Q&A with Kenyan Doctor About Reproductive Rights
This year alone, 19 million women and girls will face the deadly consequences of unsafe abortions. Nearly 70,000 will die. As I reported in an article for AlterNet, the Global Gag Rule denies aid to overseas organizations that perform legal abortions with exceptions for rape and incest or to save a woman's life; provide counseling and referrals for abortion; engage in abortion-related public policy debates; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country. Clinton ended the Gag Rule in 1993; Bush reinstated it on his first day in office.
On average, Kenyan women have five children. Abortion is illegal except when a woman's life is at risk. Dr. Joachim Osur, with Family Health Options Kenya, explains how the Gag Rule has impacted Kenyan women.
What services do you offer?
We offer comprehensive health services, including family planning, cervical screening, maternal and child health services, screening for gynecological cancers and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
How many women do you serve?
We serve 100,000 women per year.
How has the Global Gag Rule impacted your work?
We used to have 17 clinics; now we have nine. We've been closing them one after another; we were hoping that someone would come to our rescue, but it never happened. After the clinics closed, fetuses were thrown in the streets. We feel the rate of abortion has gone up because women have no access to family planning.
The numbers that we serve have gone down almost by half. What that means is that you have more women getting unwanted pregnancies and even higher risks of illegal abortions. We have a lot of unsafe abortions and 1/3 of maternal maternity is due to unsafe abortions.
How is this impacting women directly?
Women have complications arising from abortion. Our clinics are seeing an increasing number of women coming from the back streets. We feel that part of this is because they don't have access to family planning services, given that family planning programs have almost collapsed in the country due to reduced funding. It is therefore counterproductive, even for people who don't support abortion. Women will not stop having abortions simply because you make it illegal or because you stop funding the reproductive health clinic.
How do you personally feel about the Global Gag Rule? And what message would you like to send to Americans who support the administration's decision to reinstate the Gag Rule?
There is some double standards. Our government does not allow abortion on request, but the simple reason that we are working with the IPPF makes us outlisted by the American government. In the U.S. we know that abortion is allowed, so who is worse off? Is it the Kenyans or the Americans? It is not fair to stop funding family planning programs simply because we are working with the IPPF.
We are disappointed. If you look at the bigger picture, you're talking about reducing maternal mortality and improving women's health. You're allowing many to die from unsafe abortions.