13/11/2016 § Leave a comment
It has taken several days of listening to and reading a lot of useless verbiage about Trump, but I finally found a blog by Adam Shatz that expresses what I think has actually happened, and says some of what needs to be said about it. All the hand-wringing seems so self-dramatising. I don’t understand why some of my non-American friends have felt compelled to write or phone to express their sympathies to me personally. As if nothing like this has ever happened in the United States before. As if I’m an innocent to whom ill has been done. The fact is, I’m not at all surprised, and I don’t understand why anyone else is surprised either.
Trump happened because Barack Obama happened. Obama happened because Bush II happened and before that, Bush II happened because of Bill Clinton. Back and forth, Republican-Democrat, conservative-liberal. Like a tennis match, they knock each other out every 4 or 8 years, game-set-match. This time, the right-wing won, it was their turn.
Watching the TV footage and videos of the ethnic diversity among the students and young people protesting the result in the streets these last few evenings, it seemed to me that the USA the Trump supporters want back is long gone, changed beyond all recognition. But then again, it isn’t. Remember apartheid South Africa, where many white people had “no idea” how the black population lived? Even this year the London Review of Books published a letter from a German woman still claiming they “didn’t know” about the death camps or the slave labour before the War.
All sorts of people make up the US polity; at some level, they coexist in the same space. But with every election, and in between when few people are politically active, the gulf between the different groups who make up the polity has been growing greater. This election has shown that breakdown is coming.
Trump led his supporters to believe he could turn the clock back. He’s a salesman, he sold them a bill of goods, and he did it using the techniques of an entertainer, a clown. The same way Nigel Farage sold Brexit, with a pint in his hand and an endless grin on his face, playing the louch joker. If they can’t use their good looks, like John Kennedy did, like Barack Obama did, then they need to use something else. Because winning in politics has needed a skilled media performance for decades. Everyone loves a clown, remember? Everyone was laughing at Trump until the end, remember? Ha ha ha.
But some of us said: if Brexit could happen, then Trump could happen. And I would add, the failure of the referendum in Colombia, to approve the peace deal there, was yet another example that fits this picture. All three events were based on a vote by “the people”, supposedly the bulwark of democracy. But all three were cases of the utter failure of democracy, two in referendums, one in yet another US national election in which the popular vote did not determine the winner.
With Brexit, people were told bald-faced lies, with impunity, by those who wanted to leave Europe. And on the remain side, no one came close to explaining the value of being part of Europe for the UK or the backwardness and damage of rejecting all the rights and advantages that being in Europe has given us, not to mention the high price of returning to political isolation — in a way that people from all walks of life could understand and relate to.
The terms of the peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC were extraordinary, based on a years-long negotiation that drew on experience from Northern Ireland, South Africa and many other efforts at conflict resolution. The fairness and inclusiveness of its terms make it the most amazing peace-making document of this century, worthy of Nelson Mandela. And yet a referendum voted it down.
Of course, this century, this year even, have seen many other disasters – and often I fear we are becoming immune.
But let’s get back to the seeming shock of being trumped. The United States is experiencing a new kind of civil war. From the perspective of working for abortion rights, for example, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. There’s an ideological war going on, it’s been in full swing for years. The ideology of hate took over Republican Party politics years ago. Remember the Tea Party? Watching the right-wing in Congress trying to stop the federal government from supporting the poor by paying for health care and contraception– as if it was some sort of nefarious plot – beggared belief. Yet people sit in front of their televisions watching these things happening on a daily basis.
The appalling abuse of legislative time – passing unconstitutional laws at state level and then wasting judicial time having to challenge them. The blatant racism and misogyny. The steady stream of killings of young black men. The police allowed to get away with it. The jails overflowing. Carrying guns as common as carrying a sandwich, the daily murders, it’s a country long out of control. A traditionally adversarial political process that began to smoulder years ago and has now reached burning point.
Someone needs to call for a peace process, an impossible thought, but still. A return of civic education to schools. The rebuilding of an independent media whose remit is to inform, not stir up – to tell the truth, not sell inflammatory lies, stop pushing mindless entertainment and utter bullshit down people’s throats. A different kind of people getting involved in politics. Getting people talking about what to do. Both political parties need to be re-occupied by people who want to take care of the country and of all of the people, people who are willing to agree to disagree and reach consensus so as to make things better, instead of spending all their time destroying and stopping anything good from ever happening.
