The most comprehensive study of international abortion rates to date linked the availability of reproductive health and family planning services to a drop in abortion between 1995 and 2003. Research conducted by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute also reveals that abortion rates in North America were stagnant during the study period, dropping from 22 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age to 21 per 1,000, coinciding with an intensified political effort to ban abortions in the United States.

Abortion rates dropped where contraceptive use is up, illustrated by the sharp declines recorded in Eastern Europe during the study period, Guttmacher noted. Abortion rates there were cut in half following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Prior to that, abortion was the primary method of birth control and others were largely unavailable to women.

“It’s clear to me then that if anti-choice forces really wanted fewer abortions in the U.S., they should be dedicated to keeping it legal,” wrote RH Reality Check columnist Rachel Larris Oct. 12. “Western Europe has a ratio of 12 abortions per 1,000 women whereas in North America (which includes Canada) the ratio is 21 per 1,000. Meanwhile in places where the procedure isn’t lawfully permitted, the 39 unsafe abortions per 1,000 women (in Eastern Africa) and 33 per 1,000 (in South America) testify to the fact that many women will break the law to end a pregnancy.”

The research study has been criticized by anti-choice groups as flawed. In 2003, an estimated 41.6 million abortions were performed worldwide.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a ruling Oct. 5 that the U.S. government is obligated to provide protection to victims of domestic violence under the terms of an international treaty. The decision stems from the case of Jessica Lenahan, a Colorado woman whose husband murdered their three daughters after local police failed to respond to her pleas for help. Whether the government failed to provide protection in her specific case will be decided in future proceedings.
  • Five women who worked for real estate giant CB Richard Ellis in Los Angeles may receive up to $150,000 each in a sexual harassment suit settlement. The plaintiffs said that in the male-dominated firm they were subjected to unwelcome advances and lewd comments, and that pornography was distributed over company e-mail lists.
  • The New York State Division of Human Rights awarded an $850,000 settlement to 55-year-old Alicia S. Humig, a lesbian prison guard who was subject to repeated harassment from a male colleague. The complaints about the abuse were ignored by her employer, Wende state prison in Alden, N.Y., the agency ruled.
  • British novelist Doris Lessing has become the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature since it was instituted in 1901. The Nobel committee described Lessing, whose novel “The Golden Notebooks” was hailed as a breakthrough depiction of women’s inner life, as an “epicist of the female experience.” Her reaction to receiving the prize: “Oh Christ . . . I couldn’t care less.”
  • The National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y, inducted a new group of outstanding women on Oct. 7. Among the inductees were Swanee Hunt and Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist. Hunt is the founder of the Hunt Alternatives Fund that serves to empower women around the world. Hunt is a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century 2004.
  • Uganda opened its first factory for anti-retroviral HIV drugs and anti-malaria medication, the BBC reported Oct. 8. Locally produced drugs will lower import costs, allowing Uganda to deliver lifesaving drugs to more people. “The challenge is to make sure that the production is followed by a good distribution system that makes sure that the drug can reach all corners of the country,” said Leonard Okello of Action Aid International. Currently, about 41 percent of Ugandans who need the AIDS drugs receive them. Three-quarters of HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan African nations are female.

For more information:

Guttmacher Institute, Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide:

Dr. Suki Falconberg, Letter to Ken Burns:

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Two U.S. soldiers have been accused by the Colombian government of raping a 12-year-old girl on a military base, El Tiempo reported Oct. 8. Michael J. Coen and Cesar Ruiz are accused of dropping the victim off in a park after raping her in an apartment. The soldiers are part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. funded drug eradication effort that started in 2000.

In Iraq, two women were killed in a car by foreign convoy escorts as they were traveling through central Baghdad. A Dubai-based private security firm took responsibility for the incident.

In Zimbabwe, the peaceful activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise has issued a report documenting the torture and sexual abuse of female protesters who oppose the regime of Robert Mugabe. The group says that 40 percent of its members have suffered physical torture while detained by security forces; others were stripped of their clothing and held beyond 48-hour legal limits.

The United Nations reported Oct. 11 that in North Kivu, an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of rapes increased 60 percent during the month of September. Over 2,000 cases have been reported in the province since January. Widespread sexual torture of women by armed militants has become an epidemic during the Congo conflict; in response, women’s groups have launched hunger strikes.

The sexual assault against women continues unchecked in conflict zones around the world and persists through time. An open letter to documentarian Ken Burns circulating on the Internet poignantly asks why he neglected to include the sexual enslavement of women during World War II and U.S. military complicity in his opus work, “The War,” airing on PBS stations. “I was raped and prostituted by the U.S. military,” Suki Falconberg wrote in an open letter posted on several blogs. “Why don’t you tell my story, Mr. Burns? It is far more ‘colorful’ than that of these soldiers who raped their way through Europe and Asia.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • New estimates about global maternal mortality demonstrate that the United States has fallen behind other Western countries, ranking 41st out of 171 nations worldwide, dropping from 36th. The figures jointly released by the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank also indicate that maternal mortality rates are declining at an almost negligible rate in developing nations, where those rates were originally the highest. In Africa, the probability that a 15-year-old woman will die from a pregnancy or childbirth complication is 1 in 26. In developed regions, the probability is 1 in 7,300.
  • Black women with advanced breast cancer are less likely to get vital treatment such as chemotherapy than their white counterparts in the United States, a study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University indicated. The study was published in the most recent edition of the journal Cancer. Scientists said that education and early detection were crucial to ending this disparity. Among the test group of women with cancer that had spread to lymph nodes, white women were three times as likely to receive chemotherapy and almost five times as likely to receive a popular hormonal treatment.
  • Overcrowding at the primary women’s prison in Massachusetts is getting in the way of rehabilitation because interest in programs far exceeds available slots, the Boston Herald reported Oct. 7. Overcrowding also leads to frequent disputes, correction officers said, and adds to soaring operational costs.

These items were compiled from mutiple press reports and press releases by Sarah Seltzer, a New York-based freelance writer and the editorial intern at Women’s eNews, and Dominique Soguel, the Arabic editor for Women’s eNews.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].