Pregnancy or abortion: Either way, women face violence


In the United States, violence is often the current reality for women seeking reproductive services. Access to abortion is becoming more difficult, more costly, and almost always associated with numerous procedures or circumstances that shame women. Giving birth is similarly costly and often a place for extraordinary controlling power over the women’s devaluated bodies. When women attempt to make decisions about their own bodies, they are rarely trusted as intelligent human beings, especially when they are women of color or/and of lower income status.

Medical and legal institutions embody the authority of the state. They hold the right and ability to decide for women and to send them to jail for not complying with orders over their own bodies. Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin recently provided a long list of women, across the country, who experienced violence during pregnancy. Each time, their lives were judged inconsequential compared to the life of the fetus they were carrying. The process is simple: the woman’s body is scrutinized, the doctor or medical personnel denounce the woman to the legal power when she demands other options other than induction or c section, then the judge orders and the fetus existence and rights overweigh the women’s.

Since Paltrow and Flavin published an important study last year revealing the outrageous inhuman treatments of women at the time of reproduction, including incarceration of women, nothing has really changed. Judges still order c-sections on women, and women are forcibly taken to the operation room often handcuffed. The very real feticide laws are the pretext for these decisions as well as a misinterpretation of Roe v Wade, which results in women losing their rights.

The number of forced procedures on pregnant women is astonishing. For example, in Florida, Jennifer Goodall wanted to have a vaginal birth after previous c-sections. Her decision was informed. She received a letter from the chief financial officer of the Hospital that dictated a cesarean surgery to deliver her baby against her informed wish to have a vaginal delivery. Jennifer was forced to the operation room after a judge ordered the c-section.

In New York, Rinat Dray experienced similar violence as she was delivering her baby. As she was laboring, the doctor told her that the delivery was progressing fine, “but he just didn’t have all day.” She did not want the c-section he ordered, she begged for mercy. The doctor responded that he wasn’t bargaining, told Rinat Dray to be silent, and performed the c-section.

In privatized medical care, finance and profit are key. Cesarean procedures are moneymakers. A recent study shows that physician mothers receive fewer c-sections than equally educated women. While the study establishes the relationship between social status, economic status, and treatment, by framing the issue as a simple choice of treatment, it misses the violent control over women that is inscribed in the neoliberal political economy of health care in the United States. Furthermore, deliveries should not be considered treatments, as pregnancy does not require treatment but assistance. Instead, there is a constant fear factor that is played on women. Childbirth has evolved to become a surgical event in the United States as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English noted years ago. Not to forget the differential of care that is linked to citizenship and insurance membership, undocumented immigrants are simply barred from medical assistance in many states.

Paltrow and Flavin argue that if “we want to end these unjust and inhumane arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women we need to stop focusing only on abortion…. Start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women.” There is no need to oppose abortion to pregnancy, even if many pregnant women in these cases are opposed to abortion. The questions are neither about the technicality of delivery nor about safety as the US has the worst records in infant and maternal mortality and one of the highest rates of forced procedures (32.8% c-section) in the developed world. While the WHO does not provide exact recommendations, it suggests that a caesarean delivery rate of 15% should be taken as a threshold not to be exceeded.

At issue is State legitimized violence against women, with guaranteed immunity to the State and its representatives. It is also about the control of women’s bodies at the time of reduced public services and fewer protections against market hegemony. Women face a medical criminal justice system that is growing, and the tentacles of which reach ever more deeply into every nook and cranny of women’s reproductive bodies.


(Photo Credit:

Forty years after passing abortion laws, France reaffirms all women’s right to abortion!


Simone Veil addresses French National Assembly, November 26, 1974

Forty years ago, on November 26th, 1974 France’s Parliament adopted Simone Veil’s bill to guarantee access to legal abortion for women under certain restrictions. Simone Veil emphasized at the time that abortion was a hypocritical social issue since only the poorer women were penalized by the restrictions. These restrictions have since been removed to become a right for all women of all ages and free of charge in France. This past Wednesday, November 26th 2014, the French Parliament adopted a resolution to reaffirm the fundamental right to abortion for all women in France, in Europe and in the world.

