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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Back in the bad old days

Except, this is a picture of a woman in Berega, Tanzania, which appeared in the June 1 edition of the NY Times. You can read the article here.

This is a woman in an outpatient clinic who sought care after a botched abortion. In Tanzania, where abortion is illegal, the maternal death rate is high in part because of failed abortions.

The article reports:
Abortion is illegal in Tanzania (except to save the mother’s life or health), so women and girls turn to amateurs, who may dose them with herbs or other concoctions, pummel their bellies or insert objects vaginally. Infections, bleeding and punctures of the uterus or bowel can result, and can be fatal. Doctors treating women after these bungled attempts sometimes have no choice but to remove the uterus.

Pregnancy and childbirth are among the greatest dangers that women face in Africa, which has the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality — at least 100 times those in developed countries. Abortion accounts for a significant part of the death toll.

Worldwide, there are 19 million unsafe abortions a year, and they kill 70,000 women (accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths), mostly in poor countries like Tanzania where abortion is illegal, according to the World Health Organization. More than two million women a year suffer serious complications. According to Unicef, unsafe abortions cause 4 percent of deaths among pregnant women in Africa, 6 percent in Asia and 12 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This recently-taken picture may well be of a woman in an 'underdeveloped nation', but to my eyes, it could have been a picture taken of a classmate of mine in my senior year of high school.

Carol was attractive and popular. She was athletic and played field hockey and was a cheerleader for the boy's basketball team.

Everybody wanted to be Carol. Every senior high class has a Carol. You know what I mean.

So, you'll understand when I say that we all were - to a person - stunned when we learned that she had committed suicide. It's was all hush-hush then. No one knew any details. We lived in a pretty Roman Catholic town, so the only thing of which we were certain - the only thing our parents wanted to be sure we knew - is that Carol was not going to heaven.

She would not even be allowed to be buried in a Christian burial ground. Because she committed suicide, she took her own life in her hands, which only God could do, we were told.

We were very carefully taught that, because she had succumbed to despair, she had sinned against the Holy Spirit, which 'the bible says' is the only unforgivable sin.

Like so much of what the church teaches, we all knew it was B.S. I remember being angry because no one just let us grieve for this senseless, tragic loss of life.

Instead, the teachers and our church and our parents used her death as an opportunity to fill us with anxiety and fear, teaching us ignorance and prejudice instead of giving us information and comfort.

It wasn't until our first class reunion, about 20 years later, that her brother told us the truth. Carol had gotten pregnant. Abortions were illegal at the time.

The young man who fathered her pregnancy found someone in Providence, RI who did abortions, illegally, of course, for $250, which might as well have been $1 Million to us back then. It seemed like an impossible sum to be able to raise.

Desperate, Carol and her boyfriend went to their parents for help but found, instead, only the careful parroting of Roman Catholic dogma.

So, Carol went to Providence and underwent an illegal abortion. Two days later, she was dead. Sepsis. An infection that had no doubt started in her uterus which, left untreated, got into her blood and killed her.

Her parents, deeply ashamed of what had happened, decided that it was better to report her death as a suicide than to admit that her death had anything to do with an illegal abortion.

I mean, then they would have to admit that their perfect daughter was less than perfect. The litany of their sins were ever before them:

She had had sex before marriage.

She was not going to be a virgin on her wedding night.

She was carrying an 'illegitimate child', who, at that time, would not be baptized into the church. And, if she had a son, could not pursue ordination in the RC church because he would be considered a 'bastard'.

She had had an abortion, which is absolutely forbidden by the RC church.

So, to call Carol's death a suicide was to avoid the nastiness of all of the above. After all, she had younger siblings. How would they live through the stigma of Carol's legacy?

No, it was better to live with just one thing - suicide - which was bad enough. And, anyway, she had killed herself, really. She had ruined her life in a moment of weakness, her parents would later say.

If you think that story could never happen again - that was then, this is now - think again. That story is happening all over the world today. Here and now.

Here's another horrifying piece of information from the article:
In the past some hospitals threatened to withhold care until a woman identified the abortionist (performing abortions can bring a 14-year prison term), but that practice was abandoned in favor of simply providing postabortal treatment. Still, women do not want to discuss what happened or even admit that they had anything other than a miscarriage, because in theory they can be prosecuted for having abortions. The law calls for seven years in prison for the woman. So doctors generally do not ask questions.

“They are supposed to be arrested,” Dr. Mdoe said. “Our work as physicians is just to help and make sure they get healed.”

And, the man who fathered the pregnancy? No word on what happens to him. Probably because there's really nothing to report because nothing happens to him.

Unbelievable, right?

Believe this: It could happen again in this country if the religious ideologues have their way and Roe v. Wade is ever reversed - or if, state by state, the law will be slowly eroded.

I really don't believe that will happen, but this, THIS is why it can't.

This is why abortion, as tragic and painful a decision as it is for a woman, must remain safe and legal. Not only in this country but around the world.

Because for many women around the world, these are still the bad old days.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

"Probably because there's really nothing to report because nothing happens to him."

