Ipas marks 40 years of supporting reproductive health

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

Elizabeth Maguire

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  • Reproductive rules

    In addition to the 1973 Helms Amendment that blocked public funding for foreign abortions, Congress also adopted the Hyde Amendment in 1976. That law prohibited the use of federal Medicaid funds to provide abortions to low-income women, except in cases of rape, incest or severe health risks. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the prohibition in 1980, and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act maintains it.

    A bill filed last month in the Senate – the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act – also seeks to ban federal funding for medical services and tax benefits related to abortion. The bill has been referred to House and Senate committees.

— Ipas spent the last 40 years pursuing one goal: Stop the tide of women dying because they lack access to reproductive care.

Elizabeth Maguire, president and chief executive officer of the former International Pregnancy Advisory Services, said the group is encouraged by its successes.

However, too many women still live with sexual violence, social injustices and the denial of their right to choose, she said. Those who suffer the most are the most disadvantaged – the young, poor and rural, she said.

“We want to create a future where all women can exercise their reproductive rights,” she said.

According to the World Health Organization, 21.6 million women have an unsafe abortion each year, and roughly 47,000 die from complications, mostly in Africa and South-Central Asia. Another 8 million are hospitalized.

Ipas, based in Chapel Hill, is a global nongovernmental organization with offices in 14 countries. They train and equip health care providers and facilities, teach women about health care, including contraception, and promote safe abortion access. They also work with foreign governments to develop World Health Organization-based guidelines, she said.

Ipas took in roughly $48 million in donations and government grants from July 2011 to June 2012, up 47 percent from $32.7 million in 2007-08. In 2012, more than 200,000 women received safe abortion care at Ipas-supported health facilities.

“We support local groups anxious to have broader access to information and safe abortion care,” Maguire said.

A private celebration will be held Thursday with area partners and Dr. Willie Parker, OB/GYN associate medical director with the Family Planning Association of Chicago.

Parker, a reproductive health advocate, is one of only two abortion care providers in Mississippi.

The United States offers the world’s best medical care and the right to choose, but women who choose abortion are still vilified, he said. Ipas is a vital part of the solution, channeling resources to those who need them most, he said.

“I see this as health care for women. I know there are people who oppose (abortion), and I respect their opinions,” he said.

Ipas was founded in 1973, but the seed was planted in 1971, when the U.S. Agency for International Development funded the development of a manual abortion device.

Sen. Jesse Helms won the addition of the Helms Amendment to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act in 1973, which prohibited groups from using U.S. aid for overseas abortions. So, a group of UNC researchers and others picked up the research work, giving birth to Ipas. The agency went on to open 13 abortion clinics in 11 countries by 1980.

Since then, the group has widened its focus to research and advocacy for reproductive and public health issues.

Maguire said many countries have liberalized their abortion policies over the last 20 years, particularly in cases of incest, rape and threats to the mother’s health. In Ethiopia and South Africa, officials are seeing reductions of 50 percent and 91 percent, respectively, in maternal mortality rates because of their policy changes, she said.

Other countries continue to struggle with adequate access, she said. In Nepal, for instance, a woman may have to walk for several days to reach a clinic, she said.

“It’s a challenging field, and there is still a huge unfinished agenda,” she said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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