The resolution added that women had fundamental right to control over their own bodies, as it is the condition for the construction of real equality between women and men and for a society of progress. The resolution also included the importance of sexual education and free access to contraception and abortion. Finally, the resolution expressed France’s European as well as international engagement for universal access to family planning.

Forty years ago there were only 9 women in the Parliament and 481 men. Simone Veil admitted recently that she had not imagined at the time, the hatred that her law was going to generate. Last Wednesday, only 7 representatives voted against the resolution. Though still too many, this is significant progress from the 189 representatives who voted against it in 1974.

Nonetheless, before the presentation of the resolution, the anti abortion lobby led by the Foundation Lejeune asked their followers to flood targeted center, right and extreme right representatives with a sample email. It contained twenty words with explicit phrases such as he/she “would not comprehend that a national representative would celebrate as a right, an attack on human life.” The Foundation Lejeune says that there is no support within the United Nations framework to claim the right to abortion; therefore they contest the universal right of women to control over their own bodies.

In the current context of worldwide restrictions on women’s rights, the French Family Planning did not want to take any risk and so organized along with other groups a response to these attacks, asking women and men to voice their support for access to reproductive services. They also reminded the representatives that clandestine abortions result in 8 million women being seriously injured, with 47 000 dying every year in the world. Forty years ago, women went en masse to the parliament to support Veil’s bill; this time they used the Internet.

This resolution signals that rights for women have to be reaffirmed over and over, especially in a more conservative Europe and world pressed by neoliberal politics that target women and the poor. The current trend is to reconfigure passed victories as we see happening in the United States, in Spain, in Italy, in the UK and the list is long. Even in France where the resolution was passed, restructuration of the health care services demanded by austerity measures are endangering access to such reproductive services. All this goes hand in hand with an increase of violence against women.

At least, this resolution institutionalized the significance of women’s reproductive rights despite the constant attacks, and that in itself is a good and important political initiative!


(Photo Credit: French Government)

We had an abortion, we’re fine, thank you!

Making access to abortion more difficult is a way to change the nature of women’s lives. It also unsettles the social position of women in those countries that in the sixties and seventies, after a century or so of illegality, legalized access to contraception and to abortion.

In Texas, a recent court decision authorized HB2, a bill designed to make access to abortion more humiliating and difficult, even impossible for the most vulnerable women. Last week Democracy Now broadcast from San Antonio, “the last outpost for legal abortion in Texas,” in order to focus on this new attack on women’s lives. The shows featured Jeffrey Hons, CEO of Planned Parenthood in Texas, and Lindsay Rodriguez, President of the Lilith Fund, which provides financial support to women in Texas who cannot afford an abortion.

Responding to Senator Wendy Davis’ revelation in her new campaign memoir that she had an abortion, Hons explained, “A woman should be allowed all the privacy to have this healthcare and not have to reveal it to every one and then, at the same time…it’s as though when a woman will have the courage to share a story, that it humanizes it, and it makes everyone realize that these decisions are very complicated, very personal, very difficult…”

It was also very difficult also for a young woman in Pennsylvania to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, because services were too far and too expensive. Her mother went to the Internet and found a way to help her daughter. She purchased mifepristone (formerly called RU-486) and misoprostol pills, which was what she could afford. For that `crime’, the mother was sent to jail. She had no access to suitable services and yet was denounced by the hospital, condemned by the judicial system and pilloried by the media.

In Texas and other places where abortion is formally legal, abortion has remained taboo as if it were an unspeakable last result or an impossible choice for women. Women are meant to be ashamed because [a] they have violated the privacy of the household and [b] they are women seeking reproductive health. In recent years, safety and security rhetoric has led to the re-emergence of the argument that endangering the life of the mother justifies curtailing her right to control over her body.

