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US Intervenes on Ethiopian Abortion Law

Ethiopia has changed its law to expand the indications for legal abortion. While the global gag rule does not allow the U.S. to interfere in the sovereign affairs of another nation, the U.S. has nonetheless attempted to impose its own views on abortion on this government-led legal reform process.

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Devil in the Details?

PEPFAR includes a huge amount of money with a burdensome and ideological list of "do's" and "don'ts." Haven't we seen this before? Read this latest post in our International Women's Health Salon.

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Calling Out the U.S. on Women’s Health First

This post is part of our online salon: A New Agenda For Girls' and Women's Health and Rights, co-hosted with UN Dispatch.

I don't work on reproductive health and rights on the international level, but I have worked on the national level and think that there's obviously much work to do that could definitely make us "a better defender" for women's rights internationally. Just last week a UN committee called the U.S. out for failing to address severe racial disparities that exist in reproductive health care.

So yes, we need to improve our conditions at home, but first there needs to be just a general recognition that these real problems exist rather than continuing to hold ourselves up on a pedestal as this champion of women's rights, coming to save "the oppressed women" from "uncivilized" countries, and as Kavita said, which has been happening in the midst of this guise of fighting terror.

One example is female genital cutting. While, as Michelle mentioned, the U.S.'s efforts to assist countries in getting the practice banned definitely isn't a bad thing, what about recognizing that our own practices of "vaginal rejuvenation" or "labiaplasty" isn't that far off? Yes, the two are still very different and I certainly wouldn't say labiaplasty would be on the president's top list of issues to address. I'm just saying is just the identification of certain problems that may be just as immediate here (such as the UN's recent findings) as other countries and not placing ourselves in the superiority seat is a first step. And putting ourselves to a higher standard from that perspective will allow us to avoid the moral high ground and come from a less condescending and invasive place.

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Questions for the Group: Walk the Talk?

This post is part of our online salon: A New Agenda For Girls' and Women's Health and Rights, co-hosted with UN Dispatch.

I am interested in hearing from those of you who work primarily on women's reproductive health and rights globally whether you think the "walk the talk" at home argument holds water?

Would the United States be able to be a better defender of women's rights abroad if it set high standards for the same at home? How do do those realities affect this country's actions overseas or the ability of women's rights organizations that are US based to be successful in their work with partners in the rest of the world?

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In Response to Kavita: Legal Abortion Globally

I want to respond to part of what Kavita said:

"Finally, the women's movement needs to show the political will and courage to refuse to cede the moral high ground by showing itself able and willing to speak to the moral ambiguities around the issue of abortion."

This is so important, but it has proved incredibly tricky, because if we paint abortion as a "tragedy," a la Hillary Clinton several months ago, we buttress the anti-abortion movement in its creation of "post-abortion syndrome" as something women need to be protected from.

This is one of those areas where I really wish we could bring the international to bear more on the domestic debate. I want to scream every time some pundit, in contemplating her own ambivalence about choice, relegates back-alley abortion to the realm of ancient history. I wish politicians would say, loudly and repeatedly, that if you look around the world, there is no connection between abortion's legality and its incidence. I wish the staggering toll of unsafe abortion in the developing world was part of the conversation. Outside the world of public health and the global women's movement, very, very few people know that, for example, there are countries in East Africa where botched abortions are responsible for a third of maternal deaths. I don't even know how many people realize that the lowest abortion rate in the world is in the Netherlands.

Ross Douthat, an up-and-coming young conservative thinker, has sketched an utterly fantastical vision of what he sees a post-Roe America looking like in Imagining A Prolife America.

It's maddening for all kinds of reasons, but mostly for its utter ignorance of what's happening in countries where abortion is illegal. (Hint: the truth doesn't bear out his "assumption" that "a ban on abortion, by changing the incentives of sexual behavior and family formation, would actually end up reducing out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, and all the rest of it.").

Obviously we're never going to convince people like him, but I think if there was some kind of basic knowledge of how this issue plays out in other countries, it could possibly change some of the faulty assumptions underlying the abortion debate here, and help people understand the connection between pro-choice policies and fewer abortions.

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Walking the Talk: Political Parity, Market Fundamentalism

It is vital to show by deed as well as by word that the United States means to walk its talk on gender justice. This would go a long way in rebuilding the trust and goodwill that the past administration has squandered in the rest of the world.

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Regarding Michelle’s Questions…

Preaching from the US about sexual and reproductive rights is not productive. Our own house is not quite clean enough. So we really need to link our domestic policies and their enforcement with our moral voice abroad.

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Two Questions for the Group

There are two particular questions I’ve been mulling over quite a bit lately. First, how much should the administration pressure foreign governments to reform anti-woman laws? And, should US policymakers, and the women’s movement, try to leverage concern over the environment to garner more support for reproductive health and women’s empowerment programs?

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Is This A “Bold” Plan?

Is Adrienne Germain’s plan really a bold one? Only in the sense that the US is so far behind the curve on modern thought about gender, sexuality and reproduction that getting there with our current mindset is unthinkable. In this sense, it is a good plan for the 20th century, but I say let’s be really bold and move to the 21st.

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Letting Their Voices Be Heard

We need to ensure that within our initiatives to assist various nations, we’re working with and funding local women’s organizations, talking to women and girls on the ground, and allowing them to maintain agency so that they’re not just being helped, but being heard.

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