Abortion: Clinton invokes women’s rights around the world as she defends choice

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The contentious issue of abortion came up during the final U.S. presidential debate on Wednesday.

Hillary Clinton affirmed women’s right to abortion while Donald Trump said he would appoint judges to the Supreme Court who oppose it. Clinton countered by looking internationally to the consequences of governments circumventing reproductive rights.

“I’ve had a great honor of traveling across the world on behalf of our country. I’ve been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children, like they used to do in Romania,” Clinton said.

She went on to say that government has no business in personal decisions about abortions. But between 2010 and July 2016, states adopted 334 restrictions on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The restrictions have forced many clinics to close, and at the same time created requirements that women make multiple visits before having an abortion. This combination has driven up the cost for women who sometimes have to travel great distances to receive care, a cost that is particularly high for poor women.

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Restrictions and bans don’t stop women from having abortions. There is little difference in the abortion rate among countries that allow it and those that ban or restrict it. An average of 56 million abortions occurred each year between 2010 and 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health research and policy organization.

Low- and middle-income countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean have a much higher abortion rate than wealthier nations. Developing countries account for 88 percent of global abortions, totaling 50 million, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Those countries are also more likely to have stricter laws that limit abortions. It makes unsafe abortions a major problem. An estimated 6.9 million women in developing countries were treated for complications from unsafe abortions in 2012. And 22,000 died from complications.

But the numbers do not tell the whole story. Only 60 percent of women experiencing complications following an unsafe abortion seek treatment. There are also the women who undergo the procedure without any problems. It puts the number of women undertaking unsafe abortions at well above 10 million each year, according to Guttmacher.

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The top reason to have an abortion in a developing country is unintended pregnancy, making access to family planning an important part of the discussion. The contraceptive needs of some 225 million women are not met. They account for 81 percent of unintended pregnancies in developing countries, according to Guttmacher. These women want to use some form of family planning, but it isn’t available.

Abortion “is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. … I can tell you the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith with medical advice, and I will stand up for that right,” said Clinton.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.