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.
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.