by Furry Girl
My WikiLeaks cable search continues, and this time I spent a full day reading about how US diplomats cover abortion. A lot of the items I've seen mentioned with the cables are "big deal" political issues like terrorism, censorship, corruption, but I think it's also important to consider more "pedestrian" topics, such as the issue of abortion. Access to safe abortion services might not garner headlines like an leak about who we've tortured, but it affects far more people worldwide in their daily lives.
Most of the results for "abortion" are about the Catholic Church opposing it, snippets about sex-selective abortion in India and China, and brief mentions of forced abortions at the hands of human trafficking rings. Meddling from pro-life Republican Congressman Chris Smith came up in four cables about abortion, and that's just what I noticed as a casual reader. (What does your representative do overseas on diplomatic missions? Why not search the cables and see?)
This post is by no means exhaustive, and like my roundup of cables on sex work and prostitution policies, reflects only some of the things I found while poking around on CablegateSearch.net. If you find something else interesting, post it in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #wlfind. If everyone spends just a couple of hours looking through the cables for a topic that's interesting to them, we can all find more stories in this huge repository of US diplomatic information.
Cables of note, mostly on abortion, plus two on FGM I stumbled across:
* A January 2010 cable from China discusses the country's sex-selective abortion and how it affects their gender ratio. "Social consequences of this imbalance include an estimated excess of over 30 million unmarriageable males, a potentially destabilizing force that threatens to cause unrest in the most economically marginalized areas, and could lead to increased gender violence through demand for prostitution and trafficking in girls and women." The @WikiLeaks Twitter account mention this earlier today. I still am wondering what defines one as an "unmarriageable male" in China.
* A December 2009 cable from the Vatican, marked SECRET, "reiterate" the Vatican's position on US healthcare legislation. "[Archbishop] Mamberti asked the Ambassador about the status of the health care legislation now pending before the U.S. Senate, and reiterated the concerns expressed by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops that the final version of the legislation not contain funding for abortion."
* A November 2009 cable from the UN summarizes a meeting on population, family planning, development, and climate change. Call me ignorant, but I wasn't previously aware that the Catholic Church has a representative at the UN. Really, why should they of all people get a seat at the table in UN population and family planning meetings? Does the Taliban get to have a place to influence debates on the global response to terrorism?
* An October 2009 cable from Colombia explains how the country's complicated system of having 4 types of courts hinders clear decisions on abortion rights. "In September, [Inspector General] Ordonez successfully scuttled the Mayor of Medellin's plans to offer abortion services at a new integral women's health clinic. Some hospitals and doctors still refuse to perform the legal abortions due to objections of conscience, and some judges have blocked the full implementation of the ruling. Ordonez argues that abortion is still a crime (punished by one to three years imprisonment) with specific exceptions, and not a right."
* An October 2009 cable from the Vatican summarizes a conference on getting more faith-based groups to work with governments on HIV/AIDS charity work. The Vatican's event had nothing to do with promoting condom use or sex education (surprise!), but on the importance of HIV testing and treatment for children, how to work to prevent HIV transmission between mother and child. The Vatican wants to see more groups providing care to children born with HIV, but has zero interest in addressing the reasons why babies are born with HIV or how HIV is most commonly transmitted. The US embassy considered this event "very successful."
* An October 2009 cable from Afghanistan on the situation of women weighs the pros and cons of a drug. "Hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal death in Afghanistan. JPAIGO, a USAID implementing partner affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, conducted a study in which midwives and health workers provided expectant mothers with misoprostol, a drug that prevents hemorrhaging if taken immediately after delivery. The Afghan Government is cautious about using the drug, since it can also be used to induce abortion, which is illegal in Afghanistan."
* A September 2009 cable from Kazakhstan explores the many factors that caused one town, Temirtau, to be dubbed "The AIDS Capital of Kazakhstan". They include layoffs from the world's largest steel company, AcelorMittal, which once employed half the town. Later, on the subject of efforts to promote safer sex, "...only 1-2 percent of Temirtau's residents use contraception to restrict birth; abortion remains the overwhelming preferred method of birth control."
* A September 2009 cable from the Vatican covers a Catholicism conference headlined by Tony Blair and Jeb Bush. After defending the event from critics, the cable reluctantly notes, "It is, however, at the forefront of the cultural wars pitting traditional Church values against Western European secularism. As such, it works assiduously to advance Church teachings on controversial issues such as euthanasia, abstinence in the fight against AIDS, abortion, and the role and influence of religion in society." The cable refers to the conference as a success.