My adopted country also needs to look in the mirror. We are currently hurtling down the same road the USA has long been travelling. Adversarial politics not only between but within our parties. Backbiting. Unchallenged lies to the public. A failure of political accountability. A government that has turned its back on both inexcusable levels of poverty nationally and the consequences of the international crises we have caused and contributed to elsewhere. Growing right-wing penetration into public life, encouraged by the media – not just the right-wing media but also by the likes of David Dimbleby on mainstream TV. A right-wing Tory party that panders to moneyed power and demeans everyone who is vulnerable, and a relentless gutter press, who only the other day, openly and without shame, spat on the rule of law. This is the beginnings of fascism.
When the Klu Klux Klan can announce it will hold a public celebration of Trump’s victory, something they have not dared to do in my lifetime, no one can ignore how bad things are. He’s been elected, the Tory politicians are saying on the talk shows, it’s the USA, we have to work with him. They said that about Hitler too, in their day, and they are also saying it about Assad and every other corrupt dictator from whom they think they can squeeze some economic or geopolitical advantage.
Failures of democratic process are going on all around us, and we need to engage in finding a way to expose them for what they are and address them. My friends in the USA cannot just go out canvassing two weeks before an election and expect to be heard, let alone influence the country’s direction and its collective thinking. An ongoing, inclusive political process and leadership are sorely needed, and all of us are responsible.
29/08/2016 § Leave a comment
This article, in press, is about the difference between estimates of maternal deaths from unsafe abortion from the World Health Organization and those from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), USA, both published in 2014 in two different Lancet journals. The article, co-authored by Iqbal Shah, Carla AbouZahr and me, is in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics (IJGO). The article begins:
“The publication of two papers with widely differing estimates of abortion-related deaths has caused concern and confusion among individuals who work on mortality and morbidity related to unsafe abortion. Both papers claim to offer correct estimates based on robust and rigorous methodologies. We wish to highlight this issue and discuss how the differences might be overcome.”
If you subscribe to the IJGO you can find it here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2016.05.012
It has taken submissions to three journals, Lancet, WHO Bulletin and IJGO, over a period of 11 months, the first two unsuccessful, to have this published.
The likelihood that the IHME and WHO staff responsible for their respective estimates on deaths from unsafe abortion will sit down together to resolve their differences is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, we are all left not knowing whose figures to use. I took a personal decision, based on the arguments made in our article, to go with the IHME figures, as there is no other way of resolving this. I am using IHME’s estimate that 43,684 (14.9%) maternal deaths in 2013 can be attributed to unsafe abortion (Lancet 2014). I am also sharing the Guttmacher Institute’s estimate that there were 56.3 million abortions per year globally for the years 2010-2014 (Lancet, 11 May 2016), as few people seem to be aware of this new estimate either.
Based on my own (limited) knowledge of other people’s articles and presentations, and from what I’ve seen quoted in the mainstream media, the out-of-date WHO figures for 2008, published in 2011 — 46 million abortions with 47,000 abortion-related deaths annually — are still commonly being used. For those who are aware of the conflicting WHO and IHME estimates, few will have the expertise to choose between the two methodologies, but the sad part is, that shouldn’t be necessary.
At the end of the article we say: “As the leader in global health, WHO has a constitutional responsibility to support countries in strengthening their health-information systems. Likewise, IHME has a stature commensurate with its technical expertise and generous funding. Surely it is incumbent upon both organizations to put their differences aside and reach a consensus on the method required to produce one set of estimates that are comparable over time and that everyone accepts as the best possible information to guide clinical practice, policy and program priorities. Yet they remain unwilling to do so. In the absence of a neutral body with comparable responsibility, we believe that WHO should insist that its experts invite IHME experts, and others who might be considered neutral, to reach an agreement on the way forward.”
That pretty much sums up what we had to say from an advocacy point of view. The article goes into more detail, and also on the methodological issues too.
24/06/2016 § Leave a comment
Yesterday, I shared a feature article I wrote for the newsletter of the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion on this blog. I think there are a lot of lessons to draw from this case, but for me, at this moment, the two I would emphasise are the crucial importance of solidarity on all our parts with those whose human rights have been violated, and the need to consider far more deeply how to expose, counter and defeat the anti-abortion misogyny promoted by the (religious) right in all our countries as a form of violence and the collusion or absence of the state in allowing it to happen, and in a different form of solidarity, work more closely together to do so.
