By Kamaria Muntu
28 September 2012, 14:30 GMT
“Reproductive freedom is critical to a whole range of issues. If we can’t take charge of this most personal aspect of our lives, we can’t take care of anything. It should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right.”
― Faye Wattleton
I can still remember. As little girls we would sit around re-telling tales about bloody coat hanger abortions and what could be done if a girl got pregnant or raped; the most popular prescription in my neck of the woods at that time was to go to the top of about thirteen steps and jump down. Everyone seemed to have consensus that they knew somebody who did this and it worked. Just like standing up while having sex or wearing stiletto heels can deter pregnancy; ‘preventative measures’ that I’ve actually heard over the years from teens and pre-adolescents. These kinds of dangerous ideas are still all too prevalent with young girls, and we are yet in the ‘dark ages’, because as women, our right to choose safe and legal abortions, as well as to access good reproductive health care in general is ever threatened in western countries and non-existent in a lot of others.
The 28th of September is the International Day of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion. This day of action began in the Caribbean and Latin America. Not surprisingly women from the enslaved Diaspora would demand that their governments decriminalise abortion. The date coincides with the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Planned Parenthood estimates that every year 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions. 5 million are hospitalised, of which many suffer chronic disability. In recent years, we have seen an aggressive right-wing response from Black activists in the US, with regard to the numbers of abortions Black women are having. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US, the Black women’s abortion ratio was 455 versus 1000 live births; for white women that number was 158 and other ethnic groups that number war 320 per 1000. Or to view the statistics out of comparison with women who have gone to term – in one year throughout the entire United States, out of 1000 Black women, 34 will have an abortion; out of 1000 Latino, Asian or other women, 23 women will have an abortion; and out of 1000 white women, 10 will have an abortion.
Be certain that the numbers are high, we do not deny this. We can also not deny a tragic history of forced sterilisation or the genocide that is the legacy of poverty, hatred, cultural apartheid and alienation, mass incarceration, pharmaceutical malice, lack of access to healthcare and other basic human rights.
But forcing women and girls to bear unwanted children does not resolve any of these critical problems, as statistic after statistic proves out.
In order for women to be strong enough, and whole enough to combat these serious issues, it is essential that they are educated and in possession of the freedom to choose when to become mothers.
For women of colour, the enemy resides within and without. Just like so many Middle Eastern women reclaimed the Hijab in defiance of the assault on their religion and people; many women of African descent often react to the ‘population control’ tactics that are part and parcel of racist intent. It is vital that women who want to have children be able to afford to do so. It is vital that we construct a society that is amenable to the growth and development of children to their highest potential.
Just as a woman should be able to safely and legally choose her time to become a parent, it is also important that a woman not be denied the right to become a mother because she is poor. It is important that poor women understand their reproductive rights so that they are not vulnerable to forced sterilisation agendas, which have historically been an issue, and unfortunately continues to be.
And while a multi-million dollar pledge was made recently to support a UN resolution for women’s inclusion in decisions of peace-making and peace building, I can’t help but hope that some of that leadership money will trickle down to grassroots women working on issues of reproductive health and choice. But finance from authoritative bodies notwithstanding, sister to sister, we must help each other, trust each other and be worthy of trust, knowing that we have the common objective of creating a better and more sane environment for us all,
in the name of freedom.
- Govt not swayed by calls to decriminalise abortion (radionz.co.nz)
- Involuntary Sterilisation Threatens Rights of Disabled Women (ipsnews.net)
- Sonia Tábora and the risks of being poor and pregnant in El Salvador | Vickie Knox (guardian.co.uk)
- Forced sterilisation: Doctors face probe (nation.co.ke)
- Laws Revive ‘World Before Roe’ as Abortions Require Arduous Trek (bloomberg.com)
- Mary Ziegler on the Racial Politics of Abortion (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
One thought on “Day of the Free Womb: Sidestepping Enemies Within and Out”
In the 1920s, reproductive rights were called a fight against “mandatory motherhood.” Have always thought it uncomfortable that an early funder for abortion rights in the States was Hugh Hefner, of Playboy magazine. Was abortion only a safe cleanup for thoughtless bachelors? No fuss, no muss. Bye! Was this a form of colonization? The early idea fought for a woman to decide when and how many children to have, so as to provide a fertile ground for her chosen motherhood. Now we fight for pharmacists, on a high holy crusade, not to usurp that decision for ALL women. To be at constant risk of pregnancy is unacceptable.
In reading the Encyclical on the Status of Women by Pope John Paul II, I was shocked to see the presumption that a woman’s life is always primarily lived in deference to childrearing. Aspirations to be active in her community, to create, to bring work out of solitude, contemplation, and rigorous thought .All of these demand control of her fertility. Time and again, global studies have noted that one consequence of educating woman was a demand for access to safe and reliable family planning. Families became smaller, healthier, and one part of engaged lives, or child-free lives.
There’s also a tradition in the left of splitting off activism for reproductive rights from other struggles. To be taken seriously, Emma Goldman made a sharp split from Margaret Sanger and her “pornography.” Sanger’s own contributions have been revisited, and looked on as a force for genocide in Black communities. Whether it is a matter of being a “woman thing” and thus of less seriousness, anything relating to what goes between a woman’s legs is seen as a bloody mess. Here in the US, it was amazing how easily reproductive rights issues were recently traded off in seeking a government consensus regarding health-care .reform.