On September 27, 2014, Sabine Lambert addressed these issues at the “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society” forum in Paris. Lambert belongs to the collective group “We had an abortion, we’re fine, thank you” (nous avons avorté, nous allons bien, merci). The group formed to create spaces to liberate women from the politics of guilt and shame regarding their decisions by exchanging stories and insights with other women. Instead of leaving abortion in the private sphere, they present abortion as a possible occurrence in women’s lives that carries no particular shame or guilt. After all a woman spends more time avoiding pregnancy than being pregnant.

In France, abortion is free, a recognized as a right, and still relatively easy to access. Nevertheless, it is often described as a traumatizing event carrying terrible consequences for the mental well being of women. In recent years, these descriptions have become more prevalent. The idea that abortion should be averted by any means has prevailed, despite the fact that abortion has always existed and contraception will never be an absolute means of reproductive control.

In France and across Europe, the notion of post-abortive syndrome has surfaced. This so-called syndrome has no scientific support. Nevertheless, a well known professor of medicine wrote in a popular medical publication that scientific studies should not be necessary to prove that a woman who had an abortion is inclined to psychological distress and extreme suffering. In Texas, a Republican delegate candidate has argued that women who have undergone abortion are prone to drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. Both doctor and delegate are wrong.

Women who have gone through abortions know better. According to Sabine Lambert, we need to go beyond the right to control our body and recognize that our mind is also ours. On her group’s website many women have written that they felt ashamed for not feeling negative after their abortions. Describing their experiences, which were not always easy, the women say they do not regret anything. Many say that in their mind the result of a sexual encounter was not the fetus. Sabine suggested that the image of the monstrous woman underlies the stigmatization of abortion. The woman who had an abortion and feels fine commits a double transgression. First she refuses maternity, and second she’s ok. She deviates twice from the patriarchal feminine social norm.

Sabine’s group organized to demand a woman’s right to abort with head held high. The right to abort should not be limited to begging for the crumbs of tolerance or struggling for a loosening of the noose around the neck. There is no shame or guilt for the women in Texas, Pennsylvania or France. We should demand respect for their decision, as we should recognize their struggle as political, not private.


(Photo credit: IVG, je vais bien, merci!)

From Texas to Paris, women fight for their lives

From Texas to Pennsylvania to France, women’s rights have to be re affirmed. Moreover, the engagement implies defending an idea of society that goes beyond the right to abortion or women’s right to control their bodies.

In September, in Paris’ City Hall, the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society” summed up the current need to switch to the offensive. The Deputy Mayor of Paris opened the forum recalling that feminist struggles always upset the men and women who want to go further in social regression at times of economic crisis. Maya Surduts, President of the National Coordination of Associations for the Right to Abortion and Contraception, concurred, “We are at a turning point. The status of women is being called into question in this society.”

Maternity and the right to decide are under attack as is as the conception of women as full citizens, in France and in the United States.

In the United States, two recent cases of mistreatment of women show that an individualistic, utilitarian, patriarchal, neoliberal idea of society normalizes cruelty.

A woman in rural Pennsylvania has been sentenced from 9 to 18 months in jail for providing, through an online vendor, RU 486 to her 19-year-old daughter, who wanted to end an unwanted pregnancy. The nearest abortion clinic is 75 miles away. The woman was reported to the authorities by the local hospital where they went when her daughter had stronger stomach cramps. The details of the story show the intricate manipulations of events that led to the charge that sent this woman to jail. A state senator commentating on the case accused her of endangering the welfare of a child. It is not clear which child he is referring to. In this judgment, the fact that a fetus is not an unborn child fades away along with the acknowledgment that her daughter is a person and not a womb made to carry children.

