Dear Pope Francis: Women’s Lives Matter

By Betty Clermont | 19 June 2015
Daily Kos


47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion.
8.5 million women experience complications from unsafe abortion that require medical attention, and three million do not receive the care they need.
If every woman who wanted birth control had access to it, there would be
150,000 fewer maternal deaths
640,000 fewer newborn deaths
600,000 fewer children becoming motherless

In his encyclical on the environment, “Pope Francis stated the protection of nature is ‘incompatible with the justification of abortion … How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?’ he asked. He cautioned against seeking to exercise ‘absolute power’ over our bodies as if they were something that we own.”

“‘Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate,’ Francis lamented. Even though an unequal distribution of population and available resources presents obstacles to development and environmental sustainability, ‘it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development,’ he stressed.”

Overpopulation is the main driver of climate change, ill health and conflict,” according to the British Medical Journal.

“For the global poor, access to contraception can mean the difference between starvation and nourishment, poverty and stability, illness and health, death and life. Few issues are more crucial to the fate of poor families around the world.” Additionally, “Poor reproductive health outcomes – early childbearing, maternal mortality/morbidity, and unintended/mistimed pregnancy – have negative effects” not only on overall health but also on “education and household well-being.”

The pope links climate change to poverty. However, “Any poverty agenda must focus on women because they are 70 percent of the world’s poor. Women comprise two-thirds of the global illiterate population and all women face additional hurdles to their economic and social well-being, including the pay gap and the fact that women are much more likely to hold vulnerable jobs,” according to a UN report.

United Nations

Pope Francis also “denounced the fact that developing countries often receive pressure from international organizations who make economic assistance ‘contingent on certain policies of reproductive health.’”

Popes have played serious hardball against women’s human rights for 50 years … The Roman Catholic Church has global influence via the UN that is unique among the world’s religions. Only the Holy See and Palestine (since November 2012) hold Non-member State Permanent Observer status at the UN and most of its agencies. They have the right to speak, reply and circulate documents in the General Assembly, as well as take part in international conferences with “all the privileges of a state,” including the right to vote …

Pseudo scientific claims appear repeatedly in Holy See statements  … The Holy See [tried] to exclude “forced pregnancy” from a list of war crimes [and] to exclude “sexual and reproductive” healthcare from areas of healthcare deserving particular attention.  Vatican emissaries routinely try to substitute women’s “dignity” for women’s “human rights” and to erase any reference to decision-making rights for adolescents.

“Various modern techniques of human reproduction do not respect this full dignity of the woman. They regard fertility and pregnancy as diseases rather than normal states of a woman,” stated Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Pope Francis’ ambassador to the UN, in March 2015. “World leaders must recognize that such dignity begins at conception. Women’s essential contributions to the development of society through their dedication to their family and to raising the next generation is inadequately acknowledged,” said Auza. “The feminine genius” is linked deeply to “solidarity in caring for the vulnerable and in creating a better world.”

In April, Auza “criticized the focus on population growth as an obstacle to development. He especially decried ‘subtle forms of coercion’ used to push plans to curb population growth in underdeveloped countries.”

Pope Francis will address the UN in September. The same month, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals will be voted on by the UN General Assembly. “The language establishes targets for global development, among them to ‘ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services’ by 2030. If the current proposed language is adopted, it could result in ‘unfettered access to abortion’ around the globe, according to the office of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.”

The majority of deaths from unsafe abortions occur in Latin American and sub-Sahara Africa.

There are more than 4 million unsafe abortions in Latin America a year, “a quarter of which result in hospitalizations or death from complications. According to Human Rights Watch, 40% of all pregnancies in Argentina end in illegal abortions. Some Latin American countries, especially in Central America, suffer maternal mortality rates 20 times higher than Western Europe’s.”

“In 1998, when El Salvador had only recently emerged from a devastating civil war, sectors of the Catholic Church, including the ultra-right-wing Opus Dei, campaigned successfully for a change in the constitution that declared life began with conception.” (Pope Francis is a friend of Opus Dei.) “The World Health Organization estimates that more than 35,000 women in El Salvador obtain unsafe, clandestine abortions every year.”

El Salvador’s total ban on abortion is killing women and girls, forcing them to undergo dangerous backstreet abortions and landing them in jail, rights group Amnesty International said … Amnesty said the abortion ban was indirectly a leading cause of maternal deaths in El Salvador … 129 women in El Salvador were charged with abortion or aggravated homicide between January 2000 and April 2011. Some had illegal abortions, others miscarriages. Twenty-six of those charged were convicted of homicide or aggravated homicide and jailed for up to 30 years on weak or inconclusive evidence, often after flawed trials …

The total ban on abortion in El Salvador is nothing less than institutionalized violence against women and a form of torture or other ill-treatment … The widespread lack of equal rights for women and the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church are factors behind the country’s rigid abortion laws …

Women are seen mainly as child-bearers and mothers. Such discriminatory stereotypes remain deeply rooted in a conservative and patriarchal culture which still relegates women to the sphere of social reproduction – a culture widely promoted … by conservative forces including the Catholic Church hierarchy.

