Banning abortion isn’t about morality: It’s the economy

Stop trying to convince anti-abortion folks that they should listen to the stories about a person’s choice with abortion: they don’t care. I don’t mean to imply that people who have had abortions should not go public, as it helps to end the stigma even within pro-choice organizations. Those in positions of power could care less about a person’s abortion story because the problem was never abortion. Just look at the extensive list of anti-abortion advocates whose motto boils down to “it’s OK for me; evil for thee.” A person shouldn’t have to air their personal and complex decisions with the hope that it would change some terrible peoples’ minds. It won’t, because it was never about abortion. 

Why, at this moment, are abortion bans happening? Think about the economic and population consideration that cause the state and those in power to decide that abortion and other contraceptives are suddenly immoral, that a woman’s essential purpose in life was motherhood and that sex was only for reproductive purposes. And if the birth of that child causes even more economic strain and forces those who can get pregnant into low-wage and exploitative labor? Well, that’s par for the course. If people have no choice but to pay back multiple medical bills even though they gave the child up for adoption? Well, get a second or third job. And if a person dies because they sought a back-alley abortion. Well, they deserved that punishment. A person goes to prison for miscarrying or for seeking an abortion only because they haven’t served their purpose of producing the next generation of workers, laborers and child-bearers, and the state deserves retribution, because we’re starting to need those next generations, desperately.

Abortion access and contraceptives have been banned or legalized depending on the state’s political and economic needs. Prior to the 19thcentury, a person could to a physician and end her pregnancy as long as it was before they could feel the fetus move. Growing concerns over the rise of Catholic immigrants served as a pretext for the rise of restriction to abortion, since immigration was infringing on the White Anglo-Saxon majority and Protestant were having fewer children. The first attempts at opposition to abortion and contraception were the Comstock Laws in 1873, passed to regulate information to the public about abortion, contraception, and sexually explicit material such as pornography. Fetal personhood hardly came into the argument until the early 20thcentury, and that argument was subsumed by the rise of religious morality which tied sex solely to the role of reproduction and not for pleasure. 

States implementing abortion restrictions saw birthrates drop from 37 to 29 births per 1000 population. Between 1900 and 1935-39 birth rates dropped to 17 per 1000, causing that lowering birthrates would have disastrous effects on the industrialized economy, which relied on the reproduction of laborers in the workforce. For enslaved peoples, access to birth control and abortion was expressly forbidden, since slaveowners saw slave children as adding to their human capital. Slaveowners routinely would put slaves together with the hopes of children being produced and tied a person’s status as a slave to the status of their mother, ensuring a continuous supply of enslaved individuals. 

Numerous examples highlight how abortion access and restriction is tied to economic and population needs of the state and elites in power. Despite its landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade was a continuation of regulating for those needs. Nowhere in the majority opinion does an individual’s choice come into the fore: 

“A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

For the stage of subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. 

For the stage subsequent to viability, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother…

This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of common, and with the demands of the profound problem of the present day.”

Even in such an important decision, the Supreme Court has given the state leeway to enact and decide regulations for a person’s right to choose what happens to their bodies. Wade was the beginning, but the work still needed to be done. Anti-abortion backlash happened almost immediately after the decision.

What is the economic and population landscape of American society now that is leading us back to a time where people are going to be criminalized for seeking abortions? What are people not seeing when it comes to the political landscape, where white men in positions of power can cry for the life of the fetus but demand that a mistress seek termination of a pregnancy? 

The US birthrate fell to a 32-year law in 2018, a 2% drop since 2017. Birthrates fell across all racial lines, a 1% fall for Latinx people and a 2% fall to Black and White individuals. The economy is desperate for higher birthrates, both for the future labor force and caregivers for the aging population. Instead of fixing economic factors that would lead to higher birthrates – a living wage, parental leave, a robust welfare state and single-payer healthcare –, states would rather criminalize any form of birth control to get the desired results. 