She was also charged with “offering medical consultation about abortion without a license”. The daughter did not have health insurance, and the mother and the family seemed to have limited resources. The reality is that the mother had no information about abortion and, working in this vacuum of respect for rights to help her daughter, used the Internet to cut costs. The judge ruled, “This was somebody taking life and law into their own hands”. In fact, this situation is created by a system that plays with women’s lives without any respect for the latter. It works by creating a halo of shame and guilt around the woman, a halo that obscures the shame that the state has for not fulfilling its responsibilities.

Meanwhile in Texas last week, a court decision authorized HB2 to go into effect. This bill imposes restrictions on abortion centers, demanding them to meet the standards of hospital surgery departments. There is no medical reason for that requirement. Nevertheless, it forced 13 clinics to close immediately.

Constraints imposed on women who decide to have an abortion are also medically unnecessary. Now, a woman must arrange four visits to the clinic with the same doctor in a very rigorous timing. She must undergo an unnecessary and invasive vaginal probe ultrasound. Then she has to listen to the description of the development of a fetus, completing her physical torture with a psychological one.

With this measure, women from the western part of Texas will have to travel up to 500 miles round trip to an abortion clinic in San Antonio, the last area where the eight remaining clinics are located. The situation’s worse for the large population of people who live in the Rio Grande Valley without documentation or who have work permits that allow very limited travel. Meanwhile, immigrant women will have to go through immigration check points to reach an abortion clinic, basically depriving immigrant women from this area of their rights.

From the United States to Europe, new measures and laws add devastating constraints on women. In Europe, austerity measures stripped women of their way of life, work, and access to public services, most notably in Greece.

Although in France abortion is free of charge and guaranteed by law, a certain rationale of profitability combined with austerity measures has made access to abortion centers and hospitals trickier. Forced restructuration has closed many locations where women had access to reproductive services. While the Pennsylvania and Texas cases would be inconceivable in France for now, Maya sees the attacks on labor laws and on public services as the point of entry to make women the first to be harmed and exploited. She emphasized that immigrant women are always in the forefront. She added that these situations are unacceptable and that it is time to retake the initiative to defend the rights that protect the majority of the population.

Alert: No time to rest. Women’s rights are still not rights!

In the 21st century, women are still disembodied bodies.The US Supreme Court just ruled against a buffer zone around medical/abortion centers that could have made the trip for women to reproductive care services devoid of abuses and threatening slurs. In addition in many states (such as Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota) access to abortion services is technically rendered impossible. Then, the Hyde Amendment still undermines the promise of Roe v Wade. In addition, even pregnant women may feel that their fetuses come first, as politicians don’t hesitate to declare that women are just host bodies.

In Spain, The Organic Law for the Protection of the life of the conceived and the rights of the pregnant women, first adopted by the Spanish government in December 2013, still threatens women’s rights. In January, this decision immediately triggered European opposition with thousands demonstrating in the streets of European cities and across Spain.

Who thought that the Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his ultraconservative government would have withdrawn their bill meant to send back women’s reproductive health to fascist time? They want to have it passed in the parliament in July, counting on the summer distractions.

With this bill, women will lose their right to make decisions about their bodies. 86% of Spanish people oppose this bill. The bill betrays the government’s mandate to not curtail women’s rights, which includes the right to life, dignity and auto-determination as inscribed in the Spanish constitution. These points are what the Politica Feminista Forum, an association of Spanish feminists, are pressing along with the incompatibility of this bill with Resolution 1607 of the European Council, with CEDAW’s recommendation 24 article 31c, with the International Conference on Population and Development and simply with EU laws that stipulates members state should provide safe access to abortion.

Now the attack on women’s reproductive rights is more than a trend. It goes with the doctrine of austerity to curtail public services, with growing inequalities affecting women first, not to forget criminalization of petty offences matched by the increase of police power within countries and at the borders.

One should wonder if reproduction should work like factories, since the same power is attacking labor rights. That must be a dream for neo liberal elite theorists!

Women and men in Spain, and elsewhere, are watching and acting. For Spain a petition has been circulating.