Here is a response to the events in Spain from Lucie van Crombrugge, former director of an abortion clinic in Gent, Belgium:
Dear Anne-Marie, Marge,
Thank you so much for sharing with us, partners in crime with Dr Morin, the history of the ordeal he and his team went through since 2004. Partners in crime, according to me, because myself and other providers referred to the late abortion clinics in Barcelona our desperate patients, their last resort for solving their unbearable situation.
Like you, Anne-Marie, I referred tens of women and I escorted some of them [to Spain] in the period between 2000 and 2008. All situations were handled with respect and professional care. While the rest of the European world turned its back on these rejected women, I witnessed the essence of what it means to be Pro Choice. Abortion, as late as necessary.
The Barcelona court should judge me as guilty as Dr Morin. The woman with her partner , the girl with her mother or father, the individual with only me…. Morin and his team depended on me, on us, to evaluate in-depth the circumstances of their life and the fairness of their request. Little time was left, once you landed in El Prat and entered the reception desk of the clinic… According to the Spanish law until 2010 the patient was medically and psychological screened and prepared for treatment.
And no, late abortions procedures aren’t easy to go through, not for the intimae who have to witness the harsh hours until check out, not for the care takers expected to alleviate the pain and sorrow, not for those doctors, the ultimate professionals. And the patients? No comment necessary.
The clinics of Dr Morin and his team offered us a safe harbour and professional skills for our patients. And anyone who thinks they have the right to refuse even one woman an abortion can’t continue to claim they are really pro-choice.
What should the rest of us do now? Take notice of it and go on with our lives? I don’t think so…. Is it too much to ask from the abortion providers in Europe to take a stand on the outcome of this trial?
I so much hope action will be taken. And for those who feel uncomfortable with late abortion, they should realize that the Pro Life movement who sends two Barcelona doctors to jail will continue their war against us and lump us all together as the devils on earth.
Hasta el final! Lucie
23/06/2016 § Leave a comment
The history of the persecution of Dr Carlos Morín, former director of the Ginemedex clinic in Barcelona, Spain, the staff of his clinic and the thousands of women who had abortions there began in Britain in 2004 and reached its climax, at least for the moment, on 17 June 2016, in the Regional Court of Barcelona, where during a re-trial ordered by the Supreme Court, three years after he and all his staff had been acquitted of all charges against them, Dr Morín was found guilty of having carried out 11 illegal abortions and a psychiatrist from the clinic, Dr Pascual Javier Ramón, was found guilty of signing the forms authorising the abortions.
What happened in between is the stuff of nightmares. The case was dragged through the justice system and the media for more than ten years by anti-abortion groups, who succeeded in having all Dr Morín’s clinics closed six years before he was even tried in court, and everyone who had been working in the clinics and the patients were investigated. Not only Dr Morín and his wife, who worked with him, but also many members of their staff were finally put on trial in 2012. In the interim, he was unable to practise his profession as a doctor and suffered from both public condemnation and bankruptcy, due to huge legal costs throughout the whole process.
The story began in Britain on 10 October 2004, when the Sunday Telegraph ran a story, based on “undercover” work by a woman journalist pretending to be pregnant, that women beyond the legal time limit for abortion in England and Wales were being helped by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) to obtain abortions in Dr Morín’s clinic in Spain. Following an investigation by the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health, Bpas were criticised for the way the undercover call was handled, but were exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Moreover, according to the Chief Medical Officer’s report, the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia reported on 14 October 2004 that the Health Department of Catalunya had come to the conclusion that the Barcelona clinic “attends patients in a correct and legal manner”. The Catalunyan Department added that they had carried out an inspection which confirmed that the clinic concerned had provided services within the terms defined by the regulatory and legal system.
The British Chief Medical Officer’s report also stated: “My investigation has shown that it can be difficult for women to access late abortion services.” (Chief Medical Officer report, 2005)
Thus, no wrongdoing was found in either Britain or Spain. The situation did not end there, however. It was advanced further following an undercover visit to the Ginemedex clinic by a Danish public television crew, which was aired on TV in 2006 in Denmark, France and the Netherlands. That led to an investigation of a clinic in the Netherlands who, like Bpas, sometimes referred women with late second trimester abortions (25-28 weeks) and rarely a third trimester abortion who were beyond the legal time limit in their countries to the Ginemedex clinic. The ultra-religious group E-Cristians used the Danish TV show to call for an investigation of whether the Ginemedex clinic was doing abortions outside the law.
