The resignation of Sandra Day O'Conner, coupled with the recent high number of judges appointed by the Bush Administration is quite disturbing. But alas, we already know this.
Perhaps what many of us don't know, is what is possible. Not only what will happen, but what CAN happen? I picture our nation in twenty years, and wonder whether my current birth control prescription will require more than a doctor's visit to obtain. Will I need to fill out more forms, will I need my husband's approval? Will I be allowed to get my tubes tied after having children without needing the Governor's approval? These are extremes and yet some of these types of requirements are not so far fetched-considering policies in other countries.
Looking at the Human Rights Watch website today, I read two articles pertaining to this exact issue. One dealing with Columbia, the other Argentina. Portions of the articles are below.
Colombia: Women Face Prison for Abortion
Human Rights Watch
(New York, June 27th 2005) "Colombia’s law prohibits abortion in all circumstances. The penalty is lighter when the pregnancy is the result of rape (or “nonconsensual artificial insemination”). In 2000, the Colombian Congress amended the penal code, adding the possibility for a judge to waive penal sanctions on a case-by-case basis. However, judges have discretion to waive penal sentences only in cases of rape and under two further conditions: if the abortion occurs in “extraordinary situations of abnormal motivation” (an ambiguous clause that requires judicial interpretation) and if the judge considers the punishment “unnecessary.” However, a later amendment in 2005 also extended the maximum sentences for abortion from three years in prison to four and a half."
Argentina: Limits on Birth Control Threaten Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
“Argentina’s restrictions on contraception and abortion prevent women from deciding how many children they want to have, and when,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, Women’s Rights director at Human Rights Watch. “These laws and practices effectively treat women like minors.”
The report also exposes some of the detrimental effects of domestic violence on women’s reproductive health. The Argentine government has not done enough to remedy these abuses and their effects on women’s health, Human Rights Watch said.
A 35-year-old mother of eight children, Gladis M. said for 14 years her husband beat her and prevented her from using contraceptives. Gladis said her husband repeatedly told her: “I am going to fill you up with children so you can’t leave my side.”
After decades of government opposition to the sale or use of contraceptives, including even condoms during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, the Argentine government in 2003 began to implement a national program to distribute certain contraceptives—like hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs)—for free through the national health system. However, women continue to face multiple barriers in their access to family planning, including lack of accurate information, violence in the home, economic constraints and discriminatory laws.
Under Argentine law, one of the most effective forms of contraception—sterilization—is subject to discriminatory restrictions. Many public hospitals require that women obtain their husband’s consent for the operation, that they have at least three children, and that they be older than age 35 to be eligible for the surgery.
“I thought I was going to die, but I wanted to do it.,” said Laura P., 35, who already had five children when poor health caused her to seek sterilization. “In the hospital they set up every possible obstacle. The head of the hospital told me that it was the same as having an abortion.” She appealed to a court, but was denied the operation despite fulfilling all the public hospital’s requirements.
“Women seeking sterilization face Kafkaesque ordeals,” said Jefferson. “In one public hospital, women had to beg approval from six different authorities, plus get their husband’s signature in the presence of two witnesses.
Many women told Human Rights Watch they had endured unwanted pregnancies because of lack of access to or inability to use contraceptives, and some had abortions. In Argentina, abortion is illegal in all circumstances, yet an estimated half a million abortions occur every year. Though the law waives the punishment in cases where the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger, or where the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally disabled woman, access to a legal and therefore safer abortion is almost nonexistent in practice. As a result, women are forced to seek abortions through unsafe, unregulated clinics. In other cases, they induced their own abortions by methods that gravely jeopardized their health and lives. Without medical supervision, other women used anti-inflammatory drugs to induce abortion, resulting in severe health consequences and sometimes even death.
“You get overwhelmed by desperation. You seek all the ways out,” said Paola M., a woman who had 10 children by the age of 36. “But if there is no way out, then you take a knife or a knitting needle.”
These stories are horrifying, and heart wrenching. Sadly, this was the place of many American women during the early to mid-twentieth century. Is it possible that we will end up there again. Is our Nation's path leading backwards?