On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a long report on the Vatican that has gotten attention for its sharp criticism of the Catholic Church’s response to clergy sex-abuse scandals. But perhaps more remarkably, the study also critiqued the Church’s stance on abortion and birth control.
Specifically, it recommended that the Holy See “overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives,” and suggested the Vatican “review its position on abortion … with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.” The committee also made broad criticisms of the Church’s posture toward LGBTQ families and children. The Holy See has responded with a statement defending the Church’s right to define its own religious beliefs and teachings.
The Vatican, which has “permanent observer” status at the UN, is a signatory to the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child along with 193 countries and two island nations. Notably, the United States is one of three countries that haven’t ratified the treaty; the other two, Somalia and South Sudan, have both pledged to ratify the agreement soon.
So, if a UN committee finds Church teachings to violate the human rights of children, what can it do to the Holy See? The short answer: nothing.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
More restrictions on abortion were enacted in the past three years than in the previous decade combined. Here are the states where it happened.
On an ordinary day, Chief Justice John Roberts asks pointed questions of counsel and brief-slaps them if their answers don’t measure up. He also acts as kindergarten cop when his colleagues all speak at once. He is a formidable presence on the bench.
Except Wednesday during oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, the Massachusetts case testing whether a state can establish a 35-foot “buffer zone” around clinics offering abortions so that patients can get inside without fighting their way through pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators.
There are two possible meanings to the chief’s silence. One is that he is genuinely undecided about a case that pits the rights of pregnant women against the rights of protest and advocacy on a public sidewalk.
That one’s not likely. Hamlet John Roberts is not. That’s particularly true in the First Amendment context, where he usually sides against government restrictions on speech.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
AUSTIN, Texas — In October, Susan, a woman who lives in Willacy County in Texas’ southernmost tip, found out she was pregnant. She is married and has three children, and for a few weeks last fall, she couldn’t afford her birth control. Her condition, to her, was not entirely good news.
“I weighed out the pros and cons,” she said. “But I didn’t want to have another baby.”
Susan asked her gynecologist about getting an abortion, but the doctor said she didn’t perform the procedure. For women in her area, there was only one place to go: Reproductive Services of Harlingen, where Dr. Lester Minto has been providing abortions since 1990. She made an appointment, sat anxiously in the packed waiting room, and got it over with quickly, she said.
By the time she came back for a follow-up visit two weeks later, Minto was no longer offering abortions. In fact, the entire Rio Grande Valley—an area with 275,000 women of reproductive age—is now without a single abortion provider.
This summer, Judy Nicastro wrote in the New York Times that in her 20th week of pregnancy she learned that her son would have a hole in his diaphragm, only one formed lung, and would rely on oxygen for much of his early life. She confessed that she was grateful that he “died in a warm and loving place” when the doctor aborted him at 24 weeks.
Roughly one in three women will ever have an abortion, and just 1.5 percent of all terminations occur after 20 weeks. But certain types of fetal tests can only be performed at or just before 20 weeks, and that is the time when pregnant women find out about brain malformations, missing limbs, and other severe birth defects.
Tomorrow, Albuquerque could become the first city in the country to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, using medical justifications about fetal pain that have successfully propelled similar bans through the legislatures of 12 states. Some see the measure as the start of a city-by-city battle by pro-life groups to ban abortions such as Nicastro’s, even in states with liberal legislatures.
Last year, Al-Jazeera English produced a documentary called The Abortion War. One of its interview subjects was Ohio State representative Jim Buchy, who co-sponsored two state anti-abortion bills. In the documentary, he’s asked a simple question: What do you think makes a woman want to have an abortion? The Republican legislator grimaces and fidgets in his seat. “Well, there’s probably a lot of reasons.” He lets out a little laugh when admitting, “I’m not a woman,” then continues to think aloud. “So I’m thinking, if I’m a woman, why would I have to… some of it has to with economics. A lot of it has to do with economics. I don’t know, I never—it’s a question I’ve never even thought about.”
Rep. Buchy, then, would learn a lot from Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s extraordinary new documentary After Tiller. But so would anyone with strong opinions on the question of whether abortion should be legal. The film is a rare consideration of the abortion debate that moves past labels and abstracts and takes a long look at the people involved. It is a showcase for empathy, a quality lacking in many conversations on the subject.
Dr. George Tiller’s Women’s Healthcare Services clinic was the best known of the country’s few providers of late-term (third trimester) abortions, which account for fewer than one percent of all abortions. Tiller was bombed in 1985, shot in 1993, and, finally, murdered in 2009. After his death, only four late-term providers remain: Dr. LeRoy Carhart (located in Bellevue, Nebraska when the film begins, though he is eventually forced to relocate to Maryland), Dr. Warren Hern (in Boulder, Colorado), and Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella (who share duties at a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Directors Shane and Wilson divvy up the film fairly evenly between the three practices, and while they have some understandable interest in the kinds of people who would put themselves in, quite literally, the gun sights of the extreme anti-abortion movement (“When I walk out of the front door of my office, I expect to be assassinated,” Dr. Hern says), they’re more interested in the women who come to see them.
Read more. [Image: Oscilloscope Laboratories]
I’m a native of North Carolina, which just passed a stunningly restrictive new abortion law, and I’m currently living in China, where abortion is cheap, government-funded, and common. So recently, I began wondering which countries have the most liberal abortion laws, and how lax these laws actually are. I assumed that Western Europe would be the land of abortion on demand, likely government-subsidized, and possibly with a free bag of condoms afterward. But as it turns out, abortion laws in Europe are both more restrictive and more complicated than that.
Read more. [Image: AP]
To argue that the female body has the means to ‘shut that whole thing down,’ or that the torture of women is somehow divinely sanctioned takes more than just an accident of biology. It takes the ability to speak about things of which you are ignorant as though you are informed. It takes unacknowledged blindness.
It takes an appetite for cruelty."
As national Republicans in Tampa consider adding a ban on abortions as an official plank in their party platform — a proposal whose draft language is so severe, it doesn’t make exceptions for cases of rape or incest — liberal commentators have grown accustomed to speaking of the right’s strict stance on reproductive issues as a war on women. But it might be more accurate to say that it’s really an attack on women of a specific stripe: those from disadvantaged minorities and the poor.
Read more. [Image: Theodore Joyce, Ruoding Tan, Yuxiu Zhang]