Active solidarity is needed to support resisting people in Spain, in the United States and anywhere women’s rights are compromised on the ground of morality that in fact defends financial profitability for the elite. That is not what a human society should be.

Please consider some possible actions:ón-de-justicia-congreso-de-los-diputados-8-razones-jurídicas-contra-el-anteproyecto-de-reforma-de-la-regulación-del-aborto-de-20-12-13?utm_medium=email&utm_source=notification&utm_campaign=new_pet



(Photo Credit:

Nowhere to go: Women and migrants fight for their rights

Recently, the Spanish government made headlines when it tried to sharply curtail women’s reproductive rights. Now, another set of human and civil rights is in shambles: the right to be, the right to seek safer grounds.

The European Union has two main points of entry on African land, Ceuta and Melilla. These two cities are Spanish territories on the coast of Morocco. Their existence is linked to the complex history of invasions and establishment of protectorates on Mediterranean shores. The EU has been walling up some of its borders in the South against migrants. In 2005 the EU financed the raising of a double iron curtain 6 meters high around these two Spanish enclaves. The Rajoy government had cutting blades installed on the top of the fence. The EU has also built a 12.5 kilometers wall between Turkey and Greece. Bulgaria is building its own iron curtain.

On February 6, 2013, 200 migrants tried to enter Ceuta. Fourteen died at sea as they tried to get around the fence. After some denial, the Spanish Guardia Civil finally admitted that they had used rubber bullets and tear gas against the migrants. The Minister of Interior Jorge Fernandez Diaz has been vague about these incidents that killed desperate migrants. At first, he denied any involvement or responsibility of the Guardia Civil. Then he recognized the use of riot gear only as a deterrent. Shooting at fragile craft with people onboard who don’t know how to swim is not a deterrent. Remember that, on the other side of the border, Moroccan forces are busily cudgeling migrants.

Ten days later, another 300 migrants forced the gate of the city of Melilla. About 50 were able to go in. They were then sent to temporary camps, where eight died.

In Spain, people were outraged. Within a week, demonstrations to denounce these disguised murders were organized in numerous Spanish cities. Various slogans were shouted: “Natives or foreigners, we’re all the same working class”; “No one is illegal”; and, alluding to the government’s anti abortion stand, “Where are the pro lifers?” The assault on women’s rights and the sealing of the borders are intimately linked.

In these times of global deterritorialization, with climate and economic insecurity, people migrate to escape armed conflict, starvation and misery. The non-negotiable rights to life are easily forgotten.

In the United States, immigration rights and women’s rights have been compromised, even more so recently.

In Greece, with the “debt crisis”, politically motivated violence against women and the increasingly restricted reproductive rights leaving many women without safe delivery or abortion services links with the extreme violence that migrants face at the hands of the police and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn. These various issues developed with the austerity measures brutally imposed by the Troika (the European financial power), and only now finally questioned. They have deeply destabilized every sector of the Greek society, except for the rich and powerful. In Greece, as in Spain, people are demonstrating for human rights, and against fascism.

Economic austerity measures have allowed a state of emergency to administer cruel treatments onto displaced populations. The migrant population that lands on Greek soil escapes one set of dangers only to face another. Despite the EU official commitment to human rights, there is no protection for them, and so they are abandoned in the streets of Athens and eventually attacked by Golden Dawn squads. They are the hidden casualties of the austerity measures.

The common thread that joins these stories is the elusive reliance on a neoliberal vision of the world order that displaces, isolates, impoverishes populations, and in particular women. Migrant rights and women rights are the first victims. If we don’t fight for these rights, we would have nowhere to go.


(Image Credit:

Mujeres unidas, jamás serán vencidas!

From Madrid to Paris, from London to Berlin and all over Europe, women and men went to the streets to demand respect for women’s rights, including the right to decide to continue or end a pregnancy. These massive demonstrations were a response to the attempt from the Spanish government to curtail women’s rights with an outrageous bill.