“Salvadoran laws disproportionately harm women who are poor and uneducated, but also reflect a general ‘hatred of women,’” stated activist Sara Garcia.

“The majority of [Brazilian] women who are at risk from abortions are black, poor, uneducated and live in the marginal neighborhoods,” said Yury Puello Orozco, the director of the Catholics for the Right to Choose. “We estimate that 1 in 5 women have had an insecure abortion. So we see this as an issue of public health … More than 50 people suspected of working in clandestine abortion clinics were arrested weeks after two women were found dead after seeking abortions. In Brazil, the law says a woman is only allowed to terminate her pregnancy if she was raped, if her health is in danger.”

For them, the wages of sin [anyone who has or assists in an abortion is automatically excommunicated] really are death. More Orwellian than his politically incorrect – though blunt – predecessor Benedict, Francis is a public relations maven, entrenching the doctrine but seeming to do otherwise … It took expelling the Church for Cuba to become the only Latin America country (1965) to offer legal – that means safe – abortions. It would take more than 40 years for Uruguay (2012) to follow suit, although Mexico City had done so five years earlier.

The region follows the Vatican’s Catholic plan for society … In 2006, Colombia’s Constitutional Court held that abortion was legal when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, endangered the mother, or when the fetus was unlikely to survive. Church officials threatened to excommunicate the judges and the medical team that performed the procedure.

“In the case of Nicaragua … Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, struggling to regain the presidency after a series of electoral defeats, needed Nicaragua’s powerful Roman Catholic Church on his side … With the Church’s help, Ortega won the presidency in late 2006 and a year later, a congress controlled by Ortega strengthened Nicaragua’s 100-year-old abortion law to make the procedure illegal in all cases.”

In May 2015, a 10-year-old rape victim was denied an abortion – “a treatment to save her life” – in Paraguay. The country “is a fiercely Roman Catholic and conservative nation where abortion is banned in all cases – even rape – except when the mother’s life is in danger.” Archbishop Edmundo Valenzeula of Paraguay demanded that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon not promote abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage in Paraguay during his visit to that country in February 2015.

In Chile, an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her mother’s partner was unable to terminate the pregnancy. “Right now in Chile … even if the fetus won’t survive outside the uterus, conception occurred as the result of rape or even if the mother’s own life is in danger from carrying the baby, the law says a woman must keep the baby unless she miscarries naturally. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet wants to overturn the law, but has her work cut out for her as she takes on a conservative and Roman Catholic-based legislature … A total ban is also in place in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and Suriname.”

On June 16, 2015, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, presided at a closed door, nation-wide exorcism of Mexico. “High levels of violence, as well as drug cartels and abortion in the country, were the motivation behind the special rite.”


“The World Health Organization estimates that faith-based groups provide between 30 and 70 percent of all health care in Africa, much of it delivered by the Catholic Church … Africa’s bishops are stepping up their presence within the African Union, requesting observer status for SECAM, the continent-wide assembly of Catholic prelates.”

A woman in Berega, Tanzania, who sought care after a botched abortion. In Tanzania, where abortion is illegal, the maternal death rate is high in part because of failed abortions. (Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times)

“In Niger, Mali, Somalia, Uganda, and Burkina Faso, the average number of births per woman is six or higher. In addition to a massive population growth, sub-Saharan Africa also accounts for almost 70 percent of the global total of new HIV infections, according to the United Nations’ 2013 statistics. Last year, 1.1 million people died of AIDS in that region, and a devastating 24.7 million are currently suffering with HIV or AIDS.”

“The role that the Roman Catholic Church has played as an obstacle to AIDS education in Africa calls into question its moral right to a high status at the United Nations,” said Bene Madunagu, Chairperson, Executive Board, Girls Power Initiative, Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) opposed abortion for girls raped by Boko Haram. Archbishop Auza said, “It is always distressing to see that some are still promoting the abortion of unborn children as part of the ‘treatment’ or response to the attack of their mothers.” In contrast, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist pastor and member of an interfaith coalition of faith leaders urging the Obama administration to help the pregnant women and girls who do not want to give birth to the offspring of their terrorist attackers, said: “We have a responsibility as caring people to not put a woman through a psychological, biological horror that can be avoided.”

The cardinal primate of Kenya, John Njue, suggested in March 2014 that a WHO/UNICEF sponsored tetanus vaccination campaign for girls and women to prevent deaths of Kenyan babies from this disease concealed an agenda of forced contraception. “Tetanus vaccines given to millions of young women in Kenya have been confirmed by laboratories to contain a sterilization chemical that causes miscarriages,” reported the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association. “The Kenya Catholic Doctors Association is a recently formed, wholly owned subsidiary of the Catholic Church in Kenya, to which doctors have been recruited to uphold Catholic teachings in medicine, particularly with respect to reproductive health.” UNICEF/WHO denied the reports as did the Kenyan government.

