Safe Pregnancy and Safe Abortion as Human Rights


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Of Counsel, Fall 2007
Message from our President Nancy Northup

I just got back from London, energized and inspired by the Center's participation in two global conferences. The first, Women Deliver, celebrated the anniversary of the United Nations' Safe Motherhood Initiative, begun 20 years ago in Nairobi, Kenya.  This is the same city in which, last summer, we released our report on the Kenyan health system's often negligent and abusive treatment of pregnant women.  Not enough has changed.

In London, we launched the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights.  The Initiative will be housed at the Center, and is a collaborative effort with groups including CARE, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The Initiative will bring together advocates to develop human rights strategies to reduce the catastrophic scale of maternal mortality.  Every year, over half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth.  That’s more than the number who have died in the Darfur conflict to date.  That's more than 17 times the number of people estimated to have been 'disappeared' during Argentina's so-called Dirty War.  That's one woman or girl who dies every minute.  Most maternal deaths are preventable. Governments' failure to stop them is a human rights outrage.

The second conference was the Marie Stopes Global Safe Abortion conference.  While some organizations shy away from the topic of abortion either because of restrictions on their funding or because it is controversial, we remain committed to working for access to safe and legal abortion services. Globally, unsafe abortion is a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths.  No matter how good prevention programs might one day become, contraception fails. And no matter how much progress we make in providing pre-natal care and support for healthy families, some women will decide due to their health or life circumstances that terminating a pregnancy is the best choice for them.

In the United States, that right is ever more threatened.  The Supreme Court's decision last April in Gonzales v Carhart further undermined the right to abortion recognized in Roe v Wade.  With the federal courts stacked with judges hostile to women's human right to reproductive freedom and health, the battle in the states heats up.  If Roe were to be overturned tomorrow, do you know what the state of the law in your state would be?  The new edition of our What If Roe Fell? report will not only answer that question, it will help you do something about it.

Reproductive rights are embedded in international human rights principles and U.S. constitutional law.  They include the right to plan one's family and make decision's about one's reproductive health.  We know that and you, our loyal donors, understand that. For this—and for all of your support--we thank you.

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