In Spain women and men rode the “train of freedom,” to reach the capital. The older participants remembered the time before the first laws in the 80s when women risked their lives for not pursuing an unwanted pregnancy. The younger were afraid for the future of their lives. Men expressed worries for their partners, their daughters. Many were afraid of the moral and social setbacks and the threat of the extreme right rule. After all, the time of Franco dictatorship left its marks on the Spanish population.

Sizeable demonstrations took place in 32 cities in France. Thirteen women politicians from the left to the right, who also recently supported LGBT rights, launched an appeal to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. They noted that Spain has often led Europe in passing progressive laws that made headway in defense of women’s rights, especially targeting sexual and sexist violence. Spanish law inspired other countries like France in shaping better anti sexist laws to address violence against women.

People who joined or supported the demonstrations know that what is happening in Spain is just one side of a multifaceted battle against women’s rights and public services that is raging across Europe. These rights are social rights.

Annie Ernaux who wrote an iconic book on her experience with abortion when it was illegal, asks, “Is it really unfathomable to imagine a return to clandestine abortion? I have always been convinced that nothing is ever definitely won for women.” What happened to women when their reproductive rights were not respected? “We would see women dying of hemorrhage, septicemia, or losing their uterus” recalled Martine Hatchnel a gynecologist who started working before the Veil abortion law.

As the neoliberal crisis has extended its grip on populations through austerity measures, Europe has experienced a certain hardening on human rights issues and the rise of far right power. However, the Spanish government’s attack on women’s rights has galvanized a stronger opposition than expected. 81 % of Spanish people oppose the bill; throughout Europe support for reproductive rights is increasing. In France these rights have been reinforced in law, social organization, and public support, which is large.

There is a movement that demands that these rights be recognized as nonnegotiable in the EU. For example, Portuguese European deputy Edite Estrela has tried to have sexual and reproductive rights recognized through a vote on her Report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which had already been altered with the removal of LGBT sexual rights.  Her report was defeated by only 7 votes, largely because a translation error led to some thirty votes being misdirected. Estrela is appealing the decision. This Report would have broadened the commitment to sexual and reproductive rights within the EU, especially directed toward Ireland, Poland, Spain, Malta and Italy.

Revolt and indignation are brewing across Europe, according to Isabelle Louis, of Paris Planning Familial and one of the organizers of the Paris demonstration. Visibly pregnant, she read the declaration of the French Family Planning in support of sexual and reproductive rights. She said that there was something very important taking place during this demonstration as she observed the varied crowd, men, women and definitely with a trans-European coloration. She saw older women too old to march showing their support from their windows and balconies.

Isabelle Louis concluded that the battle continues and this time she’d like to believe that it could be won!


(Photo Credit: L’Humanité)

From France, more than a bill, an act of resistance for women’s rights

Something important happened in the French parliament on Tuesday, January 21. After two hours of tumultuous debate, the National Assembly voted on two amendments to the abortion bill.

One, that triggered the most controversy, was a change in language in the Veil Law, passed in 1975. The initial law stated, “a pregnant woman whose conditions puts her in a situation of distress has the right to terminate pregnancy”. The amendment changed that to “all women should be allowed to choose whether or not to continue with their pregnancy.”

The second amendment further penalized the offense of obstruction, making any obstruction to information about abortion and reproductive rights a crime.

The debate occurred only two days after a demonstration organized by pro-life groups in Paris. This event gathered about 16000 people coming from the same groups that opposed the marriage for all bill passed in 2013.

These two amendments were part of a bill for equality between men and women that also passed both chambers. This bill had been in preparation since Najat Vallaud Belkacem has been nominated the Minister of Gender Equality. The objective is to create conditions for more equality between men and women in many areas of their lives, including wage equality, parental leave for fathers, stronger child support mechanisms, protection of single mothers, protection of women against all sorts of violence, with additional protection for abused undocumented women migrants, and protection of reproductive rights especially access to abortion. The bill is strong and contains enforcement power, a rare situation for bills about women’s rights.

