It was not necessarily my intention to make this a space for feminist rants (although I love those), but recent headlines leave me no choice but to dedicate another column to the limitation of women’s rights. More specifically, I am talking about the impeding overturning of Roe v. Wade (more on that later!) and the implications that will have on access to safe and legal abortions in the USA. It seems crazy to me that after decades of hard-earned progress, we are now at a point where people are committed to turning back laws that protect lots of lives, all under the guise of being ‘pro-life’*. I just cannot conceive how someone can believe this is the best course of action for any individual or nation. This is also not a topic on which I welcome any devil’s advocate or counter-opinion, so prepare for a lecture on why limiting the right to a safe abortion is so incredibly stupid.
First of all, you might have heard mentions of Roe v. Wade, but do you know what it is? If not, let me outline it for you shortly. Roe v. Wade was a 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects a pregnant person’s** choice to have an abortion without excessive government interference. Specifically, it allows abortion through the first trimester of pregnancy. The decision was so important, because it overruled many federal and state abortion laws; essentially ensuring pregnant people in the entire United States had a choice in whether they got an abortion. Ever since this ruling, the debate has been ongoing about the role of moral and religious views in the political sphere, specifically in relation to abortion laws. This blurry line between religion and politics – or Church and state – is exactly where shit is hitting the fan right now.
So, what is happening around Roe v. Wade? We have to time travel a bit, seeing as this has been developing for a few months already. On September 1st 2021, a near-total abortion ban went into effect in Texas. This restrictive law bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which ultimately implies that all abortions are illegal. For those of you unfamiliar with being pregnant: most people do not know they are pregnant until 4-5 weeks of pregnancy, so banning abortion this close after fertilization is essentially banning all abortions. An important note here is that the law makes no exceptions for cases of incest or rape. To make matters worse, this ban gave citizens the ability to sue anyone who helped a pregnant person obtain an abortion. In other words, you could be raped and unwantedly pregnant and the penalty for aborting would be more severe than the penalty for the initial rape. This is no longer a ‘pro-life’ issue, this is war on women.
Of course, Texas is not the only state with strict abortion laws (see the Guardian article linked below for a graphic). However, if you consider that this is effectively a full ban that was accepted in a country that also has Roe v. Wade, it provides precedent to overturn this ruling. Would it indeed be overturned, we are essentially back in 1972 where abortion policy was left to state and local lawmakers. This will create a situation where certain states – like Texas – ban abortions, and people seeking an abortion will thus have to travel to a different state for abortion access.
One important fact I want to stress is that limiting access to safe and legal abortions will not actually stop abortions from taking place. Under such strict rule, people will resort to other – generally very unsafe – methods of ending their pregnancy. People are already alluding to The Handmaid’s Tale as no longer being a dystopian story. I can talk for ages about why the right to abortion should stay and why it is impeding on our human rights to do so, but actually, I just want to say that this scares me. The idea that crucial court rulings such as this one can be overturned without anyone in charge batting an eye scares me. Because this is not just happening an ocean away. Just last week, Britain had to force Northern Ireland to start providing abortion services, which they were required by law to do ever since 2020. Their failure to comply implied that hundreds of people yearly have continued to travel across the border to seek abortions in England or the Republic of Ireland. Here in the Netherlands, the growing anti-abortion lobby harass and threaten visitors of abortion clinics and organize protests and rallies***. It is not only religious organizations that drive this, but the conservative right is increasingly vocal about this too. To visualize this growth: the 2010 edition of the ‘March for Life’ saw 1000 participants, while in 2020 already 10.000 people joined. It is not only bad news though; the Dutch government has recently made abortion more accessible by repealing the mandatory reconsideration period and by making the abortion pill available at general practitioners. Although we can be relatively content with the situation in the Netherlands now, it is important to realize how relatively easily these structural laws that we take for granted can become worthless.
No witty conclusion for this one, just this. Abortion is medically necessary healthcare. Abortion should not be penalized or criminalized. Everyone with an unwanted pregnancy should have access to safe and good abortion care. Access to abortion is a human right.
* Quotation marks around ‘pro-life’, because it is not really pro-life if the unborn foetus is considered more valuable than the life of the pregnant person and their other children/family. Also, ‘pro-life’ activists do not care for the foetus or the circumstances it will grow up in as soon as it is born. This is evidenced by any lack of interest in universal healthcare or childcare, paid family leave, free birth control or comprehensive sex education, and fixing the difficult system in which to obtain financial assistance or insurance.
** At the time of this ruling, the phrasing here was obviously ‘woman’, but it is 2022 and all of us are surely aware by now that not all pregnant people are women, so more inclusive language is welcome :)
*** Just for context, the Dutch abortion law has been in place since 1984 (11 years after Roe v. Wade!). It allows hospitals and clinics to obtain a license to practice abortions up until 24 weeks of pregnancy. Practically speaking, doctors maintain a limit of 22 weeks.
History, context, and implications of Roe v. Wade: https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/roe-v-wade
More on the Texas abortion ban, as part of a CNN series on gender inequality: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/03/us/what-is-texas-abortion-law-as-equals-intl-cmd/index.html
Graphic on abortion laws in the United States: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/03/what-is-roe-v-wade-and-how-does-it-affect-abortion-rights-in-the-us
A fun movie about the realities of seeking (emergency) contraceptives in conservative U.S. is Plan B (2021): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spIGWUdCVzA
To read or to watch; The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, now also a popular Hulu series. The story is set in a dystopian world where fertile women are made handmaids that are forced to carry pregnancies to term for their commanders.
Abortion in the Netherlands: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2022/05/14/abortus-abortus-ook-onder-vuur-in-nederland-a4124381 (sorry, text is in Dutch!)
Not in this article, but how abortion restrictions are modern colonialism: https://mises.org/wire/federal-control-abortion-laws-modern-colonialism