Under the law in Spain until 2010, abortion was legal up to 12 weeks if the pregnancy resulted from rape, up to 22 weeks in cases of severe fetal anomaly, and with no time limit if it was necessary to avoid a grave danger to the life or the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Throughout this period, the Ginemedex clinic followed the guidelines for assessing the women who came to them in line with legal protocols. The woman was seen by a psychiatrist who also authorised that the abortion was legal and on that basis, the staff carried out the abortions.
According to Anne-Marie Rey, an abortion rights activist in Switzerland since 1971, who has closely followed the case from the beginning:
“Up to 2007, the Ginemedex clinic was a last resort for women who sought an abortion in advanced stages of pregnancy. Women were sent to Barcelona from many countries, when it was not possible to help them at home. Personally I gave his address to several women from Switzerland and they were always treated with respect and empathy. Yes, Dr Morín did interpret the Spanish abortion law liberally. But, in fact, he only applied the World Health Organization definition of “health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. And he applied this interpretation also in the case of desperate women who needed an abortion late in pregnancy, after 24 weeks gestation.”
As has been shown all over Europe, women requesting an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy are rare. In Britain, for example, in 2002, of the 175,932 abortions that took place, only 117 were after 24 weeks of pregnancy, that is, 0.06% of the total. (Chief Medical Officer report, 2005) This number and proportion are not unusual. The Chief Medical Officer’s report stated that in 2003, of all the patients seen within the 26 abortion clinics in Catalunya, only 812 patients were foreign (of whom only 14 were from the UK). 98.9% of the abortions on foreigners were at less than 22 weeks of pregnancy. In 3 cases it was in the 24th week and in 5 cases in the 26th week. (Chief Medical Officer’s report, 2005)
What came next, according to an article by the anti-abortion group Religion en Libertad, with information they say came from E-Cristians, would not have taken place without; 1) foreign media involvement, 2) follow-up by anti-abortion groups who kept written records and spent money, 3) the written testimony of a woman who attended the Ginemedex clinic, who was given protected witness status, and 4) a judge and prosecutor who decided to pursue the case “hasta el final” (up to the very end).
In 2007, as part of what became a long investigation, Dr Morín was charged with carrying out “illegal abortions”. He was jailed for two months until a judge ruled that he could be released pending trial, his four Ginemedex clinics were closed, and the clinics’ records, including the personal records of several thousand women, were confiscated for examination. The investigation, including interviews with all the staff and many patients, took six years. In September 2012, the case opened in the Audiencia de Barcelona, a regional court.
Between 2007 and 2012, when the case was finally heard, many other clinics in Spain were also affected. According to one report, there were increased political inspections and administrative and judicial harassment for all abortion clinics and the women patients they cared for, and there was more radical anti-choice activity. Complaints were laid against other abortion providers in registered clinics. One clinic especially suffered “virulent persecution by both anti-abortion groups and by the government itself” for a time, until the situation was clarified.
Some 115 charges of illegal abortion were laid against 12 people, including Dr Morín, his wife (who helped to run his clinics), the psychiatrist Dr Pascual Javier Ramón, and 9 other physicians and nurses. There were hundreds of statements submitted by the prosecution and thousands of pages of judicial and police reports.
According to Religion en Libertad, up to 2012 when the case came to court, E-Cristians had spent 55,000 Euros, including for “extra-judicial actions” and the involvement of lawyers who “knew the terrain” and another 39,000 Euros for other costs (Defiende usted la vida? 2012) 
The case concluded with a verdict on 31 January 2013. The verdict was the acquittal of every person charged and on every charge, as reported in El País on 1 February 2013. The court accepted that the abortions were performed “with the consent and at the express request of pregnant women” despite some administrative irregularities. However, both the Prosecutor in the case and the anti-abortion groups who had accused Dr Morín and his staff (E-Cristians, Spanish Alternative, Thomas More Foundation and the College of Physicians of Barcelona) did not accept the verdict and appealed to the Supreme Court. Nine months later, the Supreme Court criticised the Regional Court’s judgement and ordered a re-trial in the Regional Court with different judges. They gave two reasons: first, they argued that the Danish television programme should have been taken in evidence, which the Regional Court had decided against doing. Second, they said that because Dr Morín exercised his right not to testify, the judges did not allow the prosecutor to read out the questions they had prepared to ask him. The Supreme Court thought, however, that these had to be made public and answered, in order to determine, as claimed by the Prosecutor, whether there were contradictions between the pre-trial and the trial evidence.