The message was strong, especially after a series of setbacks for women’s rights in the world and notably in Europe. In fact, the bill also symbolized a strong affirmation that “abortion is a right in itself and not something dependent on conditions,” as Najat Vallaud-Belkacem noted. The specter of recent proposals against women’s reproductive rights in Spain was present as Axelle Lemaire a sponsor of the bill said, “Should we be in fear and live in a French centric world and not reach out to Spanish women who risk seeing a historical regression of their rights?”

The Spanish bill that outrages the Spanish population with 81 % against it, could basically make access to abortion almost impossible. For more fortunate Spanish women, there will always be the possibility to travel to neighboring France.

Reproductive rights that were once recognized have been under attack in Europe. The recent debate at the European parliament over the Estrela Report on sexual and reproductive health rights has shown the divide more clearly. The report was rejected over faulty simultaneous interpretation that misled supporters of the report. Nonetheless, Estele Estrela, the author of the report, declared: “It’s shameful that in 2013, the European Parliament adopted a more conservative resolution than the previous text on this issue, adopted in 2002.”

In February, a vote will take place in Switzerland to determine whether abortion will continue to be reimbursed, as is now the case in Austria. Hungary has already closed the last clinic to offer access to RU486. And we could add the dismal state of reproductive rights in the United States to the list.

At a time when women’s rights reduction and economic oppression are happening concomitantly, the bill that passed in France carries an important message that goes beyond French politics. This is a bill of hope for a stronger solidarity in support of women’s rights and human dignity. In fact women are not distressed they have rights!


(Photo Credit: THOMAS SAMSON via Getty Images)

In Spain, the neoliberal State attacks women to `protect’ them

Austerity measures help neither the republic nor the democracy. They usher violence and injustice into the civil society. For women, austerity measures mean something dreadful.

In 2011, Spain elected populist conservative Mariano Rajoy from the People Party (PP), with the support of fascist groups and the ultraconservative branch of the Catholic Church. He campaigned as a strong believer in neo liberal values, particularly pushing austerity as the basis for economic policies. No matter that the so-called public debt originated from a complex association of debt and profit making through outrageous interest rates to private banks and investors.  As in the United States, the message and the methods involve the religious right and the control of women’s bodies and the most vulnerable.

Once again women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, labor rights are at stake.

“Today, it is going to be impossible for women to have abortions. We expected a bad law, but this is the worst we could have imagined,” said Francisca Garcia, president of ACAI, La Asociación de Clínicas Acreditadas para la Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo. This worst law imaginable has overturned previous reproductive laws, and in particular the 2010 law passed under the socialist government of Zapatero, one of the most comprehensive defenses of women’ss right to control their bodies. The new law will make abortion impossible unless pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, who designed the antiabortion bill, explained: “Women are victims of abortion.” His comment shows his utter contempt for women’s intelligence and capacity to understand their bodies and their needs. He pretends that the morality of this bill rests on the defense of the unborn yet conceived child and on an economic necessity. Actually, countries, like France, that have progressive abortion laws and public services to support mothers have among the highest birth rates in the industrial world. Moreover, it goes against the European Union views on abortion rights with twenty of the twenty-eight members guaranteeing women’s right  to freely decide on their pregnancy. Six EU countries have conditions on abortion but allow it. Only Malta and Ireland prohibit abortion.  According to Le Monde, the Rajoy government and its campaign against abortion received funding and support from the ultraconservative Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, based in the United States with representation in Spain.

Undocumented immigrants are also targeted by Spain’s so-called reform of the health care system. They are now denied any kind of coverage under the public health care system. Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have protested these measures. As with abortion rights, there is no rationale or morals that can justify these measures, since health is recognized as a basic human right and covering a population is both more humane and cost efficient. These bills have been designed to show the muscles of this government and its commitment to punitive public policies. By reducing public services to the bare minimum, neoliberal policies overpower human rights.

