The right to (free and safe) abortion is a historical and fundamental demand for the feminist movement, whose restriction is perceived as the summum of machist interference in women and society, in their decisions and in their bodies; the summum of inequality and male hegemony. Furthermore, we must understand the restriction of abortion as linked to, or attenuated by other forms of machismo such as the feminisation of care, or violence against women (physical and sexual: especially when it is linked to abuse and rape), objectification, exclusion or lesser consideration of women in the labour market, etc.
And we are not only faced with a restriction of rights, but the consequences go much further. On the one hand, women are forced to give birth to unwanted children or, failing that, to avoid it, to seek other possibilities which do not guarantee minimum conditions and which can even put the pregnant woman in serious danger. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 45% of all abortions are unsafe, accounting for 25 million each year, and according to Amnesty International up to 40,000 women die each year as a result.
On the other hand, unwanted births result in trauma for both these women and the persons born, which then translate into other personal and social problems. And finally, they result in the repression of women for seeking solutions and of those who dare to assist them. This ranges from fines, to clinic closures and job losses, to imprisonment, in many situations in appalling conditions and questionable trials that only reaffirm the injustice of patriarchy.
Or as Brazilian history doctor Flávia Biroli argues in an interview in Brasil de Fato, «The struggle for the decriminalisation and regulation of abortion should not be dissociated from more general agendas, such as income, labour and education».
Biroli puts it very well: «If we do not have sex education in schools, if we do not have adequate public policy programmes to provide contraceptives to prevent teenage pregnancy and STIs [Sexually Transmitted Infections], our girls, and especially those in the most vulnerable conditions, will continue to have an extremely difficult situation from the point of view of employment and the possibility of raising their children and maintaining some economic independence for themselves». In short, reproductive injustice is closely linked to the other injustices faced by women.
This right to decide is subject to restrictions and attacks from organisations, parties and institutions, and fortunately, sometimes also to conquests thanks to the constant activism of thousands of women. According to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, abortion is completely banned in 24 countries, among others: Andorra, Malta, El Salvador, Honduras, Senegal, Egypt, Philippines, Laos. This ban affects 90 million women of reproductive age. On the other hand, abortion is restricted (only when the woman’s health is at risk) in more than 50 countries and regions.
The ban mainly affects countries in the South: 97% of unsafe abortions worldwide take place in countries in the global South. It is clear that we must therefore add other aspects to this restriction, such as the inequalities between North and South, because economic inequalities and the lack of economic and medical resources have an impact on unwanted pregnancies and the resulting births, as well as on the women affected. These are thus aggravating factors related to the North-South inequality resulting from colonialism and capitalism, which over time widens the gap between the poor and the rich.
Undoubtedly, we can consider the greatest setback to have occurred in the United States in 2022 because of what it means internationally: because as well as being an economic and political power, the USA proclaims itself to be the guarantor of democracy and human rights, which it often dares to replicate and impose on other countries, and is therefore considered a model to follow at the global level (with exceptions). Because it defines itself as the «Land of the Free»… and we understood that this included women as well. That year, after nearly half a century of constitutional protection of abortion, on 24 June, the Supreme Court eliminated that right, leaving each state free to determine the legality of the procedure. Many of those states initiated measures to ban it and crack down on clinics where abortions were performed. There are now 11 states banning it, with another 10 where the position is unclear, two with restrictions, and 28 which allow it.
Activist Caitlin Schroering reports on other aspects of abortion that are also restricted: «Technically, tubal ligation is legal from the age of 18, but many states have changed it to 21, and although spousal consent is not required, some doctors require it». On the other hand, she believes that in the US, reproductive justice tends to focus only on abortion rights but ignores other issues such as «disparities in access to health care due to race, class and gender (trans men are often left out of discussions)».
