How Some of the World’s Most Restrictive Abortion Laws Turn Women Into Criminals


Ireland, El Salvador, and Chile share a deplorable commonality — the governments of all three countries have enacted draconian and harmful abortion laws that put women’s and girls’ lives at risk. Today, on September 28th, the Global Day of Action to Decriminalize Abortion, we join with people and organizations around the world to demand an end to these dangerous laws. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

It’s Time for Chile to Change Its Restrictive Abortion Laws


By Leah Schmidt, Identity and Discrimination Unit, Amnesty International USA

In July 2013, an 11-year-old girl became pregnant after having been raped repeatedly for two years by her stepfather. However, ending the pregnancy was not an option for her. In Chile, where she lives, abortion is outlawed in all cases, even in cases of rape and even for children. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Why Birth and Death are Simultaneous for Women in South Africa

Young mother with child, Ermole

Poor infrastructure, lack of privacy and limited access to health services are only a few of the factors contributing to the devastating maternal mortality rate in South Africa.

There is a rural area in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa where the maternal mortality rate more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. Why are women so at risk for dying during childbirth in this province? The reasons are complex and inter-related but many factors can be addressed by the provincial Minister of Health. And we are demanding that he does. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Nothing About Us Without Us: Women’s Voices Must Be Heard!

Earlier this month we wrote about the right to universal access to health care in the context of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood. Yet again this month, women’s health rights are being used as a political football.

The reversal of the Komen Foundation’s decision, in response to public outcry, only amplifies our newest concerns: the voices of affected people must play a role in all policy decisions.

I’m sure you’ve seen the now-infamous photo of an all-male witness panel at the February 17 hearing on contraception and religious freedom, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Democratic minority nominated a woman for this panel—an average woman with experience of the implications of insurance companies denying coverage of birth control. She was denied as a witness by the majority GOP, apparently because she was deemed unqualified to speak to the issue. Two women were witnesses on the second panel, one a female physician.


Entire Blockade of Gaza Must Be Lifted

On September 6th, I posted a blog concerning what I considered bad reporting by many in the mainstream media, ‘Palmer Report Did Not Find Gaza Blockade Legal Despite Media Headlines’.

Amnesty International recently signed on to a joint open letter to members of the MiddleEast Quartet — an important mediating body in the peace process that includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — with almost two dozen other human rights and humanitarian organizations in regards to the Palmer commission’s report on the 2010 flotilla incident and the continued closure of Gaza.


Is Sierra Leone’s Free Healthcare Program for Pregnant Women and Children Working?

By Kim Lanegran, Amnesty USA Country Specialist for Sierra Leone

sierra leone mother and babyIt’s been a little over a year since the government of Sierra Leone launched its groundbreaking free healthcare program for children and pregnant women.

While we’re thrilled about the good news — more women now receive pre and post-natal health care, over 39,000 women delivered their babies in health care facilities, and many lives have been saved — there is still a lot to be done.

Amnesty International’s new report on the Free Health Policy finds that free adequate care is simply not being delivered.


With All Eyes on the "Market," Health Reform Overlooked Human Rights

This guest blog post is by Anja Rudiger, director of the Human Right to Health Program at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative

Six months ago the United States almost got universal health insurance. Advocates celebrating the passage of the federal health reform law argued that this was as good as it gets. While it was understood that the optimistically named Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) emerged as the result of political compromises, many applauded it as a step toward finally realizing the human right to health care in the United States. After all, the bar had been set quite low: because the United States produces poor health outcomes and shocking health disparities despite the highest health care spending in the world – driven by a for-profit health industry – the only way the country could go was forward. Or so it was hoped.

Yet six months later we awake to news of children’s coverage dropped, sick kids being charged more, skyrocketing insurance premiums, employers’ shifting costs to workers, and insurers defending paper-shuffling as essential medical expenses.

Everyone knew from the start that the reform would not be fully universal, with the Congressional Budget Office predicting 23 million people to remain uninsured, nor equitable, with access to care dependent on the payment of premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, nor accountable, with for-profit insurers setting prices and limiting access to doctors and services. Yet many had hoped that a little bit of universality would go a long way toward getting improvements for some. By the same token, the principle of “equity” was deemed just slightly too ambitious when insurance companies could simply be subsidized for selling their products to those working low-wage jobs.

As far as accountability goes, it was considered safer to keep the enemy – our beloved insurance companies – as close as possible, rather than unnecessarily antagonizing it. If the reform stuck to a market-based insurance system – so went the reasoning – access could be within reach of more people without causing disruptions to those benefiting from the status quo.

Except that some rather painful market disruptions are upon us now, with insurers dropping policies and raising rates in droves. But once again, advocates cling to their optimism; after all, the bulk of the reforms won’t come into effect until 2014, and once we plow through this disruptive period, all the pieces will fall into place. Or will they?


