It's bigger than the U.S.: How American anti-choice crusaders hurt women all over the globe

The misrepresentation of American attitudes on abortion is influencing policy abroad—for the worse.

Published December 4, 2015 12:00AM (EST)

  (AP/Bill Sikes)
(AP/Bill Sikes)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetThe American right wing yells so loudly and so wrongly about abortion that it can be difficult—even for Americans—to have a real sense of where much of the country stands on the issue. The right shouts down the truth despite endless evidence they are lying, then feigns surprise and innocence when someone from their base is moved to violence by their rhetoric. While in numerous polls, a majority of Americans say they support legal abortion, and even more stand with Planned Parenthood, all that shouting might lead one to believe otherwise. It should come as no surprise then, that America is seen as a nation hostile to abortion rights. And that image is having a negative impact on the reproductive rights of women in other countries around the world.

Laura Bassett and Ryan Grim, in a piece for Huffington Post, point out that misleading domestic and international news coverage of the abortion debate has led to abortion policy changes abroad. There’s also the matter of the Helms Amendment—named for the late North Carolina senator who opposed pretty much everything decent in this world—which bans the use of U.S. foreign aid to fund abortions for any reason.

In Kenya, many perceive the U.S. as so staunchly anti-abortion, according to Bassett and Grim, that they believe the procedure is outlawed in America. The country’s leaders have modified Kenyan law to follow suit, and recently “revoked its official guidelines on the safe provision of abortions and implemented draconian policies so as not to offend what it perceives to be U.S. sensibilities against abortion.”

“You only hear the negative stuff, which sends a clear sign to others that we shouldn't be doing this,” Faustina Fynn-Nyame, a reproductive rights activist, reportedly told the Huffington Post. “You'll hear it on the BBC World Service a lot. You'll hear it on Kenyan news, the overseas coverage...It's presented that the whole of America is completely anti-abortion, because the people who speak the loudest, everybody hears them more. It's presented that most Americans don't have access to safe abortion and that they don't want [expanded abortion access] happening in this country. Look at how they're going after Planned Parenthood."

In addition to news media that rarely highlights surveys showing most Americans are pro-abortion, Fynn-Nyame says religious groups that fight against reproductive justice abroad further bolster the idea. “The Catholic anti-abortion groups in Africa, they're getting money from anti-choice people in the U.S.,” she says.

These attitudes are contributing to problems for Kenyan women and making Fynn-Nyame’s work harder. She believes her country would be better off without the vitriol and anger she sees coming from the American right.

“I've got to say, as much as I love America and so forth, this is one thing you don't need to export in Africa, this ugliness,” Fynn-Nyame told the Huffington Post. “Keep it in your own country. We don't want it in Africa. We've got bigger issues to fight.”

By Kali Holloway

Kali Holloway is the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series, “Theater of the Resist.” She previously worked on the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. Her writing has appeared in AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and numerous other outlets.

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