Reproductive rights globally – crackdowns on bodily autonomy -> inspiring, brave & creative feminist responses #AFem
This is from my notes at the excellent reproductive rights workshop at AFem 2014. The session was scheduled in for 3 hours, and I thought I’d attend for a bit, and then leave to go to one of the other workshops and discussions starting an hour later. As it turned out, I was getting so much out of it that I stayed to the end, and couldn’t believe how fast it went! This is a write up of notes I started taking as I listened to one after another of incredible speakers talking about the situation in their country, and what they were doing to challenge that. I didn’t manage to write most of it, as it was so in depth, and mostly I was just listening and absorbing and thinking. But here are my notes anyway :) They’re from a variety of speakers / contributors from the floor. In all I counted 9 countries represented; Poland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, France and UK. Notes are not necessarily in that order, and I didn’t write down the countries contributions were from most of the time. Errors are my own. If you see any, please comment so that I can make amendments.
Abortion contravenes ideas of women as natural mothers. It has been common for centuries but became problematised/criminalised in 19th century Europe. Due to colonialism, Victorian era attitudes on it then infected the rest of the world – there are still many countries using the 1861 “offences against a person” anti choice law.
There are about 40 million abortions globally a year. One in three women in UK will have an abortion at some point in their life. Half of all abortions around the world are unsafe, leading to 50 000 deaths per year. Richer women can often escape the worst of this, as they can pay or travel to places with better laws and resources.
There have been a number of international conventions that state that countries should make abortions legal and available, but these aren’t legally binding, purely symbolic.
No contraception method is 100%, and not everybody has the power to negotiate contraception.
In Spain right wing Christian organisations such as “Legions of Christ” and “Opus Dei” have a lot of power as also includes politicians and business people. (An Italian said this is true in her country too.) The church has a lot of say, for example in education where religion is a compulsory subject. The far right movement has made it acceptable to now say publicly sexist things about women’s place as mother, such as on businesswoman who urged that “fertile age women shouldn’t be hired”. That this is now part of public discourse further reinforces and gives confidence and credence to traditional, conservative views.
Even ostensibly public, non-religious schools are often controlled by Opus Dei behind the scenes. Also in private healthcare, the church is behind it. There were attempts this year to make abortion even more restrictive, but this was defeated. There is now a new movement of feminists mobilised “us and our grandmothers are feminists, but there was a whole generation missed”. They did lots of actions against the new law and are continuing to organise now.
There were other speakers now, including from the floor, but I didn’t make notes from them all :(
In Italy, 80% of gynaecologists and lots of nurses and anaesthetists are refusing to perform abortions, so that even though it is legal, it is very difficult to access. DIY, or otherwise unsafe, abortions are therefore common, with the woman often then presenting at A&E with profuse bleeding, and being recorded as a “spontaneous miscarriage”. 20 000 legal abortions are carried out per year, but about 40 000 are refused due to “conscientious objection”. There are 75000 recorded “miscarriages” – 1/3 of which are probably unsafe abortions. Miscarriage rates have dramatically increased since the 1980s, particularly in minors. Conscientious objectors are becoming more common, especially in the south, and they say that if they do carry out abortions they face discrimination at work.
missed out a load more of the interventions here as was just listening.
In Chile abortion has been illegal since 1989 (was one of Pinochet’s final acts as dictator) – prior to this it was legal to save the women’s life. In 2008 there were moves to criminalise the morning after pill (MAP). This led to a wave of activism and upswing in feminism – older feminists from the time of the dictatorship together with new/younger ones. They took direct action, distributing leaflets and posters with info on how to make the MAP from a certain combination of contraceptive pills, which were available. Those who had been baptised as children made a public “aposte” where they renounced religion. A hotline and solidarity network were set up to provide support and advise to those seeking abortions, and put them in touch with doctors who would perform abortions. Despite it being illegal, “just” 300 people – those both performing and receiving abortions – have been imprisoned and most people get away with it. There were also legal challenges against the new law. There was public outcry after and 11 year old who was raped by her step father was forced to have the baby.
Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. (Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion) do awesome performance activism, as abortion is illegal in Ireland. Their current campaign, “Knickers for Choice“, asks folks to post pictures of knickers in iconic places with pro choice messages. Taking something private, such as our smalls, and making them public echoes what the government has done to women’s bodies. Someone else suggested that if you’re holidaying in Ireland, its worth just casually asking in a shocked voice “is it true that abortion is still illegal here?” to denormalise it in shops etc.
USA style clinic harrassment is now happening in UK, financed by groups in the states. “Abort 67” are active in Brighton and abortion clinic pickets are happening in London and Manchester and probably other places too. The clinics themselves have requested that there should not be counter pickets to these as it just makes more of an unpleasant scene for those trying to access the services.
In Brazil abortion is also illegal. Also in Argentina. In France there are difficulties with access.
Need to act now in UK, to prepare for the attacks that will come. The right is already on the move.
Abortion Support Network is set up to assist Irish women travel to mainland Britain for abortions. They are the sticking plaster responding to the urgent need, but it is vital to address the cause of this, and get the law changed in ROI and provision in NI.
A video was made about Irish women and for many it was their first time speaking to *anyone* about the fact they’d had an abortion. Common to feel shame, fear and even personal opposition to abortion, even though they’ve had one. Its difficult for women in UK to admit they’ve had an abortion; in Ireland its even just to say they know someone who’s had one.