Posted in USA

North Korea's Dire Lack of Food and Health Care

Amnesty International released a disturbing new report today detailing the crumbling state of health care in North Korea.  The  report paints a bleak picture of barely-functioning hospitals void of medicines and epidemics brought on by malnutrition.

In addition, our researchers found that the North Korean government has been unable to feed its people and, in violation of international law, has refused to cooperate fully with the international community to receive food aid.

Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February © Korea Press

Even though North Korea claims to provide healthcare for all, the latest estimate from the World Health Organization shows that North Korea spent less on healthcare than any other country in the world – under US$1 per person per year in total. In fact, many witnesses have stated that they have had to pay for all services since the 1990s, with doctors usually paid in cigarettes, alcohol or food for the most basic consults, and taking cash for tests or surgery. Because North Korea has failed to provide for the most basic health and survival needs of its people, many North Koreans bypass doctors altogether, going straight to the markets to buy medicine, self-medicating according to their own guesswork or the advice of market vendors.

Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February this year after a botched currency revaluation. Crippling food shortages, exacerbated by government policies in North Korea, have caused widespread illness as well as people are forced to survive on “wild foods” such as grass and tree bark. Hwang, a 24-year-old man from Hwasung, North Hamgyong province, was homeless and lived alone from the age of nine. Foraging for wild foods was his only option to avoid starvation.

“I ate several different kinds of wild foods, such as neung-jae, which is a wild grass found in the fields. It’s poisonous – your face swells up the next day. Other kinds of grass and some mushrooms are also poisonous so you could die if you picked the wrong one,”


Buzz on the Hill: Maternal Health Briefing

On April 14th, 2010, over 60 hill staff and concerned activists came out for a congressional health briefing titled “Does the New Health Care Reform Law Address Barriers Women Face When Seeking Maternal Health Care?” hosted by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary. At the request of Chairman Conyers, the briefing featured our very own Nan Strauss, Amnesty International USA’s lead researcher on our most recent report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Crisis, as well as two Congressional Research Service (CRS) specialists on Medicaid.

Nan’s compelling presentation on the maternal health care crisis highlighted that while significantly needed strides were made with the passage of health care reform, the magnitude of the maternal health crisis in the U.S. continues to claim the lives of 2 – 3 women every day. Using individual stories as well as global statistics, Nan explained that in the United States:

  • Two to three women die every day of complications resulting from pregnancy or childbirth
  • Maternal deaths in the US are more likely than in 40 other countries
  • Black women are nearly four times more likely to die than white women. In high-risk pregnancies, these disparities increase dramatically
  • Many inner city hospitals are chronically understaffed. Again, women of color are more likely to seek care at understaffed hospitals than white women
  • Nearly half of maternal deaths and ‘near-misses’ could have been prevented with better access to good quality maternal health care
  • Although health care reform has many provisions that will help women, such as ending discriminatory insurance practices based upon ‘pre-existing conditions,’ many of the underlying conditions responsible for the appalling rates of maternal deaths in the US, continue to exist

As the next step after health care reform, she said, Amnesty International is calling for the establishment of an Office of Maternal Health within the Department of Health and Human Services.

You can take action here by writing to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and asking her to work with President Obama to establish an Office of Maternal Health.

Mona Luxion contributed to this post.

To Midwife or Not to Midwife…..?

By Cynthia Walsh, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

Pregnant with my first child! Excitedly, I began immediately searching for a nurse midwife who would guide me and serve as my health advocate throughout my pregnancy.

Living in  West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer for a time, I had several wonderful encounters with Traditional Birth Attendants or TBA’s.  The TBA’s that I worked with were a small group of dedicated women ranging in age from early 30’s to mid 60’s who assumed the role of everything from family counselor, marriage intermediary, women’s advocate, family planner, nutrition counselor, pre-natal care provider to birth attendant in their small respective villages.  Often these villages are located days’ journey by foot from any sort of rural health clinic so the presence of a TBA is critical to the life or death of  pregnant women and her unborn children.

In the United States, my own personal experience with my nurse midwife “Judy” was more than I could have imagined and I definitely felt as though I was fully engaged and informed in all phases of my prenatal care, delivery, and post-partum recovery.

Please  take urgent action on this very important piece of legislation – the Massachusetts Midwifery Bill – Senate 2341.  The Health Care Finance Committee must vote by Wednesday, April 28. Without passage, 1.4 million families in the state will still not have the kind of access to midwives that families in many other states do.

Take a moment NOW to call your MA legislators and let them know that the Midwifery Bill is important to you.

Find out your Massachusetts State Senators and Representatives.

Posted in USA