Above all, we need to always attach the adjective «free» to the claim of abortion, because otherwise it will be very restrictive and we won’t guarantee justice for all. In the US, for instance it is very expensive and insurance never covers it. Being outside the health system also increases the stigmatisation and persecution that both medical personnel and the woman herself who needs this intervention suffer, because abortion can generally only be performed in «abortion clinics» which are the target of fundamentalist and anti-abortionist groups who scorn and sometimes attack those who go to them. Doctors who perform abortions often receive death threats, so they may abandon thei activity because of this pressure, restricting also the possibilities. Obviously this anti-abortion harassment has a bearing on the restriction of abortion, on the restriction of reproductive justice. And we can deduce that the passage of laws such as this one, however partial, also encourages this harassment and pressure.
According to Schroering, «Reproductive justice should also be about providing people with the resources to have a child if they want; for free and universal family planning options; for men to take more responsibility; to live free from chemical and toxin exposure so that you can have a healthy pregnancy; better pre and post natal care; and providing pain management for things like having IUD (IntraUterine Device) placed».
One of the countries with strong restrictions, despite being a member of the European Union, is Poland. In 2020, Poland’s Constitutional Court declared an almost total ban on abortion. This provoked a big reaction that still lasts, fighting on a political level, but also offering real possibilities to women in need through direct action and mutual aid. A few months ago we translated this great articel by . on the Polish campaign
Activists have woven an international network, Abortion Without Borders, from which they support women in need to ensure reproductive justice. Real International feminist solidarity. AWB’s member groups include the Polish Abortion Dream Team (ADT) and Kobiety W Sieci1 in Poland, Ciocia Basia in Germany, Abortion Network Amsterdam and Women Help Women in the Netherlands, and Abortion Support Network in the United Kingdom. (Read here: «Abortion without borders«).
One of the countries with the most restrictive and severe legislation against the practice of abortion in the world is El Salvador. Last year, the 50-year prison sentence for a Salvadoran woman who had a miscarriage caused an international uproar. It was the maximum penalty under a law passed in 1998 that prohibits abortion in all circumstances. This law has led to many women being imprisoned for having their pregnancies terminated – voluntarily or naturally as in this case.
The same happened to one of the emblematic cases, Manuela, who died in prison in November 2020, leaving her two children orphaned. Manuela had been arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for a miscarriage. In addition to her unjust and severe punishment, Manuela was not provided with medical care and died handcuffed in hospital.
Between 2000 and 2011, 129 women were prosecuted under this harsh law. In 2016, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) proposed the inclusion in the law of exceptions for cases of rape, when the victim is a minor or a victim of human trafficking, or when the foetus is unviable, or to protect the life of the mother.
Since December 2021, the Salvadoran government has commuted the sentences of nine women who suffered obstetric emergencies and were prosecuted for abortion.
In this hostile situation, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Descriminalización del Aborto«.(Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) is trying to reverse the situation. The case is also denounced by Amnesty International in its report «Al borde de la muerte: Violencia contra las mujeres y prohibición del aborto en El Salvador» (On the brink of death: Violence against women and the prohibition of abortion in El Salvador).
Turning the restriction over
In many countries, women’s struggles have succeeded in legalising the use of abortion or improving its conditions.
In February 2022, the Colombian Constitutional Court decriminalised abortion up to 24 weeks, retaining the grounds already established in ruling c355 of 2006, which include this practice in three cases: rape, foetal malformations and risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Colombia thus joined other Latin American countries that have legalised the termination of pregnancy, such as Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana.
The Mexican Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to punish abortion in September, 2021. The decision was unanimous. The president of the court stated that «No woman can be prosecuted for abortions under the circumstances that this court has considered valid»,
Argentina amended its law also at the end of 2020 for pregnancies not exceeding 14 weeks. With the new law it is both legal and free of charge. In other cases, abortion is possible until the 12th week of gestation. On 14 January 2021 the law was promulgated, thus annulling the court cases that had been opened until then for abortion practices.
We would also like to offer here the work of Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, on «The growing green tide: the struggle for reproductive justice in Argentina» (PDF). It was originally published by CLACSO (Latin American Council of Social Sciences) as part of the «Cuadernos del pensamiento crítico latinoamericano», and in English by Radical Ecological Democracy . It contains an introduction by the author and an interview with María Alicia Gutiérrez, member of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion.
See full article HERE