Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Consequences of Historical Ignorance

 by Sunnyjane

Failing to recognize, to understand, and to avoid repeating past mistakes – whether our own or those of others – is pure folly.  But when leaders of government engage in such willful negligence, their blatant disregard of history's epic  failures can have far-reaching, prolonged, and devastating effects on the liberties and lives of their country’s citizens. 

Banning Abortion and Contraception:  A Destructive ‘Cause’

The vicious assaults and furious battles being waged against women’s rights concerning legal abortion, reliable contraception, and affordable female healthcare in this country has descended into political chaos and personal turmoil.   Far-right religionists, self-appointed moralists, and GOP/Tea Party politicians have worked for two years to weaken or completely destroy the hard-won freedoms protecting one segment of our nation’s population.    

The hypocrisy of this deplorable thrust to take control of a woman’s body is their rabid refusal to acknowledge that availability to sex education and reliable, affordable contraception methods through Title X clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, would dramatically decrease the need for abortion.  

And for every authoritarian law that passes, they cheer, high-five one another, and pat themselves on their moralistic backs for their ignorant and dangerous victories. 

They know not what they do.

A History Lesson from Romania

Because less drastic methods of contraception were not generally available, Romanian women depended on safe and legal abortions as their common means of birth control during the 1950s and 1960s.   Aided and abetted by Joseph Stalin, the Communist Party was the well-established and most powerful political party in Romania by this time, and in 1966 the oppressive and merciless dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu began.   His first target?  All forms of  family planning.
Decreţei -- Decree 770 

Ignoring the fact that the decline in Romania’s population was due to modernization, more women in the workforce, and a low standard of living,  Ceausescu and the party leaders blamed the country’s liberal abortion laws and in early 1967 they put in place a law to remedy that situation.  The Decreţei banning abortions and contraception was enacted to force an increase in the population from twenty-three million to thirty million.

Contraception and abortion were declared illegal, except in the following instances:

- women over forty-five years of age
- women who had already borne five children
- women whose life would be threatened by carrying to term, due to medical complications
- women who became pregnant through rape or incest

The Decreţei would have a disastrous affect on the country.  

Enforcing the Decree 

Compliance with the new law was compulsory and immediate.  The few contraception devices available were outlawed at once.  Every woman was forced to be checked monthly by a gynecologist, and detected pregnancies were followed closely until birth.   The country’s Secret Police monitored hospital operating rooms to ensure that abortions were not being performed.  “Sex education” focused on the benefits of motherhood, and on the satisfaction of being a heroic mother who gives her homeland many children.

Punishment for breaking the law was swift and brutal – sometimes fatal. 
The Ramifications 

Not surprisingly, the number of births increased by almost one hundred percent between 1966 and 1968 and the number of children per woman increased from two to four.   Thousands of nursery schools were built, and the new generation was forced to participate in sports and cultural activities.

In the early 1970s, however, the birth rates declined again because the economic need for small families had not changed, and women had begun to find ways to circumvent the decree.  More affluent women were able to obtain contraceptives illegally, or could bribe doctors into giving them diagnoses that made abortion possible.  But many unwanted and unaffordable pregnancies occurred among the less educated and poorer women, who were forced to look for primitive methods of abortion.   Infection, sterility or even their own deaths resulted: the mortality rate among pregnant women became the highest in Europe during the reign of Ceauşescu in Romania, increasing ten times that of its neighboring countries.

Women were given prison sentences if convicted of having an illegal abortion.  If a woman went to the hospital to seek help after suffering complications from an illegal abortion, treatment was refused until she betrayed the name of the person who performed the procedure. Out of fear of punishment, many women did not seek medical attention until it was too late. These deaths remain uncounted, so the total number of women killed in the 23 years abortion was illegal in Romania will never be known.  
And what of the children? 

The Lost Generation 

It is not surprising that child mortality rose during this period as well. Numerous children became malnourished or were severely physically handicapped.  Many unwanted Romanian children were placed in the country’s orphanages and institutions, some with disabilities that were the result of botched abortion attempts.  Others were abandoned by parents who could not afford to care for them, or simply did not want the burden.  By 1980, more than 100,000 children were in state care.

When Ceausescu’s regime began paying back foreign loans in the 1980s, the conditions in state institutions went from bad to horrendous.  Mortality rates skyrocketed, reaching as high as fifty percent at one facility.  Physical and sexual abuse by staff members was widespread, and the malnutrition and neglect suffered by the children caused many of those without disabilities to become developmentally disabled.  Food, medicine and clothing were scarce. The children slept several to one bed, often without adequate mattresses and blankets. There were children who went for years without seeing natural light. The conditions of the institutions were hidden from the public until Ceausescu’s overthrow in 1989, though many who did know of the squalid nature of these facilities may have just been too afraid to speak out under Ceausescu’s government.  
The Decree Ends 

Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were found guilty of crimes against the state and the people in 1989, twenty-three years after the government of Romania  ordered the ban on contraception and legal abortion.   The couple was executed by firing squad shortly thereafter and Decree 770 was revoked.

Can it Happen in 21st Century America

The assault on women’s rights is already happening, and it will continue to escalate unless it is halted at the ballot box and unless the restrictive new laws are overturned.  It will take all of us to ensure that women will forever have control over their own minds, their own bodies, their own choices, and their own destinies.

End Note: The character of a nation is shaped not by its repressions, but by its liberties.

I wonder how many of these far-right extremists are aware that they are imposing a Communist "family planning" model on American citizens.  We need to let GOP/Tea Party politicians, women, and all voters in this nation know exactly what they're doing.  And we need to let them know that we know, and that we will not allow it.


My deepest gratitude to Nin1963 for her comment on Romania’s ban on abortion and birth control, which she made on a recent post.  As I have said many times, the observations, personal experiences, perspectives, and incredible knowledge shared by Politicalgates commenters are invaluable to our being so well informed on the vast number of issues facing this country and the world.  I never cease to learn new things – every day.  Thank you, Nin.


UPDATE by Kathleen

A few days after Sunnyjane wrote this post an announcement was made by Planned Parenthood and Susan J Komen Race for the Cure that Komen would no longer give grants to Planned Parenthood. This denial of funding for breast cancer screening not only hurts Planned Parenthood but is also a further attack on women's health.

The good news is that there has been a significant backlash to Komen's decision and Planned Parenthood has received at least $400,000 in donations since the announcement was made. And the donations are still pouring in.

Additionally, as president Cecile Richards explains, Planned Parenthood, despite sustained attacks by the right wing in Congress for several years, has increased the number of its supporters. Young people in particular who have never been active on the issues of Planned Parenthood are joining the group. You too can get involved. Join here!

If you do not wish to join you can still support that aims of Planned Parenhood here by donating to them on their secure website.

Also, read why Komen is aligning itself to an anti health, anti science movement such as the anti-choice brigade here.

On Komen's mailing list?

Call 877 - GOKOMEN in order to have your name removed from their mailing list and to make your outrage known to them.

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