In March 2015, Dr Morín appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Within less than two months, the Court replied that they would not consider the case because the request did not comply with the requisites of admissibility of articles 34 and 35 of the Convention. (CEDH-Lesp11.00R, MMI/MCM/agz, Demanda No.13465/15, letter dated 30 April 2015) The presumption is that he had not exhausted his right of appeal to the very top of the Spanish court system.
The re-trial took place in the Regional Court of Barcelona in January-February 2016. This time, both Dr Morín and Dr Ramón were found guilty and sentenced – not to 390 years or 278 years in prison as the Prosecutor had asked for originally, but to 18 months in prison – and not for over 100 illegal abortions but for 11 illegal abortions. All the other defendants in the case were again acquitted. One could be forgiven for asking whether this new judgement was in fact safe, let alone just.
The final irony, however, is that according to El País of 17 June 2016, the sentence is not firm and can actually be appealed, once again, to the Supreme Court.  Thus, it would appear that in Spain, if ultra-religious, anti-abortion NGOs, who have no legal standing, don’t like the verdict of a court of law, the defendants can be tried again in the same court on the same charges by different judges, with different verdicts and opinions on what constitutes evidence, for as long as it pleases the courts to take, and the European Court of Human Rights is prevented by its own rules from considering whether the human rights of the defendants have been and continue to be violated.
A note of thanks to Carlos Morín – I join with Anne-Marie Rey who said on 20 June upon hearing of the verdict: “This latest sentence is a scandal. Thank you, Dr Morín, and all your staff, for all you did for those women! And for your standing up for the right of women to decide for themselves in difficult life situations. I do hope some help is still possible for Dr Morín in return.”
Acknowledgement Thanks to Anne-Marie Rey for providing a wide range of documentation about this history over several years and for her help in preparing this article. Any errors are the author’s alone.
An Investigation into the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) Response to Requests for Late Abortions. A report by the Chief Medical Officer. Department of Health, September 2005.
Defiende usted la vida? El caso Morín ouede cambiar la historia del abortion…pero requiere dinero. http://www.religionenlibertad.com/articulo_imprimir.asp?idarticulo=22994. 5 June 2012.
Condenado por abortos ilegales un médico absuelto hace tres años, El País, 17 June 2016.
Visit the website of the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, where this article was first published on 22 June, for the Annex that lists the 34 articles from El País covering this history from 2006 to 2016. The titles and first lines are in Spanish, translated by me, with the help of SDL Free Translation, into English. The articles are in Spanish.
 Some might call it attempted entrapment.
 Anonymous, personal communication, October 2011.
 This is a direct translation from the Spanish.
 “La sentencia tampoco es firme y puede ser recurrida, de nuevo, ante el Tribunal Supremo.”
16/06/2016 § Leave a comment
Homa Hoodfar, a respected Canadian-Iranian professor of anthropology of the Middle East in Canada, has been arrested in Tehran, Iran, and is being held in Evin prison without access to her lawyer, family members or to needed medical care.
Full information about her and the campaign in support of her release can be found at: www.homahoodfar.org.
If you are an academic or an author, please consider signing the petition by academics and authors from around the world who are calling for her unconditional release. The petition can be found at: http://www.homahoodfar.org/#!academic-petition/ler5z
The petition, which has already been signed by more than 3,500 academics and authors so far, reports this about her:
“In early March just before her scheduled departure from Iran, the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard raided Prof. Hoodfar’s residence, and confiscated her personal computer, phone, and passports. After summoning her for several long interrogations, just before the Iranian New Year they released her on bail but denied her the right to leave the country. Since then, Prof. Hoodfar has been subject to more than ten grueling interrogations without the presence of a lawyer. Her academic research seems to have been interpreted as a threat to national security on the basis of her comparative research on women’s status, law, development, and the family in different Muslim contexts. After she was called for yet another interrogation on Monday, June 6th, she was incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.
