“Sanctity of Life” apparently doesn’t apply to girls

Interesting that the same week (blessedly soon-to-be-gone) President Bush announced “Sanctity of Life Day,” UNICEF released a report that girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than older women. (via)

Worldwide, more than 60 million women who are currently aged 20-24 were married before they were 18, with the most child marriages being in South Asia and in Africa.

If a mother is under the age of 18, her infant’s risk of dying in its first year of life is 60 percent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19.

In addition, the report says adolescent wives are susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation. Young brides are often forced to drop out of school, have few work opportunities and little chance to influence their own lives.

“If young girls are not in school, they are more vulnerable,” South African Health Minister Barbara Hogan said at the launch. “It’s not just a health issue; it is about the status of young women and girls.”

According to the report in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available, 9.2 million children died before reaching the age of 5, down from 9.7 million the year before.

Half of these deaths occurred in Africa, which remains the most difficult place in the world for a child to survive.

Africa is also the continent with the highest rate of maternal deaths, with women having a one in 26 lifetime chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. This is four times higher than in Asia and more than 300 times higher than in industrialized countries.

Veneman said 80 percent of maternal deaths are preventable if women have access to basic maternity and health care services.

In developing countries a woman has a 1-in-76 chance of dying due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth compared to 1-in-8,000 for women in industrialized countries.

Contrast that with what Bush said in his announcement of Sanctity of Life Day:

“All human life is a gift from our creator that is sacred, unique and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world,”

“The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence and funding crisis pregnancy programs.”

Yeah. Cutting off health care to developing countries and pushing abstinence-until-marriage (even teenage marriage) has done wonders to affirm the lives of women and girls. His administration did absolutely nothing to prevent federal funding for abortion overseas — laws against federal funding of abortions abroad have been on the books for decades. What the Bush administration did do was remove health care funding from clinics that so much as mentioned abortion as an option — meaning that women and men around the world found their access to contraception, condoms, safer sex tools, HIV/AIDS treatment, sexual health information, well-baby care, pre-natal care, and STI care suddenly cut off. And they found themselves being told that the solution to HIV/AIDS is simply to hold off sex until marriage — despite the fact that for a lot of women, marriage is a major risk factor in contracting HIV (not to mention a potential risk for intimate partner violence and other abuses), and early marriage can mean early pregnancy, which can mean early death.

Women around the world need health care. They need basics, like access to clean water and nutritious food and safe housing. They don’t need sanctimonious “sanctity of life” days from leaders who have demonstrated again and again that women’s lives don’t matter, and that the “pro-life” commitment to life outside of the womb is virtually non-existant.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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13 Responses to “Sanctity of Life” apparently doesn’t apply to girls

  1. you know that all of the world’s problems can be traced to the birth control pill, right? (that was an actual pro prop 8 blog post today) damn wimminz, not wanting to have babies every year until they die.

  2. Kyra says:

    Oh, but if someone dies in childbirth that’s a natural death, and thus the pro-lifers have fulfilled their qualifiers for the sanctity of life “from creation to natural death” (to quote from the American Life League).

    Which of course is the logical equivalent of the people who say outlawing gay marriage isn’t denying anybody their rights because gay people still have the right to marry people of the opposite sex, but we all know how people like this get along with logic.

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  4. I read the subtext from Bush’s statement, “The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent,” as being that “obviously, if she got herself pregnant, then she’s just a filthy whore and not innocent at all, therefore we don’t have any obligation to do anything to protect her.”

  5. denelian says:

    look i know that what i am about to type comes just from the fact that i am right now overwhelmingly depressed (as evidenced by the fact i have not been haunting Personal Failure for cookies for the past few days)

    i don’t know how, anymore. its so big, and getting bigger, i DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO ANYTHING BUT CRY AT THESE FACTS.

    i am not saying that i don’t want to read them – f that were the case, i could just not read them. i am saying that i no longer know what to do to try and help. when i donate i learn the money has been wasted or misused, not that i can donate much i can barely pay my bills. and know that being able to pay bills at all is a privilege, being able to be an adult taking care of myself when i am female is a privilege, i KNOW.

    but right now, i’m lost, i’m angry, and i feel totally incapable of helping even ONE of these millions of women who don’t even have my opportunities to fail.

    i feel that i can say that here. that maybe by saying it here, someone can tell me of something i can do that ACTUALLY will help, and not be siphoned off by a corrupt asshole or spent by husbands on prostitutes. something i can DO. which, yes, is ALSO a position of privilege, being able to help, and making it about me helping…


  6. Bush doesn’t care about life, unless he can use it to control women and send soldiers off to die. Just like he doesn’t care about science unless it’s hooked up to Terri Schiavo.