* An August 2009 cable from Morocco deals with abortion and family planning. "Abortions are legal in Morocco only to safeguard the health of the mother. The practical measures to garner permission for a legal abortion, however, are especially difficult. In addition to written consent by the spouse, the region's chief medical officer must approve all pending abortions. These stringent procedures mean that legal abortions are rarely approved beforehand."
* A June 2009 cable from Russia says that family planning efforts are having a hard time "gaining a foothold" in the face of religious and state opposition. "Svetlana Yakimenko, the Director of Project Kesher, an international women's rights NGO, told us May 21 that Planned Parenthood International had a difficult time gaining a foothold in Russia and faces opposition to its work from both the GOR and the Orthodox Church. [...] The GOR pursues an official policy of encouraging women to have as many children as possible in order to counteract the country's demographic problems..."
* A June 2009 cable from Poland discusses the country's abortion laws. It notes that "abortion is allowed only in three instances: when pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health of the mother, when pre-natal examinations indicate a high probability of severe birth defects or incurable disease, and when pregnancy was the result of rape. As women's rights NGOs point out, even those entitled to legal abortion under the strict anti-abortion law are often denied. Under Polish law, a doctor has the right to deny an abortion if it is in conflict with his/her conscience (so-called conscience clause)."
* A June 2009 cable from the Vatican seems to be written for Barack Obama, explaining what the Church wants to discuss on his visit. "Vatican officials grudgingly accept that abortion is legal in the U.S., but oppose making it more widely available. Internationally, the Vatican would forcefully oppose USG advocacy of legalizing abortion elsewhere, financing foreignabortions, or making abortion an international 'reproductive right.' The Vatican would welcome an honest, respectful dialogue with the United States on abortion."
* A June 2009 cable from Mexico covers the abortion debate in the country. Abortion is legal in cases of "confirmed rape," which makes me wonder what their rape certification process looks like. "Some pro-abortion NGO's claimed a modest victory in regulations requiring a response by state health authorities no more than 120 hours after a confirmed rape, provision of emergency 'morning after' contraception, as well as abortion on demand in rape cases. Such organizations, however, noted that the regulations require written authorization by law enforcement authorities who must certify that a rape had taken place (for victims under 18 a parent or guardian must also provide authorization)."
* An April 2009 cable from Guinea titled, "Exploring Fgm- Sorcery, Secrecy, And Livelihoods" talks about female genital mutilation and the women who perform it. "...Asst Poloff had a rare opportunity to interview women who actually perform FGM, or 'excision'. The interview took place at the community health center, with four local women in attendance. [...] Although any woman can attend the actual procedure, it is usually older girls who have already been excised and/or older female relatives such as aunts or grandmothers. [...] The excisers balked when questioned about the role of men in the practice of excision. The younger exciser explained that men would not 'dare' involve themselves in the domain of women." (And here we Westerners are told that FGM is caused by a thing called "The Patriarchy," not an empowered sisterhood of women. A cable from the UAE in 2005 notes that FGM is inflicted by "elderly women or midwives" when it happens in that country.)
* An April 2009 cable from India discuses sex-selective abortion and gender disparities in the country. "Though President Patil, India's first female president, claimed in her talk in December 2008, in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, 'Today, our women are competing on an equal footing with men,' the reality for many in western India belies this claim."
* A March 2009 cable covering the presidential election season in Slovakia notes how Catholic Church campaigns against one female candidate. "Recently, several bishops helped to ignite the Slovak 'culture wars,' by publicly calling on Catholic voters not to support her. Banska Bystrica's Bishop, Rodulf Balaz, recently went as far as to indirectly compare [her] to Hitler because of her attitudes toward abortion and gays."
* A November 2008 cable from Nicaragua speculates on whether the country's anti-abortion president is causing it to lose foreign aid. "Finland is not the first country to withdraw budget support from Nicaragua since Daniel Ortega became President. In August 2007, Sweden announced it would end its foreign assistance to Nicaragua, as a result of its decision to shift focus on countries in Africa and Eastern Europe. Observers in Nicaragua speculated that the true reason behind the Swedish decision was Ortega's prohibition of therapeutic abortion, an assertion denied by the Swedish Ambassador."