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, who “presided over the economic and social collapse of one of Africa’s most prosperous nations,” was among the invited dignitaries who joined Pope Francis for the beatification ceremony of Paul VI, the pope who reaffirmed the rule that Catholics were not allowed to use contraception including the pill.


One NGO estimates that roughly 60,000 Filipino children are victims of prostitution. This country “epitomizes the need for all Catholics to continue the fight against the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on contraception.”

Women share beds after giving birth at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila. The Philippine capital is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. A ban on contraception at public clinics there has put birth control out of the reach of most of the city’s poor. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

“The Catholic Church in the Philippines spent 10 years in the Supreme Court blocking the implementation of a state-sponsored reproductive health bill … The Filipino hierarchy pressed on until a modified and more limited version of the law went into effect” in 2014.

The battle was led by Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, elected in May as head of the Catholic global charitable organization, Caritas, and dubbed “the Asian Francis.” Pope Francis early on stated “that Catholic charity would not be like a ‘humanitarian NGO’ helping others with no agenda other than doing good” but rather his papacy would continue to use charity as a means to “confess Jesus Christ.”

The Philippines is the only country, aside from the Vatican, which does not allow divorce. The Gabriela Women’s Party sent an open letter to Pope Francis before he visited their country in January 2015.

At least 13 Filipino women are victims of domestic violence every day and poverty prevents them from leaving their abusive husbands or partners. Gabriela Women’s Party, representing marginalized women in the national parliament, has filed the Divorce bill since 2004, yet to date, this bill remains in the dustbins of the parliamentary walls. We urge you to lend your voice and enlighten our government and church leaders to free our sisters trapped in abusive marriages because we are deprived of the option of divorce.

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, a women’s-rights advocate, said the large annulment expenses deprive the poor of a way out of an oppressive or violent relationship. She said annulment also requires “intellectual dishonesty” in declaring there was no marriage at all, even for couples who were married for years and had children. “If the Catholics don’t want to have divorce, fine. But don’t deprive the others. Don’t impose Catholic dogma on the entire country,” Ursua said.

In March, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said, “The supposed suffering that a spouse must bear owing to a failed marriage is more imagined than real, and comes only upon one who does not make use of the remedies already available under existing law.”

United States

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the federal government to help ensure the religious organizations provide abortion and contraception to unaccompanied immigrant children in the care of federally funded facilities. “We have heard reports that Catholic bishops are prohibiting Catholic charities from allowing teens in their care to access critical services like contraception and abortion – even if the teenager has been raped on her journey to the United States or in a detention facility,” said ACLU staff attorney Brigitte Amiri. … Almost 60,000 unaccompanied minors illegally crossed over from Mexico border last year. Nearly a third were young girls, and Amiri claims up to 80 percent were victims of sexual assault.

The government contracts with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to care for those children until they can either reunite with a relative or face an immigration hearing. The organization has received $73 million overall from the government – with $10 million coming in to care for unaccompanied minors in 2013 alone. “The Catholic Bishops are taking millions of dollars in federal grants and then imposing their beliefs on this vulnerable population who they are supposed to serve … and that raises serious concerns under the separation of church and state provision in our Constitution,” said Amiri.

“Abortion clinics are closing in the U.S. at a record pace. In four states — Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — just one remains. Through 2014, states had approved 231 abortion restrictions since a Republican-led state-legislative push began in 2011 — more than had passed in the prior decade. During that time scores of clinics closed or stopped offering the procedure.”

As of January 2015, “More US women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years. The United States is the one of only seven countries in the entire world that has experienced an increase in maternal mortality over the past decade (we join the likes of Afghanistan and South Sudan), and mothers in Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Greece (among many other countries) have a better chance of surviving pregnancy than do women in the United States.”

“The Affordable Care Act is providing much-needed health coverage to many poor women for whom it was previously out of reach and if fully implemented could certainly help stem maternal deaths.”

The pope has 40,000 agencies in the US, including paid lobbyists (Catholic Conferences) in each state, and his proxies like Legatus, the Becket Fund, Acton Institute, the Ethics & Public Policy Center, etc. to back anti-abortion legislation. Unable to defeat Obamacare, they have waged a war in the courts to limit coverage for contraception.

Oregon recently enacted a “first-of-its-kind insurance law that will allow women to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at a time, instead of the 30- or 90- day supply available now … The Catholic Church opposes contraceptive expansion, saying Oregon’s measures could have ‘moral implications and social consequences.’”

According to an AP report this month, “Nearly everywhere, in red states and blue, abortions are down since 2010, with an overall drop of about 12 percent … The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, where abortions fell from 3,064 in 2010 to 2,147 in 2014. Laurie Temple Field, government relations director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii, said more women there were getting access to health insurance and affordable contraception. She also credited the state’s policies on sex education in public schools, which includes information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.”

In 2012, when the Fernandez administration in Argentina “pushed for mandatory sex education in schools, free distribution of contraceptives in public hospitals, and the right for transsexuals to change their official identities on demand,” Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio accused the president of “demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power.”

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).

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