Hilary White

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African women fight back against forced, coerced sterilizations

Hilary White
Hilary White
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NAIROBI, November 15, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – A group of HIV-positive women in Kenya have launched a series of lawsuits in five countries after they were sterilized against their will following childbirth. Cases are pending before the courts in Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, and Namibia.

In many of the cases the women were told by government-sponsored health facilities that sterilization was mandatory for HIV-positive women. Some were threatened with the withdrawal of antiretroviral drugs, treatment that prolongs the life of HIV-infected patients. 

A report has been published by an independent NGO interviewing women who had experienced coerced or even forced sterilizations.

It shows that 75 percent of the forced sterilizations were conducted in public hospitals where women were often presented with consent documents to sign while in the midst of labor pains. Some said they were unconscious at the time and never signed any forms, while others say they were illiterate and could not understand what was being presented to them.

Some say that the consent forms were presented to them but that they were told that sterilization was mandatory for HIV-positive births.

According to the report “Robbed of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilization Experiences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya” by the African Gender and Media Initiative, forced sterilization is unnecessary, since mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be prevented using antiretroviral drugs and “modified obstetric and infant feeding practices”.

The study, which was conducted between October and November 2011 in Nairobi and Kakamega, interviewed about 40 women.

The group, which fully supports voluntary sterilization and the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection, said, “Forced and coerced contraceptive sterilization violates numerous rights guaranteed under the Kenyan constitution and multiple regional and international obligations that Kenya is signatory to.”

The women interviewed for the report said they had undergone “non-consensual tubal ligation when they visited health facilities to give birth through cesarean section. Others, who had normal delivery, were also later taken to the operating room for the procedure to be done”.

Among the groups cited by women in the report and in news investigations are Medicin Sans Frontiers and Marie Stopes International.

Marie Stopes issued a statement saying that informed consent is “fundamental” to its practice and that the report sampling was “a very small and…unrepresentative”.

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Most of the women were in their mid-twenties, and said that after sterilization men would not consider marrying them.

“Most of the men who have approached me for marriage want children. The moment they realize l cannot have babies, they leave,” Ruth Achieng, a survivor of the coerced sterilization who lives in Nairobi, told AllAfrica.com.

Others described the disintegration of their marriages after the procedure. Jones Imbwanga, one of the plaintiffs, described her loneliness CBC Radio in an interview, “I feel like the whole world wants to swallow me.”

In some cases, the women, most of whom were poor, were told that sterilisation was required as a condition for receiving free or reduced-price medical treatment or receiving food and medical aid for their children, especially milk and anti-retroviral medications. Some were told by doctors that they already had too many children and therefore permanent and irreversible contraception was necessary. Others were threatened with having their supply of antiretroviral drugs stopped if they did not consent to the procedure.

The report quotes the United Nations Human Rights Committee that calls “sterilization of women without their consent as a violation of the right to be free from torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment”. “Women living with HIV have a right to a family planning method of their choice and right to be sexually active and bear children,” they said.

Winfred Lichuma of the National Gender and Equality Commission described what happened to the women as “atrocious an infringement of their human rights and contrary to medical ethics”. The group also says that forced sterilisation is considered a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute and is prosecutable by the International Criminal Court.

The prevalence of involuntary sterilisation of HIV-positive women was highlighted this summer when Namibia’s High Court ruled in July that government health facilities had violated the rights of three women who had been sterilized without their free, full, and informed consent. The women had launched their suit in 2009.

One woman told the judge that she had been approached with consent forms while she was in extreme pain from labour. The judge called it “inappropriate” to seek consent while a woman is in active labor. The plaintiffs had not received sufficient counseling about the sterilization procedure in a language they could understand, according to a report by the group Stop Torture in Health Care.

Nicole Fritz, from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in Johannesburg, which brought the Namibian suit, said the three cases were only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Namibia has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence, with about 13 percent of adults infected.

The fight-back has started over international and national groups pushing sterilization on African women. A project in western Kenya was blasted by human rights groups last year when it was discovered they were offering HIV-positive women cash for sterilizations. Project Prevention, a US-based NGO, was offering US $40 to be fitted with IUDs, which can prevent pregnancy for over a decade.

Agnes Odhiambo of New York-based Human Rights Watch blasted the NGO for “pushing women with HIV to take up long-term birth control irrespective of their reproductive needs”. James Kamau, coordinator of the Kenya Treatment Access Movement, called the project “wrong, immoral and unethical”.

A Project Prevention operative told local news sources, “Why should you give birth to a child who will remain an orphan, or who is likely to die before his or her fifth birthday because the mother had infected them…Prevent the suffering before it occurs.”

In November 2011, Citizen TV ran a story about an HIV-positive widow in Mbita who had received a grant to start a fish farming venture from the American NGO. The sole qualification to receive the money was her agreement to be fitted with an IUD.

The Minister for Medical Services, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, responded to the reports, saying, “We can’t say as a government we have been good at providing family planning needs of women or even men but we are putting measures in place. But it is important to stress that even HIV-positive women have the right to have children if and when they desire. HIV doesn’t take that right way, not at all”.


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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