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No connection between legality and incidence

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. 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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Thursday Morning Coffee

In what may be one of the lamest ledes ever, the New York Times announces “Caution: Heavy Internet traffic ahead. Delays possible.” Best get your Morning Coffee while you can.

Starting 5

>>Tibet/India – The 100 Tibetan exiles who had disobeyed a directive by Indian police to cease their protest march from the Kangra district in India to their native country have now been detained by the Indian authorities. The protestors have since launched a hunger strike. Meanwhile, Chinese police fired tear gas into a crowd of 600 protesting monks in Tibet.

>>Cuba – Five Cuban soccer players, in the U.S. for Olympic regional qualifiers, went missing in Tampa on Tuesday night. Their disappearance has not been reported to the authorities, and they would likely be granted political asylum under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy were they to seek it.

>>Israel/Palestine – An Israeli raid in the West Bank that ended in the death of four Palestinian militants has further imperiled a ceasefire sought by Egypt.  The raid occurred just hours after Hamas declared the cessation of Israeli “agression” a necessary precondition to such a ceasefire. The four killed had been wanted by Israeli authorities for years. As an “initial response” Islamic Jihad fired rockets toward Israel from Gaza. Israel then retaliated with air strikes.

>>Pakistan – One of the two corruption charges that bar Benazir Bhutto’s widow Asif Ali Zardari from holding public office was dropped yesterday. Dismissing the charge was part of a power-sharing deal worked out with Bhutto in October. The final case will be ruled on Friday. Zardari did not run for a seat in the February 18 election, in which his party won the most seats, but could still try to win a spot in a by-election and become Prime Minister, assuming the other charge is dropped. Meanwhile, Musharraf has dangled a deal to give up his powers to dissolve parliament in exchange for opposition parties agreeing not to reinstate former supreme court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

>>Chad – The government of Chad has announced that heavily armed rebels are entering the country from Sudan. The two nations are set to sign a non-agression pact in Dakar in just a few hours prior to the opening of the OIC summit. Chadian and Darfuri rebels have dismissed the pact as meaningless.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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    Peace V Justice in Northern Uganda?

    The recipient of the International Criminal Court’s first-ever indictments may avoid the dock in the Hague. Via Opinio Juris (the best international humanitarian law blog out there) Ugandan President Youweri Museveni says that he will no longer hand Joseph Kony, leader of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, over to ICC authorities for an international trial. Instead, Museveni will pursue a local form of justice akin to a traditional truth and reconciliation process against Kony, who recently signed a landmark peace agreement with the government.

    This has to be disappointing to the ICC. Kony is certainly deserving of jail time. His militia terrorized the Acholi people of northern Uganda for more than two decades. On the other hand, the ICC deserves some credit for bringing Kony to the negotiating table. It was not until the ICC began its investigation and issued indictments that the LRA began to seek a peace agreement with the Ugandan government in good faith; the ICC indictments provided the critical leverage to get the peace process going. So what to do about this peace v justice dilemma? The Enough Campaign says so long as the peace process remains on track, the Security Council should invoke the ICC charter and suspend the indictments in favor of local forms of justice. Makes sense to me.

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    Strategies at home and abroad

    I think it is terribly important for the new U.S. administration to advance gender equality as part of a more comprehensive strategy for peace and social justice both at home and in the rest of the world. It is also 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.

    The new administration needs to be willing to stand up and publicly recognize that the United States, despite being among the wealthiest nations, has a long way to go before it is close to meeting some of the most basic gender equality standards in terms of women’s representation in the political process and in terms of economic justice. Women represent over 51 percent of the US population, but only 14 percent of representatives in both the US House and Senate are women. There is enough research to show that increased representation by women in legislative bodies results in policies that invest in the long term human security of their citizens. Repeated studies by the AFLCIO, have shown that you can cut poverty rates in the United States (close to 70 percent of those who are poor in this country are women and their dependent children) simply by paying women equal pay for equal work. Not a single new Congressional appropriation would be needed for such a war on poverty. Yet, the fight for the ERA — or Equal Rights Amendment, which would be the most effective strategy to achieve “equal pay for equal work” has long since ceased to be a mobilizing banner for the US women’s movement. It is also arguably the most likely reason that the United States has simply failed to ratify the most universally recognized women’s human rights treaty worldwide, the Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW.Violence against women in the United States continues to claim unacceptably high numbers of victims and basic pre-natal care for pregnant women is almost non-existent for poor women without health insurance. 15 years ago when I worked in Chicago, Black women suffered from maternal mortality rates that were worse than Bangladesh. Poor children continue to die across the US because they lack basic preventive health care, including vaccinations against common diseases like measles. Despite the horrors inflicted on poor residents of the Gulf coast, it seems that Katrina barely ruffled a political feather — it hasn’t shown up as a major policy agenda on a single candidate’s stump speech. The new administration must demonstrate that it is willing to take action on such blatant violations of basic human rights — right here at home.

