TED doesn't want to talk about abortion.
Writing in the Nation on February 12, Jessica Valenti recounted a conversation with TED content director and TEDWomen co-host Kelly Stoetzel, who stated that abortion did not fit into TED's focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights”.
“Abortion is more of a topical issue we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill," said Stoetzel.
Good to know a woman's reproductive rights have nothing to do with justice, inequality, or human rights.
According to the World Health Organization, 20 million of the 42 million abortions performed around the world every year are both illegal and unsafe. In fact, the WHO calls unsafe abortion a silent pandemic. The majority of women who are unable to obtain a safe, legal abortion are living in poverty, have no access to comprehensive family planning information or birth control, and live outside of urban centres.
While the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, recently found that abortion rates in the U.S. have dropped to the lowest level since 1973 (the year Roe v. Wade was decided), the rates of abortion among women living in poverty increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2008. (A December 2013 Guttmacher study found that the rate of pregnancy among poor women is five times higher than their wealthier counterparts.)
Making abortion illegal does not make abortion disappear; it simply makes obtaining one unsafe—and potentially fatal—and criminalizes any woman who has one.
Justice (and also some more inequality):
In the Dominican Republic, a woman cannot legally obtain an abortion for any reason.
Countries like Chile, Peru, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Nicaragua prevent women from having abortions unless their lives are threatened.
In Ireland, abortions are permitted to save the life of a woman; however, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died after being denied an abortion after a miscarriage in 2012.
In Japan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates, a woman must get the permission of her spouse to have an abortion.
Just yesterday (February 12), Spain rolled back its abortion laws after a 183-151 vote approving a bill restricting a woman's access to abortion. Under the new law, a woman may only have an abortion in cases of rape or if she can prove having the child would be a severe risk to her health.
Last year, dozens of states in the U.S. passed highly restrictive abortion laws, leading to mass closures of facilities. In Texas, 12 abortion clinics closed in November 2013 due to new restrictions. In Missouri, 15 anti-abortion measures—including mandatory ultrasounds and requiring a 72-hour waiting period for any woman wanting an abortion—have been tabled in 2014 already. There is only one approved abortion provider to service the over three million women living in that state.
Even in Canada, there is no surgical abortion provider in Prince Edward Island at all, forcing women to travel out of province to terminate a pregnancy after seven weeks.
(For more about abortion rights worldwide, check the Center for Reproductive Right's interactive map.)
Restrictive abortion laws interfere with a woman's bodily autonomy and rights, contravening both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
TED bills itself as nonprofit organization dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading", and presumably would like to see its group as a promoter of women's rights and issues. They even held a special TEDWomen forum (Its tagline: "How are women and girls reshaping the future?") to ostensibly address those matters.
But organizers aren't really supporting women by creating a separate space for women; they are leveraging "feminism" (I must put that in quotes because there is hardly one kind of feminism) in order to broaden TED's core audience—and presumably make more money.
(Inequality redux: A ticket to TEDWomen cost US$1,000 each, while attendees of Vancouver's upcoming TED conference paid $7,500 for the privilege of listening to "middlebrow megachurch infotainment". Despite earning $43 million per year, TED does not pay any of its speakers.)
Simply put, TED's ban on abortion-related topics is the exact opposite of supporting women and advancing feminist issues. It's essentially stating that the need for safe, legal access to abortion is just not an idea worth spreading.
TED Vancouver is taking place from March 17 to 21 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, and you can guarantee the word abortion will not come out of the mouths of any of the speakers attending.
A petition has been created asking TED to allow participants to speak about abortion rights.
EDIT: So this morning (February 14), I got this tweet from @TEDTalks:
The link they provided leads to a page that says TED organizers "agree that abortion and reproductive care are core issues of social justice and human rights" and a bunch of videos that are not about abortion. They say that their community features dozens of threads about abortion, but that's hardly the same as a widely available and highlighted video from an (unpaid) TED talker.
TED also says Valenti quoted Stoetzel out of context. Valenti says she didn't:
So the question is...
.@TEDTalks now says they do consider talks on abortion. So the question remains: Why hasn't there been a single one?— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) February 14, 2014