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Another Voice: Unsafe abortions kill 47,000 women worldwide each year

By John Seager

Forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, abortion rights in the United States are still under attack.

But there’s another tragedy taking place outside of our country’s borders, where nearly 47,000 women – almost all of whom live in the developing world – die every year from unsafe abortions.

In many of the world’s poorest countries, abortion is illegal in nearly all circumstances. And this provides us with some important lessons. First, outlawing abortion doesn’t eliminate it. Desperate people take desperate measures.

Nearly all of this suffering is preventable. We need to give women everywhere access to voluntary family planning services. Allow me to state the obvious: Fewer unplanned and unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortions.

Unfortunately, for far too many women around the world, effective and affordable birth control is hard to come by. While governments should certainly provide their citizens with the means to plan pregnancy, the reality is that many of them have limited resources. Instead, they must rely on aid from countries like the United States and on international organizations like the U.N. Population Fund.

Sadly, though, U.S. abortion politics interfere with these important life-saving efforts and, at times, contribute to the number of women overseas who are dying from abortions performed or facilitated illegally by unskilled providers.

Not only is our country’s financial commitment to family planning dependent upon who is serving in the White House and in Congress, but we have to contend with harmful legislation written in the 1970s.

The Helms Amendment says that U.S. foreign aid cannot be used to provide “abortion as a method of family planning.” Yet it has been enforced as a total ban on funding for abortion under any circumstance.

That means women and girls who are raped in conflict or are victims of incest cannot access safe abortion services. And the same goes for women whose lives are threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term. It also means that overseas health organizations cannot use U.S. funding to buy the tools and medications they need to treat those who have been injured by an unsafe abortion. And it’s a downright shame.

It’s a tragedy that women and girls are dying by the tens of thousands because they haven’t been granted the right to undergo a medical procedure that should be both safe and available in every country across the globe.

On this week’s Roe v. Wade anniversary, let’s decide, together, to end the crisis of unsafe abortion around the world and commit ourselves to fight the proposals in Congress that intend to bring unsafe abortion back to the United States.

John Seager is president and CEO of Population Connection, formerly Zero Population Growth.