    Finally, an effective US administration will need the active and tactical support of the women’s movement in the US. To provide sufficient ballast, the movement in the US needs to deepen and broaden its message beyond the rather narrow confines of fighting to preserve Roe v. Wade. On reproductive rights and health, it must be willing to stand up for the right of all women (immigrants, the poor, rural, sexual minorities, etc) to be able to plan their families, have access to contraception, and to bear and raise healthy children. 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.

    At the most base level, a U.S. administration’s commitment to advancing women’s rights would serve to reinforce our country’s commitment to social justice and international law. Neither our government — nor any — can invade nations or bomb them into submission — even under the guise of “fighting terror” — with a carrot in the other hand touting “human rights.”. Such practice looks too much like the hypocrisy the developing world has come to expect from its former colonial powers.

    The same holds for economic coercion or what I like to call “market fundamentalism.” The free markets the West and the US are so keen to export and impose on the rest of the world are remarkably well regulated here in the US to serve the “national” interest. Look at how farm subsidies to the tune of $20 billion per year continue to underwrite US agriculture, even as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank are busy demanding that the rest of the world (Brazil, India, Egypt, and most sub-Saharan African nations) tear down their subsidies on agriculture and food. A recent article in The New York Times quoted the President of Malawi saying, “we decided to follow what the West did, not what they preached, and expanded subsidies to our farmers.” Malawi has made remarkable progress in the past few years on food production as a result.

    This speaks particularly to Michelle’s point making the links between women’s fertility, population growth and the rising cost of food. I submit that the cost of food prices has far more to do with oil prices, uneven and unfair trade practices than with how many poor mothers are having babies. This is not to undermine the critical need for inexpensive and reliable means of family planning. They should be made as widely available as possible. In fact, women’s rights is as appropriate a lens by which to understand the challenges around population as any. What women’s rights activists in the West need to be more outspoken about is the model of growth that is based entirely on consumerism. A few statistics will make my point clear as day:
    Americans eat 815 billion calories of food daily, that is about 200 billion more than needed, more than enough to feed 80 million hungry people. 200,000 tons of edible food are thrown out daily in the US. 80 percent of corn grown and 95 percent of oats are fed to livestock in the US. 56percent of all available farmland in the US is used for beef production. In turn, when the US exports our model of high economic growth to the rest of the world consumption of meat rises in countries like China and India.

    With all due respect, I would argue that those are the key factors contributing to rising food prices, not women in poor countries having babies.

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    The Need for Peace, Protection, and Funding in Darfur

    Gloomy news for the prospects of both peace and peacekeepers in Darfur, reports the UN News Center:

    Recent fierce fighting in Sudan’s devastated Darfur region makes it clear that the international effort to protect the population is at dire risk unless the parties are pressured to negotiate a peace, a top United Nations peacekeeping official said today.

    “With the Government intent on military action and the rebels either fighting or fragmenting, it is difficult to see an opening for political negotiations,” Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said as he briefed the Security Council on UNAMID, the hybrid African Union-UN force in Darfur.

    The opening of an avenue for peace negotiations is, of course, crucial for long-term stability in Darfur. And as long as a peace accord is pursued honestly by all sides — and not through rushed expediency, as was the failed Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006 — it will also improve the odds of deploying a fully effective peacekeeping force in the short-term.In addition to not yet having a peace to keep, though, the contingent of blue helmets in Darfur is grossly understaffed — with only 9,126 of its allotted 26,000 uniformed personnel currently deployed — and remains underfunded, undersupplied, and undertrained. The force’s inadequate preparation is as dangerous as its lack of numbers or the absence of an enduring political solution. Simply bringing in the required number of troops — even were the Sudanese government to drop its objections to the non-African countries that have pledged troops — would not suffice toward improving the force’s capabilities, unfortunately. Assistant Secretary-General Mulet’s briefing made this clear:

    The timely deployment of the various battalions, including Egyptian, Ethiopian, Thai and Nepalese, would be linked to donor countries’ efforts to support troop contributors with equipment, training and self-sustaining capability…It was “absolutely critical” that the incoming troops have self-sustaining capability and equipment to enable them to patrol and effectively carry out their operations. Without self-sustaining capability, incoming troops were a burden on the Mission and became part of the problem, not the solution.