    And I’m really tired of the word “innocent.” Who’s innocent anyway? Were the 3,000 people who died on 9/11 innocent? I bet you some of the women in those buildings and planes had abortions. “Innocent” is just a word people throw around to imply that, sometimes, people deserve to be maimed or killed. Some say that our society can be judged based on how we treat our most vulnerable (people who say this are talking about zygotes). I think our society can be judged by how we treat guilty (or “guilty”) people.

  7. Ellen says:

    ThickRedGlasses, that is an excellent point!

    And denelian, I don’t think any of us know what to do. From disease prevention, to genocide, all we know how to do is spread awareness and argue.

    Just try to remember that while we see some places in Africa as desperately poor, they don’t see themselves that way. Toilets, clean water, air conditioners, paved roads, internet connections, money, vaccines, and birth control make our lives easier and safer, but it is our relationships that sustain us. And that is the same for people everywhere. We don’t die in childbirth or from diarrhea quite as much, but we often lead more alienated lives much more centered around money and work. I am not sure what my point it, and I could go on forever, but you are doing exactly what you should be doing: thinking, writing, talking, being politically active, and caring.

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  10. William says:

    “The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent.

    Bush needs to go back and read his Mill and Locke. The most basic duty of our government, the one created by the constitution that this man swore and oath to serve, is to monopolize violence in order to protect individuals from tyranny. Guilt or innocence doesn’t play a part and there are, oh, I don’t know, about 26 or 27 individual rights (depending on how you count) which are on equal footing with “life.” As far as I’m concerned this opening sentence is yet more evidence that the man is in willful dereliction of his oath, has allegiances to something other than the constitution, and ought to be tried and hung for treason the very moment he steps out of office.

    My administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws,

    Don’t pro-lifers always tell us that the point of parental notification laws is to keep parents involved in the lives of their children and make them better able to care for them? I mean, I’ve always called bullshit on that, but it seems here that Bush is admitting that the entire point of the exercise is not to notify parents but to “[build} a culture of life” which in turn implies that notification will somehow prevent abortion. Did Bush here just admit that the goal of parental notification laws was to prevent individuals from exercising a constitutional right?

  11. Cara says:

    Did Bush here just admit that the goal of parental notification laws was to prevent individuals from exercising a constitutional right?

    Yes, I think he did. But I also don’t think that it’s quite as unusual as you suggest. Parental notification laws are genuinely promoted through the argument of “keeping parents involved,” yes, but I have in fact seen many pro-lifers argue publicly that the point of them is to “prevent abortion.” Or, to make it more clear, to give parents the opportunity to force their children to give birth.

  12. denelian says:

    thank you. i do often forget that if i had been raised somewhere else, i would think that THAT was normal. so i sit here and feel sad that these women don’t have what i do… when, most likely, they don’t even know what it is that i have that they don’t (materially, and i am not saying they don’t KNOW they don’t have a car and AC in the house, but that they haven’t experienced it, and it hasn’t become something like the center of their lives)
    i live as stripped-down life as i can. the only things i buy are food, cigs and books. i TRY to not over consume. which, again, is about my privilege and not their lack.
    i’m babbling. what i mean is, thank you for validating my feelings there. for telling me its ok to feel overwhelmed, as long as i keep talking about it.

    can i nominate Ellen for coolest person? or maybe most empathetic? i’m just a random stranger on the internet, and she took the time to try and understand what i was saying and to RELATE to it. and made me feel a bit better.

  13. William says:

    Parental notification laws are genuinely promoted through the argument of “keeping parents involved,” yes, but I have in fact seen many pro-lifers argue publicly that the point of them is to “prevent abortion.”

    I guess its the public admission thing thats getting me. I know that thats the underlying logic, but its been my (perhaps idiosyncratic) experience that the forced birth crowd tends to treat notification with a nudge and a wink. What struck me as unusual was how honest Bush’s statement seemed to be when the rest of his side of the discussion sometimes seems to have a competition for who can be the most disingenuous.

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