“Prof. Homa Hoodfar had travelled to Iran in February 2016 to visit family as well as to access the archives of the Iranian parliamentary library for an historical book project. Her detention by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a clear violation of her right to academic freedom, a right that is also recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran. For the past three months, the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has repeatedly sought to build a case against her, with no evidence presented thus far. The authorities have not specified the charges against Prof. Hoodfar. Throughout this entire ordeal Prof. Hoodfar’s health has drastically deteriorated, as she has been increasingly suffering from blackouts. Prof. Hoodfar suffers from a neurological condition (myasthenia gravis-MG) that requires specialized medical care and she suffered a minor stroke last year. Since her detention at Evin prison, where she is currently being held, she has been denied access to medical care and to her medications.
“In addition to her long tenure as Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University since 1991, Prof. Homa Hoodfar is also a member of numerous professional international academic associations. She has published extensively on diverse topics including poverty, development, women’s labour force and political participation, family law, and refugees in many different countries in the Middle East, Canada, and South Asia. She is known for highlighting Muslim women’s ability to realize their rights within an Islamic framework, and for her critique of essentialising Western stereotypes about veiling. It is not clear what charges the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might bring against her. Any accusations against Prof. Hoodfar are undoubtedly based on a fundamental misinterpretation of the nature of her ethnographic research which has never been a threat to the Iranian regime. Instead, her arrest points to a renewed campaign to target and intimidate other scholars writing about Iran.”
The website suggests a wide range of actions you might take. Many thanks for any support you can give.
04/06/2016 § Leave a comment
The following are my answers (with some additions) to questions in an interview with Saphia Crowther of Amnesty International via email, for publication by them last year:
- What drives you to campaign for sexual and reproductive rights? Was there one person, incident or news story that inspired you to become an activist?
I became active in my mid-20s in the second half of the 1970s in the UK National Abortion Campaign because I had an unintended pregnancy from a relationship with someone who did not want to know, and I decided, after a long month of thinking what to do, to have an abortion. This was not long after the 1967 Abortion Act had been passed, and my GP was quite scathing about it and said she was only referring me because I wasn’t married. The ob-gyn who did the abortion came round the room and told each of us he was just going to “pop an IUD in” when he’d finished, and I had to fight not to have that. Luckily the nurse who found me sobbing when I woke up (a common side effect of anaesthesia combined with misery) patted me on the arm and told me that it was my life and I had done what I thought best, and not to feel bad about it. That experience made me an abortion rights advocate for the rest of my life.
- Tell us why access to safe abortion is important. How do restrictions on safe abortion in countries like El Salvador and Ireland impact on women’s equality?
Access to safe abortion is necessary for women because they have sexual relationships with men. While the sex is hopefully wanted, pregnancy as a consequence of it may or may not be either intended, or when it happens, wanted. Moreover, sex is far too often not wanted, particularly among young women, and the data on the extent of sexual abuse of girls is shockingly high. Wanted or unwanted, however, having sex is not a good reason or qualification for having a baby and being a parent. The advent of contraception and safe abortion has allowed us to separate sex from pregnancy, and to choose to have a child(ren) at the point when we definitely want them and are best able to raise them. It has been shown that unwanted children have a more difficult time in life in many ways. It has also been shown that having children by choice is the best way to have children. This is not to say that an unintended pregnancy cannot become a wanted one, it can and sometimes does. Moreover, an initially wanted pregnancy may later become unwanted ‒ due to a serious changed life circumstance, such as illness or divorce, or the baby may be found to have a serious anomaly that the woman/couple feel they cannot cope with.
- How are the situations in Ireland and El Salvador similar? And how do they differ?
They are similar in that in both countries all or almost all abortions are illegal. They are different in that women in Ireland can seek a safe abortion in Britain or another EU country nearby, while in El Salvador, there is nowhere close by to travel to. Hence, in El Salvador there are many unsafe abortions among poor women as they cannot afford to pay for a safe illegal abortion. Furthermore, in El Salvador when women present at a hospital with complications from an unsafe abortion, or even from a miscarriage or stillbirth, they are at risk of being arrested, put on trial for either illegal abortion or homicide, and sent to prison, often for many years. For several years now, there has been an internationally supported campaign to free 17 of those women (Las 17), which Amnesty has been centrally involved in supporting. In fact, we know of women in at least 26 countries who are in prison for having had an abortion.
- You founded the journal Reproductive Health Matters in 1992 to put women’s voices and experiences at the centre of research into sexual and reproductive health. Two decades on, are women still marginalized in discussions and decisions about their reproductive health?
Yes, and particularly in regard to their right to a safe abortion on request.
- Public pressure is crucial to getting legal restrictions on abortion overturned. How have public perceptions of abortion changed in recent decades, and how can people put pressure on those in power?
