Sierra Leone just legalized abortion – and it's going to save women's lives.

As politicians in the U.S. try to take away abortion rights from its citizens, Sierra Leone just did the opposite.

In 2015 alone, state legislators in the U.S. introduced nearly 400 bills to restrict abortion access. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone just made the procedure legal.

On Dec. 8, 2015, Sierra Leone's parliament overwhelmingly passed the Safe Abortion Act, lifting a 154-year-old ban on abortion.


Abortion had been illegal in Sierra Leone since 1861 (before the lightbulb was invented!). Repealing the law has the potential to save many women's lives, as Sierra Leoneans know all too well what happens when women don't have access to the resources and care they need.

Women taking to the streets to support the Safe Abortion Act. Image via Ipas, used with permission.

Sierra Leone leads the world in maternal mortality, which isn't a statistic any country should be proud of.

1 in 70 women in Sierra Leone die during or shortly after childbirth. One-third of those deaths are due to complications from unsafe abortions, according to the World Health Organization.

"Practically everyone in Sierra Leone knows someone who has been affected in some way by unsafe abortion — people have lost wives, daughters, and love[d] ones," said Val Tucker, from the reproductive rights group Ipas.

No woman with an unwanted pregnancy should have to resort to visiting an unskilled person in unhygienic conditions to get the abortion she needs. But with the procedure banned, that was what many chose to do. And the dire outcome of illegal, unsafe abortions isn't specific to Sierra Leone.

Other countries where abortion has been legalized show how many more women's lives are saved when they have access to the procedure in a clean, safe space.

Photo by U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr.

It turns out abortion-related deaths go way down in countries with less restrictive laws (1 or fewer per 100,000 childbirths) than in countries with more restrictive abortion laws (34 deaths per 100,000 childbirths).

That was the case when abortion became legal in the United States in 1973. Pregnancy-related deaths and hospitalizations due to complications of unsafe abortion effectively ended. The same thing happened recently when abortion law was reformed in Ethiopia.

"We don’t see the tragedy of severe abortion complication and death any more in this hospital, it has become something of the past," one Ethiopian doctor noted to Ipas.

Image via Ipas, used with permission.

It goes to show that restricting access to abortion doesn't stop abortion from happening — it only makes it unsafe.

Having safe and legal access will undoubtedly save women's lives in Sierra Leone. And there's something that could save even more: putting sexual and reproductive health information more out in the open. As 44% of 18-year-old girls in Sierra Leone are married, taboos on sex only keep people in the dark. Access to contraception and other sexual health services can play a significant role in the success of the country's future, and luckily organizations like Ipas are leading the way.

Legalizing abortion 154 years later is better than never. This move will help women and families in Sierra Leone decide what's best for their own futures, and it shows the progress the world around us is making.

Politicians in the U.S. should take note.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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