    Sending peacekeepers into Darfur with insufficient equipment or training amounts to a reprehensible abdication of moral and strategic responsibilities. The United States and other countries need to step forward to provide the requisite support for UNAMID; without this commitment, the goals of achieving both peace and protection will become even more unattainable.

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    Wednesday Morning Coffee

    Obama wins the Mississippi primary.

    Think something is missing from Morning Coffee? Add it through a comment below.

    Top Stories

    >>United States – Admiral James “Fox” Fallon, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East best known for his outspoken statements that seemingly, put him at odds with the Administration, retired prematurely yesterday. According to the New York Times, Fallon “emphasized diplomacy over conflict in dealing with Iran,” “endorsed further troop withdrawals from Iraq beyond those already under way,” and “suggested the United States had taken its eye off the military mission in Afghanistan.” Last week Esquire published “The Man Between War and Peace,” which suggested that Fallon was the one person who could stop a U.S. war with Iran. Fallon distanced himself from the article. The New York Times quotes a “senior Administration official,” who says Fallon’s comments “left the perception he had a different foreign policy than the president.”

    >>Israel/PalestineReports suggest that Israel is pushing for a 30-day “trial period” of quiet before committing to the full ceasefire that Egypt is attempting to broker. Likewise, Hamas set its own terms, which include an end to Israeli raids in Gaza and the reopening of the borders. Prospects for such an agreement were rendered more tenuous yesterday when, for the first time in a week, militants fired a missile from Gaza toward the Israeli town of Ashkelon. No injuries were reported.

    >>Uganda – Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, said yesterday in London that, as part of a final peace agreement with the Lord’s Resistance Army, he would press the ICC to drop charges against LRA leader Joseph Kony. Kony would instead be prosecuted under a traditional system in Uganda whereby those who ask forgiveness and make compensation can escape prison time.

    >>Kenya – A power-sharing agreement between Kenya’s current governing party and the opposition, once thought a done deal, seems to be in danger amid dispute about the role of the newly formed post of Prime Minister (to be filled by opposition leader Odinga). On Monday the head of Kenya’s civil service, Francis Muthaura, issued a statement delineating the role as third in the government heirachy, not second as the opposition expected. The opposition says this is a deal-breaker, while the governement has stated that Muthaura’s formulation is correct.

    Yesterday in UN Dispatch


    • href="">South
      Africa’s Zuma accused of delaying justice
    • href="">Nigeria
      oil rebel pipeline found
    • href="">South
      Africa: Party Leader Asks Court to Dismiss Evidence
    • href="">Doubt
      over PM’s role endangers Kenya pact
    • href="">From
      inside Black Beach jail, a chained and shackled Simon Mann names names
    • href="">State
      Dept. Rights Report Calls Record of Sudan ‘Horrific’
    • href="">Russia
      to Aid Mission in Chad
    • href="">Black
      mamba bite kills Briton who dreamt of becoming a game ranger
    • href="">Kenyan
      Troops Strike at Militia Involved in Land Clashes


    • href="">Colombia
      mulls payout to rebel
    • href="">Mexico’s
      No. 2 Official Faces Pressure Over Deals Tied to Family


    • href="">Thaksin
      pleads not guilty to Thai graft charges
    • href="">NATO
      head says no decision yet on Ukraine, Georgia
    • href="">Suicide
      car bomb kills Afghan civilian
    • href="">Kremlin
      Rules: Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents
    • href="">U.N.
      Says Taliban Are Impeding Aid
    • href="">Sri
      Lanka says fresh fighting kills 33, mostly rebels
    • href="">Asian
      Muslims protest against Danish cartoons
    • href="">Wild
      elephant kills three, including boy, in Nepal
    • href="">Indian
      airport workers on strike
    • href="">Pakistan
      buries victims of blasts
    • href="">India’s
      families still hoping for answers


    • href="">German
      exports grow despite strong euro
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