Simultaneously, Gallardon wants to `reform’ the penal system and create a life-without-parole sentence. Following the United States, he is advocating for a Patriot Act-type of security law with more restrictions applied to unions and the right to strike.

Meanwhile, demonstrations multiplied in Spain and across Europe.  In Spain the police responded violently to women demonstrating for their rights. They pushed groups of women to the ground, which was filmed and triggered more protests.

Almost 25 years ago, Jacques Derrida noted, “Today the police are no longer content to enforce the law, and thus to conserve it; they invent it.” Today, the Rajoy government, no longer content, invents the law to exercise violence against women while showing a cynical contempt for the Spanish people.

To fight for these rights is to fight for the people of Spain and elsewhere against the oppressive globalized neoliberal order that, with mechanical precision, disassembles human society and turns profit-making into a State religion.


(Photo Credit: Fernando Alvarado/EFE)

A right is a right: women have the right to contraception and abortion

The role of a government is to inform the population of its rights said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s Minister of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, to a gathering at the Planning Familial center in Paris. Vallaud-Belkacem was there to unveil the new government information website on abortion. Since the passage of the Simone Veil bill in 1975, abortion has been a right in France.

Nonetheless, many in France, noting the shattering of reproductive rights in many countries throughout the world, don’t want to take any risk. Without much increase in their numbers, the anti IVG (anti abortion), as they are called in France, has managed to occupy a disproportionately large chunk of cyber space, by using deceptive sites that simulate abortion right sites. These sites mislead women in search of information concerning abortion procedures. They try to make women feel guilty as they spread rumors about the danger of abortion.

Isabelle Louis, the president of Planning Familial for Paris and its region, hosted Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.  Although only a few journalists showed up, Louis said, “the event went well. The Minister appreciates the work that we at Planning Familial do in support of women’s rights and she was clearly comfortable. At the same time, she delivered a crucial message for us, that is to say that abortion is not a service to women, it is a right; and that it was important to assert that this right is fully supported by the government.”

Control of the body is critical for women to fully participate in the society. Isabelle Louis emphasized that contraception and abortion are a real means of emancipation for women. She added, “In contrast, what tires me  a great deal are the journalists’ questions. Instead of problematizing this issue, they only carry out the discourse of the anti-IVG (anti-abortion) with stupid questions asking if this website is going to encourage abortion. It is worrisome to see that we are in a society that does not allow itself to think and reflect but is just good at peddling ideas as if they were equivalent. As if the ideological words of the anti (anti abortion groups) were equivalent to a state that affirms the rights of women.”

Every journalist present at the event asked that question, including journalists from leftist newspapers. Isabelle Louis reminded them that “women are not stupid. If they go to this site, it is because they want information about abortion. We must stop thinking that women are completely bewildered by what is happening to them.” Moreover, the woman who had written to the Minister to complain about the deceptive websites was present. Her alerts pushed the Minister to take action to clarify the situation. As the Minister explained, she does not want to encourage anything. Rather, the role of a government is to inform people of their rights. The Minister’s message was clear; she relocated the question of abortion and reproductive rights in its proper context: public rights and public service.

The control of the woman’s body is key to women’s full participation in the world. In the United States, Senator Elizabeth Warren recently the blackmailing by Republicans who want to “change the law so that employers can deny women access to birth control coverage. In fact letting employers decide for the women if they can get birth control covered on their insurance plan is so important that the Republicans are willing to shut down the government.” At a time when the right to an abortion is threatened and denied in many states, we wish that reproductive rights would appear as a moral and governmental responsibility rather than as a political game.

The French Minister of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is rightly defending those rights. A right is a right: women have the right to contraception and abortion.

(Written by Brigitte Marti, with Isabelle Louis, the President of Planning Familial Paris and its region)