These decisions are further impelled by white supremacist ideology. Since the United States is going to have to rely heavily on immigrants to supplement those labor needs, a white majority in an Anglo-Saxon society is once again in “danger” of turning into a minority. The same racist fears that led to bans in abortion and contraceptives are being rehashed. That is why we cannot rely on the state, Democrats in power and a better President to save us by telling the stories of the individuals that have had abortions. That is why calling for safe abortions to happen because back-alley abortions will kill people won’t matter.  Again, they don’t care. Stop giving pro-life the “sensible” debate about a person’s choice. From here on, and as before, we can only rely on each other to ensure a person’s bodily autonomy.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)

The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

(Photo Credit: Rewire)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter


In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historic moment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Students led, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historic and, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos #AbortoLegalYa

 

(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

Stop Punishing Poor Women’s Sexuality Through Abortion Bans!

Nearly 1 in 4 women under the age of 45 will have had an abortion. Women’s access to abortion continues to be a matter of contention between mostly white, mostly male, politicians who tout about the sanctity of life while simultaneously working to deny the benefits that women and children rely on to survive. Rather than help those children who rely on social assistance and the state for healthcare (literally by letting a program insuring 9 million children expire) and food, Congress has moved forward with a national ban on abortions past 20 weeks.

Anti-choice hypocrisy would rather claim that the rights “of a human being who has never taken a single breath a single breath are more important than the rights of the person with thoughts, a past, relationships and emotions that would be forced to renounce her bodily autonomy to accommodate the fetus.” The fight for a fetus’ life ends the moment a child is born; it does not continue as the child is raised, especially the fifteen million children who live in poverty in the United States.

Abortion bans are not implemented to curtail abortion rates. If one truly wishes to see the end of abortion, there would be universal access to various forms of birth control, along with comprehensive sexual education in public schools to help the decrease in teenage pregnancy rates; these methods have effectively helped to decrease the abortion rate, which occurred in 1 in 3 women in 2008. Abortion bans continue across the country because it is the state’s way of controlling women’s, especially poor women’s, sexuality. It is a method of punishing women’s sexual freedom, while make their struggle to survive ever more precarious. As Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, noted, “When we take away a women’s choices about her own body, we hamper her ability to make sound decisions for her and her family. We force her into her tougher bargains to make ends meet. We threaten her capacity to thrive. We hurt her ability to raise children that are healthy and resilient. And we perpetuate cycles of poverty.”

That is what anti-choice men in power want: poor women forced to have children, forced to work nearly any wage to care for said children, to survive. A never-ending pool of desperate labor willing to work for scraps to avoid starvation, and then the continued reproduction of those poor pools of labor in the form of their children. Means of sustaining an exploitative capital regime hide under the guise of being pro-life.

A continued insistence on women’s necessity to remain chaste and virginal perpetuates the belief that women are only sexual for the sake of procreation, and never for pleasure. Harper’s Bazaar has the best response for the continued control of women’s decision to have sex for enjoyment:

“There are certainly going to be people who will reply to this by shouting, ‘then women should keep their damn legs shut.’ No. Go crawl back to the time capsule you came out of. 95 percent of Americans have pre-marital sex. 9 months of unwanted pain and possibly death is not an acceptable punishment for being unlucky while engaging in an almost universally practiced past time. It is the punishment for 0 percent of men, which is the correct percentage.”

Today, the United States has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. We save the fetus to kill the woman. We proclaim the rights of the fetus’ “life” while exploiting and killing the poor women who are forced to bear it. That is not pro-life; that is anti-woman. When we scream “Never Again!”, we are not only demanding the protection of women to have a safe and legal abortion. We are protesting the desire to revert to a time when women died from illegal and dangerous abortions. And as our elected officials gleefully hinder the march of progress for women’s reproductive freedom, women and men everywhere should continue to raise their voices to make sure we hinder them every step of the way.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)

Why does Australia hate pregnant and abused women asylum seekers?

Nauru

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? August began with a report that three pregnant women asylum seekers on Nauru had applied for termination of their pregnancies and were being denied medical transfer. This denial of medical transfer is typical on Nauru. An additional 50 asylum seekers who need medical care that they cannot receive on the island have also been denied medical transfer. This week, to close August off, 100 asylum seekers currently in Australia have been informed that they are about to lose … everything. Money, housing, the works. On Monday, August 28, about 40 men and women met with immigration officials and were informed of the new regime. Among the women are pregnant women and women who had come to Australia for treatment after having been sexually assaulted on Nauru. Meanwhile, the Immigration Minister thinks that the attorneys who represent asylum seekers, and in particular those in medical distress, are “unAustralian”. UnAustralian. What is the opposite of a commonwealth? Australia.

