I posted briefly yesterday on the efforts by anti-choice groups to keep women in developing nations poor, pregnant and uninformed about their bodies. These so-called “pro-life” groups will tell you that it’s good for women in developing nations to submit to their husbands or male partners, and that being pregnant is the best thing a woman can be.
Now, I’m certainly not anti-pregnancy. I think pregnancy is great. I’ve never been pregnant myself, but it’s probably something I’ll choose one day.
However, as a woman living in a developed nation, as a person who has the ability to control her own fertility and plan childbirth, and as someone with access to very good medical care, I have a lot of privilege. And the anti-choice folks who assume that all women worldwide are able to have problem-free baby-loving pregnancies are either ignorant or willfully blind. Because there’s this.
“There’s a saying in one of those countries, ‘To be pregnant is to have one foot in the grave,’” Roenneburg explained. Even if the girl survives labor, she may be left with a vesicovaginal fistula – a hole in the tissue separating the bladder from the vaginal canal.
Because of the fistula the victims constantly leak urine, and because of their foul smell – which one of Roenneburg’s patients described as being like “walking death.” Frequently, the girls are abandoned by their husbands, families or entire villages.
Although usually forestalled by cesarean section in the developed world, fistulas affect about 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, where adequate health care is often unavailable for women in labor, according to estimates by the World Health Organization.
But it’s far better to protect all those potential fertilized eggs by denying women access to sexual health education and birth control. Not to mention the fact that the clinics which offer these women these services — the clinics that are being de-funded and shut down by Bush administration policies — are the same clinics which offer women medical care and ob/gyn services.
The problem occurs during labor, when the fetus is stuck in the birth canal for too long and the continued pressure against the pubic bone cuts off blood flow to the surrounding tissue. Without blood, the tissue between the vagina and the bladder dies, resulting in a hole called a fistula.
Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? The anti-choice message has been, “Wait for marriage, then have sex, don’t use contraception and have as many babies as God gives ya.” Which arrogantly assumes, of course, that women in the developing world are free to marry who they want, when they want, and are free to say no to sex within marriage if they want to avoid pregnancy.
All women are at risk for the problem, but young or malnourished women with small, underdeveloped pelvises are especially susceptible.
Girls typically marry between the ages of 10 and 15 in rural areas of many developing countries, according to the United Nations Population Fund. A majority of women with fistulas who do get care are younger than 25, a 2005 review of studies from different countries conducted by the International Continence Society shows. At least 30 percent are younger than 20.
“The basic problem is babies having babies,” Wheeless said.
But we love babies. What could be better?
“A woman’s worth in Africa is measured by the number of children she produces,” he added. “Their life is sort of over at age 16.”
Now this sounds like a “pro-life” dream.
Some young women with fistulas try desperately to reach maternity wards in hospitals. If they’re not killed by wild animals or don’t die from other causes on the journey, they may spend years waiting for the arrival of doctors who can perform the operation, Wheeless said.
This is what happens when you combine a lack of proper medical care with systematic oppression of women and an inability to control your own fertility. This is what anti-choice international policies bring about. It’s sickening, and it’s anything but “pro-life.”
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