And that's wrong and evil.

Preach it sister!

motheramelia said...

Elizabeth, I too know similar stories from the same time period. I was both saddened and horrified to read the NY Times article. That is one issue I would go to the barricades for.

Magdalene6127 said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this powerful post.

I know I don't have to tell you this, but the rate of abortion in this country remains highest among Roman Catholics and those who consider themselves religiously conservative. In other words, people who so stigmatize sex outside of marriage that they find themselves backed to the wall when they have failed to plan for birth control. It's all so sad.

Unknown said...

Women are either free in this country.
They are subject to special laws and punishments dependent on their unique biological functions as Breeders.

I get angry but that is how I see this. I keep farm animals, and as a matter of course I control their reproductive cycles. I decide who breeds with who, when viable fetal material is allowed to develope or not. And so when I see someone justifying the treatment of women in this manner {like Potential Farm Animal Breeders} being treated thusly, it shocks me but there it is.

I am either free,
I am not considered entirely human, sentient and capable of making decisions about my reproductive cycles--whether that be, when to have sex, with whom, or if I should allow myself to get pregnant, or end a pregnancy.

No man can make these decisions for me without upending my sovereignty as a Citizens of this country. And historically Men are not generally punished for taking these decisions away from me or my *kind.

Women's Freedom has always been at odds with their subjugation as Potential Breeders and as Sexual Playthings. Our Sexual Accessibility for either function has always been of prime importance to men, which is to say, they are obsessive about it, and use it to create a sexual caste system that punishes women who don't comply with these mysogynistic cultural demands. And the only reason anyone has been able to come up with, to argue against Total Female Soveriegnty has been a religious one. Its bad because God says it's bad. And if you rebel against this, God says you are bad too and you get whats coming to you, whether that is rape, death, infertility, or ostracization.

Anonymous said...

As another former RC I can testify to a truckload of BS that we were taught as youngsters. How distant it all was from the love of God.

DeanB said...

It's painful to read and to tell those stories, but it has to be done. Thanks.

Matthew said...

And what is the Anglican Church doing in places like Tanzania for these women? Focusing on homosexuality in America.

Kay & Sarah said...

Elizabeth, I totally agree with you!!

Seeing Eye Chick you have some great points!

Bill said...

I love the way "Pro Choice" people are always called murderers by the conservative faction and also the way women are always blamed for these unwanted pregnancies. It's their fault for getting pregnant and it's the "left's" fault for trying to help them.
Nobody seems to want to put the blame where it belongs. How many unwanted pregnancies have you heard of coming from artificial insemination?

Truth be told, much of this problem would go away if the male of the species would keep his "manhood" tucked away and zippered up. And even when the sex is consensual, it’s her job to protect herself and not his, to use protection. Get real, “put a sock on it”. Your not an animal and your not in rut.

I say this as a man, being fully aware of the process, the plumbing and those “uncontrollable urges”. We’re talking about systemic abuse that dates back thousands of years. It’s always been the woman’s fault. It’s was always the position of the Bible that a woman must submit to the man. It’s only very recently that the concept of rape within marriage has even been acknowledged. And it is still the position of some of the major denominations that the woman should carry the fetus to term regardless of how the pregnancy was caused. You see, it’s still her fault; not his; her’s.

Jane Priest said...

Thank you for posting this. My much older sister was almost your Carol and hearing her story from her mouth when I was about 13 solidified my stance on this issue.

If men were the ones getting pregnant, this wouldn't be nearly half the issue.

Doorman-Priest said...

Deeply disturbing and very sad.

Muthah+ said...

Yep, I too had similar Carol stories from HS days. Even as a RC I refused to believe that Pro-Choice was wrong. But glad I could come to TEC where it wasn't a sin.

But even more egregious is the POpe preaching about the 'EVIL' of condoms in an HIV/AIDS Africa recently.

Jim said...

This is one of the several times when the issue is not the issue. We are not talking about sex, babies, or abortion -- we are talking about theocracy and control.

Nothing stops the Roman Catholics from teaching that abortion is wrong if that is their doctrinal position have at it. But(!) that is not their position: their position is that they have a right to have their view enshrined in law. After all, they have a direct pipeline to God which has worked so well the knew Galileo was wrong. And what would mere women know about it?

The question is really not will there be abortions, nor is it even should there be abortions. It is will men impose their will on women's sexuality.

Sad, pathetic little men in red lace dresses who insist they know more about women and God than either knows about either. Lemmings have more sense than we do. There are days and stories that make me ashamed to be a guy.


susankay said...

A letter in our local paper makes is quite clear that they are not ONLY opposed to abortion they are also opposed to those things that make abortion unnecessary -- (don't know how to post links that work by clicking)

Kirkepiscatoid said...

The older OB/GYNS that were my attendings on my rotations years ago remembered the "pre-Roe" days very well, and on occasion told us terrible stories of "the bad old days." In a nutshell, desperate women do desperate things.

The scary part is that it is starting again.

The even scarier part is that the people who most oppose abortion often also oppose methods of contraception other than, "Just cross your legs."