I keep thinking that it’s simply not possible that I’ll be leaving Kenya in just two weeks! I’ve met so many amazing people here that I’m going to miss, and besides, I’m finally making progress with learning Kiswahili… Kenya ni nzuri! 😊 I can only hope that the work I’ve been privileged to do with Ipas Africa Alliance staff to document their efforts will help spread the word about their fantastic work. At the same time, given the disastrous and hateful political machinations going on in my country, I am growing eager to return to the U.S. and resist hate and ignorance with millions of others. I have never felt more urgently the moral obligation to share the impact that U.S. policy has on Kenya and other countries. It’s an unfair reality, and should motivate those of us who are pushing back to keep the pressure on.
Two weeks ago, I attended a meeting with a partner organization that will likely be unable work with Ipas moving forward due to the Global Gag Rule. This is in spite of the fact that every single Kenyan person in the room has witnessed women in their communities suffer injury or death from unsafe abortion. Then yesterday during a staff meeting, an Ipas Field Coordinator shared that two young women in her county died last week trying to end unwanted pregnancies. One became so desperate that she punctured her own abdomen with a sharp object. While most people living in the U.S. have no recollection of the days when these types of tragedies occurred, the grief my Kenyan colleagues and their communities feel comes from close proximity to the consequences of a lack of access to reproductive rights, health information, and services. We must make sure that these stories are known by those with the power to prevent them from occurring- including countries like mine that provide life-saving funding to nations set-back by colonialism and global inequality.
The reality of how unfair, how unfeeling the Global Gag Rule and Helms Amendment are sits like a stone in my stomach. It’s unacceptable and imperialist for the U.S. to bully other countries in this way, while hypocritically ignoring the damage to life that these policies cause. The message my government is sending is that unwanted pregnancies, no matter the circumstances, carry more weight than the dignity, safety, hopes and dreams of the women walking around in the world right now.
This callousness is why we must continue to passionately and consistently state this reality: making abortion harder to access does not stop abortion, but it does lead to the emotional and physical anguish of women, girls, and their communities. This is especially the case in settings where women do not have access to legal abortion care, or the information, support, and the medication necessary to successfully end a pregnancy on their own.
Someone recently sent me an article from an anti-choice website that highlights the number of legal abortions performed in the U.S. each year. As is the norm for these websites, the language used is intensely biased and scientifically inaccurate. For example, a 13-week-old fetus is described as “fully-formed,” which is simply untrue. What is more offensive to me though is the way that the issue of abortion is over-simplified, painting women as selfish murderers or unwitting victims rather than complex human beings making what is for many women, a difficult choice embedded in a web of circumstances only she and perhaps her medical provider (if she has one) can fully understand. Of course, nowhere on the page are there any facts on what happens when abortion is driven underground: Nothing about the death and disability caused by unsafe abortion; nothing about the women imprisoned where it’s been criminalized. The voices of women and girls affected by a lack of choice, entirely absent. The context, painfully myopic; completely ignoring the realities of unsafe abortion outside of the U.S. This was not a true defense of life.
Despite the sender’s intentions, the article only assured me that the work we are doing at Ipas must continue. Impacting women’s and girls’ lives and quality of life requires a fierce and sustained commitment to helping people understand both intellectually and emotionally what happens when women are denied their bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. I cannot imagine anything that denigrates life more than ignoring the preventable suffering of other people. Expressing concern about the number of fetuses who are aborted while ignoring the complex realities of women who have had abortions and the reality of unsafe abortion is both hypocritical and deeply misogynistic, regardless of whether that is the intent.
It is outrageous that Ipas and other organizations must continue to reinforce the message that the lives of women and girls have value and are worth defending. Tens of thousands of them will be injured, and many will die preventable deaths each year due to unsafe abortion. But these numbers are not my only motivation, for even one woman or girl injured or harmed due to a lack of choices regarding her reproductive health is one tragedy too many. The people I’ve had the honor to work with over the past two months know this too well. A true defense of life requires that we stand up for safe abortion.