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Unsafe Abortion Plagues Women Worldwide

June 3, 2009

The New York Times is running an excellent series on maternal mortality.  “Maternal mortality” refers to injury, illness or death related to pregnancy or childbirth.  And 536,000 women die each year in this way.

A major contributor to these half a million deaths, yet one that is rarely spoken about, is unsafe abortion.  As part of the series, the NYT published a heartbreaking article this week on unsafe abortion in Tanzania.  Even in places where abortion is legal in some circumstances, like if a young girl has been raped by an uncle, or if it’s deemed that her pregnancy is bound to go terribly wrong, putting her life at risk, women are still being forced to take absolutely desperate and inhuman measures.  Very often the courts, doctors, and stigma from society conspire against women in this fight.   Each year, 19 million unsafe abortions occur worldwide.

Drinking bleach. Punches in the stomach. Throwing oneself in front of moving traffic. Coat hanger. Sticks. TV antennas. It ain’t pretty, but these are all the horrible things that women are doing to themselves to end unwanted pregnancies. Risking their lives just to take control of their bodies.

Read the article, it sheds a powerful light on this still very silent issue.  Related, Nicholas Kristoff published a “P.S.” to his column on maternal mortality a few weeks ago, questioning whether making abortion safe and legal in the developing world would actually have bearing on the number of women dying.  My short answer?  Yes.  Unsafe abortion is one of the most treatable and feasible ways to prevent 13% of maternal deaths.  It’s a no-brainer.

As we continue to mourn the assassination of Dr. Tiller, who was a hero and champion for the many women who might have otherwise be in similarly desperate situations, let’s remember this problem is global.  We need to think about it, talk about it, and change policies around it.

To get informed on this issue and get involved, check out:

“Not Yet Rain,” a film about unsafe abortion in Ethiopia
Center for Reproductive Rights
Urge President Obama to increase funding for global family planning
Planned Parenthood

J.Mack is a global feminist residing in Queens

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