Updated: Feb 12, 2021
these women will have unsafe abortions. 70,000 of them will die as a direct result.
We live in the most progressive societies to date, yet somehow most remain dominated by a culture that continues to work to the detriment of female health. Despite significant advancements, recent years have accentuated the lack of concern for women’s rights and safety.
In November 2020 Poland issued an almost total ban on abortions. In 2019, the United States passed 59 new abortion restrictions. For decades societies have fought an unrelenting push and pull war on a woman’s right to choose. These issues are, in most cases, intensified by economic inequality.
In 1973 the US Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade protected the right, and set a global precedent, in the fight for female autonomy. Today that precedent is greatly threatened.
We often look to the United States for a characterisation on the severity of abortion
polarisation. But the greatest issues often fall closer to home. Northern Ireland for instance, is amongst one of the world’s most restrictive countries in regard to abortion. Up until the 22nd of October 2019, women who sought an abortion faced the risk of persecution.
Women have spent far too long being stripped of personal freedoms and bodily autonomy in some of the world’s largest democracies.
In 2019, 25 Republican state Senators voted to pass a highly preventive abortion law. Every
vote was cast by a white male. This is no anomaly. This issue is only heightened by the fact
that these laws will disproportionately affect black women and women from low socio-economic backgrounds. Female bodies remain dictated and controlled by politicians who will often never have to endure the physical, emotional and economic turmoil of an unwanted pregnancy.
Neighbouring the United States, a vast majority of women and girls in Latin America are
living in areas where abortion is either completely banned or heavily restricted. Last year,
Margaret Wurth, working with Human Rights Watch, carried out interviews with a number
of women from the Dominican Republic to gain a stronger understanding of ‘what life is like
when abortion is banned’. It would be dishonourable to reword her experiences, but I believe they are exceptionally important for everyone to hear. Wurth writes, “I met a health
educator in the Dominican Republic who fought back tears as she told me how, a few weeks
prior, she counselled a pregnant 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather”.
Our world has a cold ability to turn a blind eye to young girls who have their futures violently stripped away as results of abuse. This issue is only exacerbated by the high rates of economic inequality in Latin America.
However, amongst this darkness, on the 30th of December 2020 Argentina passed a bill legalising abortion across the country. Having previously (in 2018), rejected a bill that would have legalised abortion within the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy. One week later after rejecting the bill, a 24-year-old mother of two died from septic shock as a result of an attempted at home abortion.
There is still work to be done however. Without reform and acceptance of the importance of abortion laws, we remain tethered by the social imbalance of gender disparity.
Often people ignore the impact that anti-abortion laws have on further entrenching global
gender inequality, and is perhaps inadvertently one of the largest contributors to the inequality.
International human rights organisations often cite abortion bans – whether partial or total
– to be a direct violation of fundamental human rights. Through withdrawing female access
to reproductive healthcare and abortion clinics, countries are vastly limiting scope for an
individual to make free, and deeply personal, decisions. This is only part of the issue. As
mentioned previously, 70,000 women will die annually as a result of backstreet abortions (and presumably many more that go unreported).
In 2011, Ugandan mother Margaret lost her 16-year-old daughter, Gladys, to infection as a result of an attempted at home abortion. Gladys had been raped by a relative and consequently feel pregnant.
According to the World Health Organisation, developing countries have a death every 8 minutes from complications of illegal abortions. By denying access to healthcare during dangerous pregnancies, or forcing women to seek out abortions clandestinely, we are further emphasising female subordination through a suggestion that women do not maintain the same right to life and health as enjoyed by men.
More often than not, abortion is used as a tool for political gain. In the US, a large number
of presidential candidates will focus on an anti-abortion narrative in order to successfully
secure the white evangelical vote – which makes up for just over a fourth (25%) of the US
electorate. This means to suggest that women’s autonomy is exploited and disparaged,
often by male candidates, for a seat in the White House. As a direct result sexism is enhanced through a claim that women do not retain the capability to make decisions on the course of their own life.
We cannot ignore that some of our world’s largest democracies are removing basic human rights through a bid for political advancement. Moreover, laws banning abortion can force women and girls into a life they may not desire.
Often young women will be forced to drop out of school or higher education given their lack
of access to abortion clinics if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. It would
be ignorant not to recognise that education in the Western world is a privilege denied to
130 million girls globally. Yet abortion is undeniably a hinderance to education endured by
girls in both the richest and poorest areas of the world.
In the US, 30% of girls will drop out of school due to teen pregnancy. This is even higher for Latino and African American girls at 36% and 38% respectively. As a result of early dropout, young mothers are disproportionately affected by unemployment and are thus likely to become more vulnerable to economic difficulties. On a global impact, this contributes greatly to increasing economic, class and occupational inequality.
It is extremely clear that the knock-on effects of anti-abortion laws are vast in both number and strength. There is a harsh irony that anti-abortion movements are concerned with protecting life, yet their laws are doing the opposite. We are losing thousands of women yearly to a limitation of safe abortion clinics and healthcare. A decision so acutely personal, is being stripped away from women’s hands and placed in the laps of politicians.
There is no denying that this is a global issue and a severe fall in the fight for gender equality.