Yasaman Bagheri is 19 years old. She is from Iran. She has been detained on Nauru since she was 15 years old, and harsh living conditions and bleak prospects for the future are causing her to lose all hope: “They don’t care about people. They are willing to sacrifice innocent people, women and children to make their political point.” Why has this girl-child, now a young woman, been held in such dire and inhumane circumstances? No doubt because she is unAustralian.

The Australian medical profession’s position on those seeking medical care is clear. They must be transferred to Australia, immediately. Australian Medical Association President, and obstetrician, Dr Michael Gannon explained, “The ethical principles are very clear. People seeking the protection of the Australian government are entitled to healthcare standards the same as Australian citizens. So, that’s a matter of ethics and that’s a matter of law … I am not an immigration expert. But I like to think I am expert in medical ethics and I’ve stated our position very clearly as to the health standard that is we would expect.” Royal Australasian College of Physicians President Dr Catherine Yelland agreed, “We are very concerned by reports that asylum seekers are being refused medical transfers to hospitals in Australia where they would be able to get the care they need. The Australian government has a responsibility to ensure people in detention have access to the same level of care in Australian hospitals. It’s abundantly clear that they can’t receive the quality healthcare they need in these facilities. Doctors’ advice in these instances must be followed. We’ve too often seen the tragic outcomes that can occur when this advice is ignored.”

Australia recently changed the process for medical transfer from Nauru to Australia, and Nauru staff claim that this change, which requires going through Nauru hospital’s overseas medical referral committee, has meant no transfers. The committee seldom meets, keeps no records, and is altogether unreliable. The one Nauru hospital is a small operation. Nauruan women with complicated pregnancies are usually sent to Australia, Fiji or Singapore. Furthermore, Nauru prohibits abortions. The new medical non-transfer policy is a catastrophe generally, and it is an explicit assault on women, on women’s bodies.

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen offered an answer, “Australia has reduced the men, women and children on the islands to namelessness, referring to them by registration numbers. Asked their names, kids often give a number. It’s all they know. At least the digits are not tattooed.” At least the digits are not tattooed … yet.

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

In Poland “ladies are not playing”, they are fighting for their rights

In Poland last year, the Federation for Women and Family Planning celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was created to defend the reproductive laws that existed in 1991. Its director, Krystyna Kacpura, reflects, “This is the only organization in the country whose focus is sexual and reproductive rights, of course we have many NGOs working on women’s issues such as violence against women but not on reproductive rights. So, for a country of 10 million women in reproductive age, it’s nothing!”

At the end of “the cold war” world order, the process of democratization of eastern Europe, including with the reunification of Germany, was accompanied by a decline in sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. Poland has taken this to the extreme. With Ireland and Malta, Poland is the country with the most restrictive laws as regards abortion.

Recently, the passing of the French political feminist figure Simone Veil has triggered numerous reflections on the important right to universal access to free contraception and abortion. Feminist philosopher Genevieve Fraisse wrote, “Abortion is not murder. It is exercising the right to be free.”

Meanwhile, in 2016, the newly elected extreme right Polish government tried to pass a total “ban on abortion” law. Krystyna Kacpura is Executive Director of the Federation of Women and Family Planning, and she is also a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative, European Society for Contraception and Reproductive Rights, and the Programme Council of the Congress of Polish Women.

Krystyna Kacpura met with and recalled for Women In and Beyond the Global the history of the solidarity movement that rejected this law. But the battle is not over, and some similarities are easy to establish with the US anti-abortion movement as she explains:

Krystyna Kacpura

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Janek Skarżyński /AFP /Getty Images) (Photo Credit 2: Wyborcza / Albert Zawada)

In and beyond prison, reproductive justice is a State responsibility

Christiane Taubira the former French minister of justice likes to remind the public of the government’s responsibility toward the vulnerable.  She had to defend this position while trying to make the penal system in France more comprehensive. She was only partially successful. The state of vulnerability comes very fast when unwanted pregnancy starts. Even though such situations are produced by a man and a woman, the burden remains entirely on the woman. If we add another layer to the state of vulnerability, such as poverty, things become immediately more complicated for the woman.

