people into a false sense of security. Just look at what the government has done to our economy…

  5. Mike has a point, I would be interested to see your sources for a lot of the claims you make here, David.

    Let’s get to the bottom of this “coat hanger abortion” issue: even if you don’t buy that coat hanger abortions are not real things, do you really think underground abortions are performed in sterile environments, with anesthesia and antibiotics if necessary, by medical professionals? I think we can agree here that this is not the case. Keeping abortion legal is the ONLY way to make sure that people have access to safe abortion. If you are going to argue that even legal abortions cause problems, you have to recognize that underground abortions cause even more.

    I’m just going to skip ahead to your comment about the Arab world. On the one hand, Mike has a point in that there are severe repercussions for women who have sex outside of marriage in many Arab states. But this is equally true for places like India, where it is sometimes considered more acceptable to kill a girl than allow the shame of her adultery, and in India there is much more open dialogue about HIV/AIDS. But in regards to the Arab states…look up how many of them signed the agreements at the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994, which advocated access to abortion and family planning services. Even countries like Iran got on board with it. Abortion DOES exist in places like the Middle East, even if we’re not necessarily hearing about it here.

  6. You know what I love? Coming home from 8 and a half hours at work to find these insanely long comments.

    So let me just first put forward that a) I addressed the comment about the Arab world already. Are you telling me that rape doesn’t happen in the Arab world? Of course it does (although sometimes the women are punished for adultery after they are raped). I think that for the time being we may need to leave the Arab world out of this (although, please see previous comment about the UN conference at Cairo). And b) the idea that there may be problems with standards at abortion clinics is NOT an argument against abortion being legal, it is an argument for stricter standards and tougher enforcement.

    You yourself, in the statistics you present, acknowledge that the majority of women who got pregnant from birth control failure were not using their chosen form of birth control consistently or correctly. Obviously, if birth control is not used correctly, it runs a much higher chance of failing; this is once again not an argument against either birth control or abortion. Rather, it is an argument against abstinence-only education, since teaching people how to correctly use birth control is the only way to successfully address this problem.

    So that leaves us with Uganda. Uganda never preached abstinence only, it preached limited sexual partners, a practice called “limited grazing”. Since 1995, the number of casual partners in Uganda had been rising, but so had condom use, which helped to keep the HIV infection rate in check. With the gag rule re-instituted shortly after the turn of the century, that is no longer the case, and Uganda ended up abandoning their home-grown, fairly successful approach to fighting HIV/AIDS.
    Beatrice Were, the founder of Uganda’s National Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS gave an amazing speech in which she stated, “The abstinence-only business, women must say no!” She was referring to the global gag rule and the way it impacted the way Ugandans discussed HIV/AIDS and condom use. As Were explained, “We [women] are supposed to stay abstinent in youth and then faithful in marriage to husbands who rape us, who are not faithful to us”.
    South Africa, on the other hand, has a major problem wherein a girl has a 50% chance of being raped during adolescence and the HIV/AIDS rate skyrocketed because the government refused to acknowledge the crisis until it was too late.

    Abortion, and the women it affects, exists within a societal context, and the context of Uganda and South Africa are so greatly varied that to only compare these particular aspects of society is to ignore the fact that the society as a whole is very different.

    • Ok, I’ll keep it short. Rape happens everywhere. Birth control is only effective statistically if it’s used consistently and correctly, which is seldom. This proves that abortions are just another form of birth control, just like I’ve been saying. It’s not about rape victims or medically challenging pregnancies, although those certainly happen. IF it was just about those, I’m sure most anti-abortion people would quite down.

      What Uganda promoted was Abstinence first, Being faithful to your spouse second, Condoms last. What South Africa promote is Condom use first. There’s the difference.

      The truth is, there’s only one way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and death from AIDS. This is what the Catholic Church proposes. She tells you the best way to live, if you want to live. Listen, and you stand a better chance of living. Don’t listen, and your chances of dying go way up. Which is a much more truthful message than handing out condoms and lying to people about their effectiveness.

      • Guys? Don’t feed the troll. And now that I’ve said that I will proceed to give it a five-course meal.

        Your first paragraph is entirely an argument for sex education. What you are missing here is that people fuck. Always have, always will, irrespective of the edicts of a set of old white men speaking a dead language in Italy. If people are gonna fuck, they ought to at least do it safely, hence better sex education. Obviously abstinence is the only 100% effective measure, but abstinence has a failure rate many times worse than the abhorrent statistics you cited against condoms. Given that, condoms are superior as they allow for safe sex- the alternative to which is not no sex, it is unsafe sex.