Across the world the great majority of people support access to safe abortion on at least some grounds, certainly when there is a risk to the woman’s life or health, if the pregnancy resulted from rape or sexual abuse, and in cases of serious fetal anomaly. The numbers who support access to safe abortion at a girl/woman’s request are also very high (with a rising trend) in countries where safe abortion is available, and the numbers are growing in countries that have not yet changed their laws, most of which are leftovers from colonial times. An increasingly vicious anti-abortion movement is trying to turn the clock back everywhere. This is because they believe women should be enslaved by their own fertility and denied autonomy over their own lives, not because they are interested in there being billions more babies in the world. The anti-abortion movement ignores and does nothing for living children in need. People can put pressure on those in power by taking a public stance as part of a movement, through their trades unions, NGOs they work for, and as part of human rights, family planning, maternal health, sexual and reproductive health and rights movements. Or as individuals by writing to their member of parliament and expressing opposition to any attempt to restrict or criminalise abortion.
- What’s been your greatest challenge as an activist? And your greatest success?
Challenge: Finding ways to overcome the differences in views and reach consensus on how to act and what to support among those who are part of the “movement” I am part of, and how to get governmental and inter-governmental support for putting a stop to the violent behaviour and expose the lies of the anti-abortion movement. Success: Publishing a large body of peer-reviewed work and first-class political thinking on the issue of abortion (as well as many other aspects of sexual and reproductive health) through Reproductive Health Matters up to 2015 and being able to promote and share that knowledge as an activist for the right to safe abortion.
- Finally, women’s empowerment and education are vital to upholding their sexual and reproductive rights. Does men’s education also have a role in promoting women’s equality?
Men have 50% of the responsibility for causing unintended pregnancies in wanted sex, and 100% of the responsibility when they force sex on a girl or woman. This is as true among those who sit at the top of governments as among those who use the priesthood to sexually abuse children as among those at every level of the social ladder. There is therefore an ethical imperative on men and boys not to force sex on anyone, to protect themselves as well as their partners against unintended pregnancy, and to support women’s right to safe abortion upon request. This should be a central part of sex and relationships education.
29/05/2016 § Leave a comment
It is with great sadness that I wish to inform everyone who knew her that Rosa Tunberg, who worked for Reproductive Health Matters from October 1999 to August 2007, died from cancer on 10 January 2015 in California.
Rosa was born on 5 February 1939, in Santiago, Chile, the middle of three sisters. Her father died when she was young. When she was 18, she left Chile with her mother and younger sister to move to Los Angeles CA in the USA. Her older sister stayed in Chile. Rosa studied comparative literature at UCLA and worked at Twentieth Century Fox, where she met Karl Tunberg, a Hollywood screenwriter, whom she married in 1968. She also became a stepmother to her husband’s two children, Terence and Thomas Tunberg. While raising her own two children (Carlos and Victoria) she earned her Montessori Primary Diploma in 1976 and began teaching. In 1978, the family moved to England. Rosa worked at Richmond College outside London for some years. She was widowed in 1992.
In around 1999, Peter Hall, who had been a scientist at the World Health Organization in Geneva, retired, moved to London and started an NGO called the Reproductive Health Alliance Europe. He opened an office for RHAE next door to Reproductive Health Matters in Kentish Town and advertised for a part-time secretary/administrator to manage the office. Peter showed me her CV and before he was even able to interview her, I jumped in and asked if I might interview her as well. Rosa agreed and was duly hired by us both immediately afterwards. Rosa was a bright, cheerful, highly skilled and exceedingly warm-hearted person with a sharp and thoughtful mind. She was able to do everything you might ask for and then some. She helped to promote and publicise the journal, and increase the readership, and worked closely with Paula Hajnal-Konyi, finance manager, and with me. She always had a twinkle in her eye and at the right moments, a witty retort on her lips. She worked unstintingly, expected a lot from others and gave a lot in return.
In 2007, she decided to retire, and she and Carlos moved back to Los Angeles to join Victoria, who had returned to the USA in 2004. Rosa remained active and inquisitive about everything and reconnected with old friends in Los Angeles. The three of them travelled when they could – to Hawaii, Italy, Northern California, Florida. Rosa fought the cancer for three years, and died peacefully and quietly. She remained strong, never showing suffering.
by Victoria Tunberg, her daughter, and Marge Berer