In the United States, the state does not assume its responsibility toward the vulnerable, who are sexualized, racialized and declassified instead of being supported. The state uses the vulnerable as a source of surplus value through its imprisonment making the institution an industrial complex with contractors running the game. They even charge women prisoners for their basic amenities, such as soap. In this combination of neoliberal development of consumerism and unfettered capital gain, punishing women as members of the vulnerable combines growing inequalities with awesome wealth building.

Trump and his team have brought this idea to its paroxysm, but everything was in place before this election.

The right to abort is a constitutional right that should be respected everywhere, but the case of access to abortion points to the lack of reproductive justice, inside prison and outside. Women in need of abortion often experience stigmatization, reinforcing the sentiment of disqualification as full citizens. In prison, the challenge to wield this right to abortion is real, with enormous discrepancies from state to state and from county to county.

Worldwide, 33% of women prisoners are in the US, and so it is important to examine the reasons for the push to punish women with the detention conditions worsening the punishment itself. The number of incarcerated women in the United States has increased 700% between 1980 and 2014. Being poor is a condition for incarceration and particularly affects women. As the Prison Policy Initiative exposed in its latest report 72% of incarcerated women had an income less than $22 500 while the rate is 48% for non-incarcerated women, and for men 23% for non-incarcerated men compared to 57% for incarcerated men.

Pregnant women are sent to prison, jail, or immigration detention centers. In federal prisons 1 in 33 women and 1 in 25 in state prisons are pregnant. The number is hard to establish in other kinds of detention facility.

If women decide or are intimidated to pursue their pregnancy behind bars, they face harsh conditions with disastrous prenatal conditions in detention facilities in general. In 2011, 38 states had no prenatal policies and 41 states did not require prenatal nutrition. Children born in prison are removed from their mothers right after birth, which demonstrates that a child’s well-being has no meaning when the child is born in prison, another double standard.

In addition, there is no adequate health care for inmates in the United States, though, based on the 8th Amendment, prisoners are the only ones who have a constitutional right to medical care. Instead, medical care in prison is often decided through court orders by penal and judicial personnel who have no medical expertise, and so treatments are delayed, ignored, or never performed.

If women inmates don’t want to become mothers, although it is their constitutional right to have access to abortion, few states offer comprehensive solutions. In most of states, the women must deal with a hodgepodge of rules and regulations, all defined from the male-standard of incarceration. Generally, the hurdles are numerous, high, and burdensome. From having access to a clinic to payment to transport, every step is an “undue burden” for women prisoners in most states. As ACLU attorneys recall, the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision clearly said “laws that restrict abortion access cannot create an `undue burden.’”

The legal dispute around abortion in prison should be taken seriously by everyone outside of prison who believe that respecting the dignity of women as full citizens means ensuring they control their reproduction. Women have been sentenced to jail for the failure of the state to provide abortion or prenatal services to the vulnerable. The Purvi Patel case is one of too many cases that proves that the State is not concerned with women’s well-being, especially when in a state of vulnerability.

ACLU and other groups have called for more research on the application of reproductive rights inside the United States penal systems. Although this demand is important to resist the conservative anti-abortion wave, the invisibility of living conditions of women behind bars is full of lessons about the way attacks on women’s right and reproductive justice is waged in general and its social meaning. When state leaders are ready to fulfill their responsibilities to serve the vulnerable, often women and more often women of color and/or women prisoners, they will serve all women and the society better.

 

(Photo Credit: National Women’s Law Center) (Infographic credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

In Poland, women in black strike for women’s and human rights

In Poland last week women went on a general strike, dressed in black. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of cities to defend their remaining right to abortion as the government pushed for a total ban on abortion. The concept of women’s general strike was first used in Iceland on October 25, 1975 when 90% of women stopped working, taking care of children, cooking etc. They wanted equality and were fed up with low wages, low consideration, low everything. The entire country stopped. The effect was profound. The Polish women were after the same effect, fed up with seeing political and economic manipulations control their sexual and reproductive rights and putting their lives in jeopardy.