        Your argument about South Africa is a red herring. South Africa has horrifying statistics because under Thabo Mbeki, the government believed HIV was a Western plot to oppress them and promoted indiginous medicine rather than scientific ones. Please refrain from the soft lies of bad statistics.

        Please take your magical Jewish zombie tripe elsewhere, like perhaps the third century, where it belongs. The grownups are discussing math and social policy and I know it hurts your fee-fees when a simple Google search proves your church is a backwards institution promoting a policy with a body count, so leave your silly beliefs out of this. We’re in the realm of facts here.

  7. In the interest of letting everyone make their points, I have until now approved and let stand all of the comments made on this posting, and on this blog in general.

    I love the idea of letting people say what they want and express themselves as they see fit, especially on issues they are passionate about. I do think it is extremely important to allow all sides of a debate to make their point, which is why I allow comments that contradict and challenge my own points of view to be posted.

    However, in the interest of making sure that this blog remains a safe and pleasant forum for discussion and debate, and to make sure that it remains a place where people can explore feminism without being attacked (since feminism is frequently attacked, especially over the internet), I will now be more actively moderating all comments and discussions that occur on this blog.

    So that said, the following are not going to be permitted to be posted on this blog from here on in: harsh offensive ad hominem attacks, direct attacks on feminism or feminists, comments meant to provoke other readers into drawn-out angry comment wars, and hate speech*.

    I don’t really like the idea of having to moderate like this but I think it is important to keep The Radical Idea a forum for civil discussion of the issues, rather than a battlefield for people on opposing sides of current debates.

    *Anyone deemed to be including hate speech in their comments is going to be barred from commenting on The Radical Idea

  8. Oh, it’s ok to use profanity, but it’s not ok to speak truth. You really have no idea what feminism is.

    • Actually, I would agree with this, as a word is just a word (with some exceptions in the case of oppressive language, but that’s neither here nor there.) The word “fuck” does not have a body count. The Church does.

      Given that I think it’s fairly obvious which of those two is more offensive.

  9. I don’t have a problem with you speaking the truth, or what you see to be the truth. I didn’t delete anything that came before did I? If you are referring to my removing your last comment, I did that because it violated my previously stated rule about harsh ad hominem attacks.

    Don’t presume to tell me that I do or do not know what feminism is. If feminism is anything, it is a movement about the right of women, of people in general, to not have people shoving their agendas, religious beliefs, and their ideas about what activities are “appropriate” for a given sector of society rammed down their throats.

    • I didn’t attack anybody. As for feminism, I guess it depends on what variety of feminism you want to support. The feminism I support treats the whole woman, not just her genitals and reproductive tracts. The feminism you support seems to be only focussed on sex and reproductive license.

      • No, I didn’t but you’re the referree. You may support other feminist things, but it all boils down to reproductive rights. It’s the same thing with the gay agenda. You can have sex all you want, I don’t really care. But pay for your own abortions. They’re legal, shut up about it. Nobody’s going to change that in the public sphere. But we will keep trying to change hearts, one at a time.

  10. = ad hominem attack against the Catholic Church.

    If you have some sort of proof of what you’re saying, drop me a line. The Catholic Church never killed anyone. Yes, I said never.

  11. The only way you could possibly say that the feminism I support only seems to care about women’s uteri is if the only posts you’ve read by me are this and the ones about Planned Parenthood, because the feminism I support does treat women as whole persons, worthy of making their own choices and pursuing their own goals, without antiquated notions of gender and what a “woman’s role” is getting in the way. Reproductive license IS a part of that feminism, because being able to decide when you have kids has a major impact on being able to control the rest of your life, but it isn’t the whole picture, it just happens to be the part that this blog post is about. But I have never accepted people telling me I can’t do something because I’m a girl, or that I SHOULD do something for that reason; I think that women have a lot to contribute to this society besides making sandwiches and babies, and that’s the kind of feminism that you’re going to find on this site.

    And if you look at the original text of the post I moderated out, you did in fact attack Scott.

  12. […] maternal mortality.  You can read more about this specific issue in a previous post of mine, Wake Up and Smell the Funeral Pyres.  On top of that, however, opposing abortion even when it could save a mother’s life or […]

  13. […] Wake Up and Smell the Funeral Pyre: “Pro-Life” Policies Are Costing Us Lives […]

  14. […] think we all know why they’re upset.  Heck, some of them have said it on this blog: they think that sex without the intent to have a child is immoral, and it is enabled by birth […]

  15. […] havewritten a decent amount about pro-choice, why I am pro-choice, and my feelings regarding our discussion of women’s health, but this […]

  16. You’ve got to be kidding me-it’s so trprsaanently clear now!

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