* A July 2008 cable from Ethiopia discusses inteference from an anti-abortion American politician. The country apparently doesn't want outsiders meddling in its laws, citing "the example of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who adamantly opposes abortion. When Ethiopia's parliament passed a clause allowing abortion in instances when the mother's life was in danger, Congressman Smith severely criticized the Prime Minister and his government and is now a vocal critic of Ethiopia. If Ethiopia accepted funding from anti-abortion groups and overturned the Parliamentary law to be in compliance with Congressman Smith, it would not be a law truly embraced by the people of Ethiopia."
* A September 2008 cable from the Vatican is titled, "Catholic Movement Wary Of European Human Rights Discourse". The Church is upset that they think Europeans and their governments "are promoting the view that abortion, euthanasia and same sex-marriages are human rights," views that "betray" the "true essence" of human rights according to Catholic religious doctrine.
* A December 2007 cable from Kenya discusses various ways that religion influences politics in the country. On religious activism: "While some positions are clearly in line with church doctrine -- such as the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Kenya calling for aspiring leaders to reject abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty -- other leaders' declarations have been more political and have correspondingly sparked controversy." Good to know that the Catholic Church is always working hard on issues that really matter, like fighting against abortion access in developing countries.
* An October 2007 cable from Nicaragua covers abortion debates and the Catholic Church's role. Interestingly, anti-abortion politicians decided to turn it into a homophobic issue. "Agreeing that the only women in favor of abortion were homosexual, deputy Navarro scornfully called the female protesters 'lesbians, lesbians, lesbians' during his turn at the microphone." The US embassy concludes, "In our discussions with women's organizations and NGOs, we have made it clear that U.S. foreign policy does not condone or recognize the right to abortion."
* A May 2007 cable from Brazil covers the Pope's visit amidst debate on changing the country's archaic abortion laws. Ever the sensitive guy, Pope Benedict "asserted that the spreading of the gospel during colonization did not represent 'alienation of pre-Columbian cultures nor the imposition of a foreign culture.'" The cable also mentions "a Vatican proposal to make religious education obligatory in public schools."
* A March 2007 cable from Senegal plainly spells out that the position of the US government is anti-abortion. It covers the visit of pro-life US Ambassador Rees to discourage the country's adoption of the Maputo Plan, which aims to improve sexual health and family planning for the people of Senegal, and includes abortion. (Trivia: Rees was once a legislative aid to what US Congressman? Chris Smith!) "Ambassador Rees voiced U.S. concerns that the Maputo Plan of Action requires countries to integrate all HIV/AIDS programs with family planning/reproductive health programs, an integration that would likely divert badly needed HIV/AIDS fund to family planning, and also seemed designed to require African countries to make abortion more widely available. [...] During a 30-minute meeting with Minister of Health Abdou Fall on March 21, Ambassador Rees stressed that the Maputo Plan of action was not a consensus document, could create 'an abortion industry in waiting.'"
* A March 2007 cable from the Vatican reports on a "right to life" conference. "Addressing conference delegates during a private audience, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that the right to life must be supported by everyone because 'it is fundamental with respect to other human rights.' The pontiff then lashed out against interest in developed nations in immoral biotechnological research, 'the obsessive search for the perfect child' through genetic selection, a renewed global push for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, which is 'closed to natural procreation.'"
* A February 2007 cable from Portugal notes that the country is about to legalize abortion (up until 10 weeks). The country's leadership "hailed the outcome, underscoring that it would ensure Portugal's move toward modernity and place it among the world's contemporary democracies." I like that increasing abortion access is seen as a cornerstone of modernity and democracy.
* A January 2007 cable from the Vatican summarizes Pope Benedict's speech about what he thinks wrong with Africa. Abortion is apparently one of the key problems facing the continent.
* A December 2006 cable from Nicaragua talks about the country's abortion laws. "[Nicaraguan Minister of Health Margarita] Gurdian expressed regret that the medical community was shut out of the legislative debate that was strongly influenced by Catholic church and Evangelical group interests."