Since Poland transitioned to a capitalist system, reproductive rights including the right to abortion have been the recurrent issue, and women have seen their rights steadily reduced. Women in Poland won the right to abortion for social reasons in 1956. Nina Sankari for 50-50 magazine, recounts the work of Maria Jaszczuk, the MP who sponsored the original bill. She put in the public debate the crude reality of women’s right to decide for their lives, breaking the code of silence. At the time, more than 300 000 illegal abortions were practiced a year with 80 000 of them ending up in the hospital leading to a 2% death toll. Thanks to this bill, Polish women had enjoyed this reproductive right for over 36 years. But the so called democratic process gloated about by the capitalist order demanded the end of this basic women’s right to decide for themselves. Nina Sankari recalls that in 2007 shortly before her death at 90 years old, Maria Jaszczuk expressed her sadness to see all these basic women’s rights being wiped out.

Nina Sankari notes the irony of the infamous democratic transition bringing the Catholic Church with its conservative neoliberal allies back to power. In 1989, when the new constitution was being designed, the Church vetoed the concept of separation of church and state, of laicity or neutrality of the church. The Polish Catholic establishment was ready to play a crucial political role in the country.

Consequently, in 1993 one of the most regressive anti-abortion laws in Europe passed, allowing abortion in only three cases: if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus has serious disabilities, and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape including incestuous rape. But that was not enough for the conservative forces led by Jarosław Kaczinski. He is the leader of Law and Justice party that won the elections in October 2015.

Currently, the xenophobic religious neoliberal right is looming large in Europe. The current Polish leadership is in line with Viktor Orbán’s leadership in Hungary proclaiming religious notions on family as divinely imposed and reducing public services, especially when women’s rights are at risk. These changes constitute a breach in European laws. Recently three cases from Poland have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The latter found that women and girls in Poland “encountered unacceptable obstacles to access to safe and legal abortion.” It put Poland in violation with its responsibilities and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta and Ireland are also in this position. Meanwhile, no official actions have changed this status quo. Only women and men’s street demonstrations have brought change.

This time, the Polish women’s strike defeated the bill that would have led to a total ban on abortion, including jail time for women seeking abortion and for doctors who would dare help them. As Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International said, “This is a huge victory for the millions of women and girls who mobilized, showed their fury, and successfully blocked a law which would have taken away their rights and endangered their health.”

This victory should lead to more actions in support of women’s rights and human rights. Each year in Poland, 1000 legal abortions are performed while an estimated 150, 000 clandestine abortions occur behind closed doors, not to forget that the lethal danger of clandestine abortion is spread according to social lines. The reduction of women’s rights accompanies many social and political restrictions. The women of Poland have shown the possibilities to counter the rise of the deadly combination of xenophobic, neoliberal and religious power.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Czarek Sokolowski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

(This article is part of the on-going collaboration between Women In and Beyond the Global and 50-50 magazine. Click here for 50-50’s coverage of Poland’s women in black.)

El Salvador built a special hell for women, Ilopango Women’s Prison

Ilopango Women’s Prison

El Salvador built as special hell for women, formally called el Centro de Readaptación para Mujeres de Ilopango, the Ilopango Center for Women’s Readaptation. Call it the Ilopango Women’s Prison. For the last few months, this prison has, and has not, received some notoriety because of El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion laws, which have landed Las 17 in Ilopango. The story of the 17 women sent into the hell of Ilopango for having suffered miscarriages is important, as is the story of all the women in Ilopango. The abuse of the 17 is a crime, as is the abuse of all the women prisoners in Ilopango.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions, period. Today, El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. Additionally, El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women, so that any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted. 49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. A People’s Tribunal is going on right now to investigate the cases of three of those women: Carmen Guadalupe Vasquez Aldana, sentenced to 30 years and released after seven years; Maria Teresa Rivera, in for 40 years for aggravated homicide; Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, sentenced to 30 years.

Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign. Periodically, the case of Las 17 is picked up globally, and so the struggle continues.

The assault on pregnant women, the absolute and total ban, is predictably partial: “The majority of the cases were referred to the police from hospitals—specifically, from public hospitals. Indeed, not a single hospital report to police came from the country’s private practice doctors or private hospitals.” So, the “totality” of the ban applies only to those women dependent on the public health system.

