20.2.11

So Justin...

A sixteen year old purveyor of pointless pop Justin Bieber, has become a transient icon in the never ending battle against women’s reproductive rights.

Sixteen year old boys are entitled to their opinions, of course, but the adulation of celebrities of Bieber’s stature means that millions of girl and boy devotees across the world may parrot his sentiments simply because emulating your idols is an intrinsic part of the teenage phenomenon. The modern teenager is about peer groups and trends, fitting in and being accepted.

As they lap up Bieber’s views on what hair and skin products to use and how low their skinny jeans should sag, they may decide that his views on abortion are definitive.

In the meantime US Republicans have voted to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood in the US and to eliminate a program known as Title X, which provides approximately US$300 million to family planning and reproductive health, much of which is directed toward low-income families.

Simultaneously, in Zambia, the draft constitution plans to remove the right to abortion from the republic’s constitution. As it is, only an insignificant fraction of Zambian women realise that they have a constitutional right to have an abortion in any case in which a pregnancy may threaten a woman or girl’s wellbeing. In fact, barring South Africa, Zambia has one of the most accommodating laws on abortion to the extent that  girls under 18 can have an abortion without parental permission. But, this will change.

Ignorance of their rights and misinformation has lead to a sickeningly high maternal mortality rate of approximately 500 women per 100,000 live births, compared for instance to 6 per 100,000 in Finland.  It has been reported that between 30% and 50% of beds in the maternity wing of Lusaka’s main hospital UTH are taken by women and girls who tried to induce an abortion using unsafe means. “Unsafe” can be anything from aspirin, metal hooks or battery acid.

But still the assaults continue “I don’t see why Zambia should condone abortion when we declared the nation a Christian nation. There shouldn’t even be talk about unsafe or safe abortion in our country. Abortion is murder period! [sic]” Shocked comments on a Lusaka Times’ forum.

Zambia’s growing middle class have better access to MTV and Justin Bieber than they have to current and objective information about reproductive health. Unnamed contraceptive pills and vinegar douches are prescribed by doctors and a frightening synthesis of traditional beliefs and urban myths roam in an environment of secrecy and ignorance which, in 30% of maternity ward beds, leads to tragedy.

Photograph EW Cordon (flickr)

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