* An August 2006 cable from Fiji discusses the visit of US politicians, who discussed the pressing issues of abortion and war. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican Congressman, "expressed hope that Fiji would not support a UN program that he said advocates abortion as a means of family planning. A spirited discussion followed among several of the congressmen on abortion-related issues." The country was thanked for "Fiji's participation in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq." (At this point in time, Fiji probably had less than 300 troops in Iraq.) Perhaps in return for their support of the war, Fijian politicians were "very interested in prospects" that the 2000-ish Fijian citizens illegally living in the US can be shown "some consideration" in upcoming immigration bills.
* An August 2006 cable from Vietnam talks about the current state of affairs for the country's population policies, including what it defines as "real abortion". "[A government official] raised doubts about the reliability of abortion rate figures and stated that 93 percent of all reported abortions performed in Vietnam are actually 'menstrual regulation.' This procedure allows women to end a pregnancy during the first trimester by artificially triggering withdrawal bleeding. Some 20 percent of women undergoing this procedure are actually not pregnant and just 'want to be on the safe side,' he said. Therefore, the [government's population department] only considers mid- or late-term abortion cases to be 'real abortions' and has allocated funding to try to reduce the number of these cases, which account for seven percent of the reported abortions."
* A March 2006 cable from Vietnam mentions Congressman Smith's penchant for telling developing other countries what to do with their abortion laws: "Smith had promised to work cooperatively with Vietnam on the issues of combating trafficking in persons (TIP), preventing abortion and promoting religious freedom."
* A March 2006 cable from France summarizes how the US has been portrayed in the local press, including Bush's abortion politics. It quotes one concerned article: "This anti-abortion law does not concern South Dakota alone... When it comes to morals and culture, the wind often blows from the U.S. onto our shores. President Bush, spurred by the 'Christian right' is already waging an anti-abortion crusade worldwide. He is making anti-abortion legislation a condition for aid to poor and developing countries. This crusade will intensify if the right to abortion was questioned in the U.S."
* A January 2006 cable from South Africa expressed US concerns with what it considers "contradictions" in a newly passed law. "Under the new bill, a child can consent to medical treatment, including HIV testing and the purchase of contraceptives, at 12 years of age. Previously, under the Child Care Act, the minimum age had been 14. There are contradictions in the new bill. Having sex with a child aged 15 or younger is considered statutory rape, but the new law assumes a 12-year-old is mature enough to purchase condoms. Another concern is that, at 14 years old, children can now consent to surgical procedures, including abortion. However under the new bill, a girl can consent to giving up her baby for adoption only at 18, whereas previously, a 16-year-old could make that decision."
* A December 2005 cable from Vietnam talks about Congressman Smith's advice of using fake "pregnancy crisis centers". "On abortion, the Congressman noted that faith- based pregnancy-care and pregnancy-crisis centers are very powerful weapons in the fight against abortion."
* Another December 2005 cable from Vietnam states that Congressman Smith "is deeply concerned about the prevalence of abortion in the world". A Vietnamese official smartly notes, "Preventing abortions is a noble goal... a far better solution than abortion is to provide the social and financial methods and resources to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place."
* A September 2005 cable from El Salvador touches on the Catholic Church's anti-abortion lobbying in the country. "[Archbishop] Saenz Lacalle succeeded in an effort to prohibit legally all types of abortion, by busing Catholic schoolchildren to the Legislative Assembly to stage anti-abortion demonstrations. In an effort to influence legislators, Opus Dei also solicited thousands of signatures for anti-abortion petitions from churchgoers after Mass; some political observers viewed this as an inappropriate intervention in national policy on the part of the Catholic Church."
* A November 2004 cable from Brazil reports on an effort to amend strict anti-abortion laws to exclude cases of anencephaly, an extreme deformity that renders a fetus/baby incapable of surviving. An earlier cable on this potential exception notes opposition from a Catholic church group, stating they "will struggle for the preservation of the rights of anencephalics, especially the right to be born." (The Wikipedia page on anencephaly includes photos you may consider disturbing.)
* A January 2004 cable from Ghana mentions the country's abstinence-focused sex ed. "USAID,s program works to decrease the abortion rate by promoting family planning for married couples, educating girls and boys on abstinence and delayed sexual initiation, and advocating faithfulness between married partners (school-based curricula, Life Choices media campaigns and the Church's Counseling curriculum are examples)."
* A November 2003 cable from Croatia explains the Catholic church's role in politics. "Catholics were also directed not to vote for parties and individuals who support legalized abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriages."
Furry Girl: a good time not yet had by all.
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