Of equal importance is the prison itself: “Ilopango is squalid and cramped: Overcrowding stands at nearly 1,000 percent, according to some estimates. Women sleep some 40 to a cell; one prison guard told me that over 100 children under five live there with their mothers.” Ilopango was designed for 225 women, maximum. Last year it held 2000. Women sleep five to a bed, or on the floor. Water is scarce, and medical care even scarcer. Prisoners rely on their mostly impoverished families for pretty much everything.

These are the numbers of violence against women: Las 17 and 2000 in a space for 225. For the women who suffered miscarriages, the viciousness of the State is a crime. For the women, all the women, who ended up in Ilopango, the sentence of death-in-life is the crime, not abortion, not miscarriage, not this or that act, not being a woman. Ilopango is the crime.

Meanwhile, last month, Flor Sánchez was dumped in jail for the `crime’ of having endured a miscarriage.

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Meridith Kohut)

Women are attacked in the mirror of reproduction, and where is the outrage?

 

I often hear women in France wondering how it is possible that women’s access to abortion or to safe delivery is so outrageously compromised and mostly a source of revenue rather than inalienable rights in the United States. The current political landscape might help them, and us, understand.

Once again women and their bodies occupy the center stage of the presidential elections in the United States. While the last attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed to pass, there were still too many votes in favor. The issue continues to obsess the GOP candidates and allows them to stigmatize women. They used the usual recipe to fabricate a scandal, this time targeting Planned Parenthood. They made deceptive images in order to emotionally manipulate a large portion of the population, brush aside the truth and reality, and focus on the anti women’s reproductive rights credo. The videos were assembled to manufacture false images of the use of “for-money tissues” coming from aborted embryos; ironically these accusations came from the candidates who defend profiteering at any cost. Actually, women who had had an abortion donated tissues for research on diseases such as Parkinson, Alzheimer, or orphan diseases, but does it really matter? The press was reluctant to explain the scam.

Planned Parenthood provides health care to women. One out of five have had recourse to their services because nothing exists for them in a for-profit medical system. This is not only about abortion. Across the United States, pregnant women are also mistreated: sent to prison, denied basic rights, and having no labor protection and no legally supported maternity leave.

It seems that nothing can impede the United States Republican candidates from bawling out injurious slurs toward minorities and women, while keeping silent about the reality of the violence of their economic views. But this time the farce is grotesque as well as threatening. As witnessed by the first GOP debate, the current US conservative battle for the primaries sheds light on the debacle of “democratic” debates in the cradle of neoliberal conservatism.

I asked in France what if the shocking Sarkozy or the heinous Le Pen had said something similar to launch their campaigns. Most said that this would not be accepted, not that there is no anti immigration sentiments. They said it would have triggered more mockery as well as indignation. Additionally, the response coming from the numerous associations that work on immigration rights and immigrant women’s rights would have been strong and irrefutable and accompanied with legal actions.

The question of reproductive rights is also shaped differently as deliveries and abortions are free, and pregnant women’s labor rights are still guaranteed in France as well as in many other countries, and the commitment to these rights, in France and across Europe, is robust, and again a vast range of associations is watching.

For example, when the conservative Spanish Prime Minister attempted to reduce reproductive rights in Spain, women and men from all over Europe went to the streets in support of Spanish women’s rights, thanks to these very associations, and forced the withdrawal of the bill.

However, women’s rights have been threatened in relation to the restructuring of the European Union, as we saw in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and France. This signifies another form of violence against women’s bodies, taking the oppressed body, the migrant’s body, hostage.

In the United States, the threat of these attacks against women persists in a distractive form. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has explained, energy is going to be spent fighting each scandalous initiative while the source of the problem will be kept blurred. The debt economy that works with violence, stigmatizing women and people of color and/or lower social status, is forgotten in these debates.

Women are particularly targeted. Many women in the United States, including in my own family, have struggled during pregnancy to keep employment, to have pregnancy health particularities respected, to keep 100 % of their salary, or to pay for delivery.

Where is the outrage? Where are the images of the united colors of precarity, of women living precariously?

The neoliberal order bathes in this spectacle, and the reality of life disappears. Let’s keep in mind that the state of the status of women and women’s reproductive rights mirrors the fate of most of the population.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Javier Barbancho / Reuters / Landov / AlJazeera)

(Photo Credit 2: Marlon Headen of Headen Photography / RH Reality Check)