In developed countries, it’s easy to take for granted accessibility to safe and often affordable health care services. TEDWomen, the feminist sector of TED, displayed a bit of ignorance when the organization attempted to explain why it has not opened a discussion on abortion. TEDWomen co-host Kelly Stoetzel responded to criticism and said that abortion does not apply to the focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights” and that abortion is something on which the organization does not want to take a stand, similar to a “state tax bill.”
What we need to take away from TED’s response is the understanding that there is work to be done in terms of global women’s empowerment, and I’m not sure TEDWomen understands its role.
TEDWomen’s reply deems the organization out of touch with the status of women across the world and health care’s connectedness with all forms of justice, inequality and human rights, especially as they pertain to race, class and gender issues. When a nation diminishes a woman’s sovereignty over her own body, it undermines her social, political and economic life. Criminalization of abortion forces too many individuals into the high-cost, risky black market.
According to the World Health Organization, 18.5 million of the 21.6 million women who experience unsafe abortions each year live in developing countries. All of South America and Latin America and most of sub-Saharan Africa have very high rates of unsafe abortions per year, while the United States, Australia and most European countries have a better record.
In 2000, the United Nations presented their Millennium Development goals to be reached by 2015 with an ultimate target that calls for the promotion of “sustainable and equitable development.” The fifth goal is to improve maternal health; eliminating unsafe abortion is necessary to achieve this goal and the overarching aforementioned one.
That’s not to say that accessibility to safe abortions does not impact women in the U.S. At home, it’s stigmatized: Women must face protestors and state regulations that limit the accessibility of safe practices. But the safe practices are there, which cannot be said for developing nations.
On top of the density of unsafe abortions throughout certain areas, almost 46 percent of women who die from abortion are younger than 24, according to the World Health Organization. Organizations like TED should be making efforts to help this age demographic the most.
TED’s misguided mission of celebrating “solutions to poverty; new approaches to leadership” through asking, “How can meaningful change be imagined, fostered, and scaled?” cannot be achieved without confronting the issue of abortion. According to welfare economics, we can improve social welfare by bringing up those who are worst off – in this situation, we can make “meaningful change” by improving the lives of impoverished women around the world.
Whether we approve of it or not, safe abortion is a privilege. When TEDWomen goes this long without confronting the topic in its talks and conferences, it allows followers and contributors to go seemingly uneducated, undermining the intensity of the problem.
The reality of the world outside of TED reminds us that women’s status in developing nations is bleak. If TEDWomen cannot open an abortion discourse, TEDWomen cannot call itself feminist.