This morning on BBC One’s The Big Questions (Episode 15 of Series 7) Sarah de Nordwall of Catholic Voices defended Joseph Ratzinger (the previous pope) and his argument that ‘the distribution of condoms aggravated the problem of HIV/AIDS, rather than helping to contain the virus’ [Source] by herself claiming that abstinence was better at stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and that “condoms don’t stop the spread of HIV.”
Technically having no sex is a better method of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS than having sex with contraception in place, but it simply doesn’t work because humans like having sex and being horny can cloud your judgement. Also, systematic reviews of research into the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education has shown it is ineffective at preventing unwanted pregnancy or the spread of STIs. [Source] Why let facts get in your way though, right Sarah?
At QEDcon earlier this month I had my eyes opened by the talk delivered by Elisabeth Pisani about HIV/AIDS and what does and doesn’t work in their prevention. Pisani is an epidemiologist who has spent over a decade working with the Ministries of Health of China, Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines, and has also provided analysis and policy advice to UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, US Centres for Disease Control and more.
Pisani has criticised the Catholic Church’s prohibition on condom use as a means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. In a 2008 Guardian feature about the launch of her book ‘The Wisdom of Whores’, Pisani criticised money being spent on ineffective prevention programmes. ‘Even the 20 cents in every US dollar allowed to be spent on prevention is wasted … a third of the prevention budget has to be allocated to faith-based organisations, which refuse to distribute condoms and will promote only abstinence before marriage. The failure rate of “virginity pledge” programmes among young Americans in the US is about 75%; condoms’ failure rate is roughly 2%.’ [Source]
I recommend people also read this 2009 Guardian article by Pisani, buy her book The Wisdom of Whores, and watch her TED talk ‘Sex, Drugs and HIV – let’s get rational‘ to learn more.
Further into the programme Nordwall also made the claim that abortion “kills millions” . This, again, is nonsense. I am starting to see a pattern emerging…
Without access to legal and safe reproductive services women will die. They will die as a result of unsafe “back street” abortions or as a result of pregnancy-related illnesses and conditions. In 2013 it was ruled that Savita Halappanavar died as a result of being denied an abortion that she requested. [Source] In 2012 we heard the story of a British woman, Katherine Furey, who attempted an abortion at home by drinking industrial vinegar that she had been told would induce a miscarriage. [Source]
These are not isolated incidents.
Women who are denied access to legal abortion often take things into their own hands and, in desperation, seek out illegal ‘back street’ or ‘do it yourself’ abortions. With these procedures come risks of permanent internal damage, uterine haemorrhaging, viral infections, septis, vaginitis, and death. DIY abortions are still an issue in this country despite abortion being legal, with A 2007 BBC investigation revealing that pills and herbal medicine designed to induce miscarriage are readily available on the black market. A Manchester doctor told the investigators that his team regularly came across patients with extensive bleeding after taking herbs sold to them to induce miscarriage. [Source]
Basic human rights are violated when the moral and religious beliefs of others are allowed to influence the health care that others receive – especially when that health care is delivered without the best interest of the woman in mind.
In Poland, a woman named Edyta was diagnosed with colon cancer that her doctors refused to treat because she was two months pregnant. Months after diagnosis Edyta miscarried the pregnancy, and then died.[Source] Another pregnant Polish woman was advised her pregnancy would worsen her already severe eye disease. She sought an abortion to stop this from happening but the abortion was denied. The woman was forced to carry and deliver her third child. This resulted in her becoming blind.[Source]
In Peru, a 13 year old girl repeatedly raped by a 34-year-old neighbour became pregnant and attempted suicide by jumping off the roof of a building. Despite doctors concluding that her spine needed to be realigned immediately to avoid lifetime paralysis, they refused to perform the operation because she was pregnant. By the time she eventually suffered a miscarriage, it was too late to perform the spinal procedure, and the girl remains in a wheelchair.[Source]
It is well documented that the restriction of reproductive health services – including access to legal abortion, can result in serious injury or death for the women not being allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. The restriction on these rights comes about because of misinformation presented as fact by people like Sarah de Nordwall.
People shouldn’t pretend to have the best interests of others at heart when really they’re just judging them based on their own dodgy moral standards and Catholic guilt.