Op-ed: the World Health Organization’s disturbingly myopic view of the "need" for safe abortion
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations that focuses on worldwide public health. Unfortunately, WHO places universal abortion provision under the umbrella of “public health,” calling into question the organization’s commitment to real women’s health and well-being.
In guidelines recently released by WHO, entitled Health worker roles in expanding safe abortion and post-abortion contraception, the agency presupposes that abortion is the best option for pregnant women who seek the procedure worldwide. In what is not said in the guideline, rather than what is, WHO betrays a fundamentally anti-Life approach to women’s health. Namely, the document omits any concern for the reason why vulnerable women are seeking abortions, and assumes that so-called “safe” abortion is the solution for unplanned pregnancies in regions where undergoing the procedure is particularly dangerous.
The document jumps from identifying the problem of unsafe abortion to asserting that an increase in trained providers of abortion is the solution. End of story. Equally disturbing is WHO’s suggestion that the way to expand the base of abortionists is to allow “nurses, midwives and auxiliaries” to commit abortions where physician abortionists are unavailable.
If WHO truly cared about the holistic well-being of women, should they not be asking whether the groups they have identified as most vulnerable to unsafe abortions are being given the option not only of so-called safe abortion, but also of viable resources for parenting and adoption? Consider the vulnerable populations WHO pinpoints: adolescents, the poor, the unmarried, the less educated, and those living in rural contexts. All of these women are living in a disadvantaged state of Life that calls into question the elective nature of their abortions; do they feel coerced or pushed into a corner by their circumstances? Would they be seeking abortions if they really had viable alternatives at their disposal?
Do adolescent girls know that adoption and parenting are alternatives to abortion in unplanned pregnancy situations? Are they being afforded the human right to these options? Are poor pregnant women seeking abortion because they cannot afford a child? Has WHO considered that these women may choose Life if given the resources to parent? Are unmarried women seeking abortion solely because of societal stigma regarding unwed parenting? Are less educated girls being sexually exploited and turning to abortion unaware that other options should be made available to them? Are rural women going to be given access in their regions to parenting and adoption resources as well as trained abortionists?
We already know that social, geographical, and governmental impositions place dire strains on pregnant women internationally, and to assume that women in these repressed circumstances truly want abortions in every case is simply remiss. WHO cannot pretend to champion women’s needs by assuming that abortion is the best option for every disadvantaged pregnant mother. Justice demands that pregnant women receive the help they need to parent or place a child for adoption. Only after these needs are met could a discussion even be predicated on the notion that an elective abortion was her free choice.