Reproductive Rights under Attack
Opinion by Alison Brown, IAW member since 1992
It is sad to observe how the decision by the US Supreme Court to remove Constitutional protections for reproductive rights of the women of the USA has pushed this topic into the spotlight. It is almost as if the loss of these rights in other countries, like Poland and Hungary are not sufficiently newsworthy. Now that a number of US states are taking away their woman citizen’s rights to control their own bodies and destiny, it is on front pages. Fortunately, other US States are standing up to defend those rights and extend a welcome to women from other states who need such services. Funding for travel is being arranged, women are resourceful in defense of their own. Even the US’ neighbor to the north, Canada, is opening their clinics to these victims of patriarchy. Nevertheless, we know that many women will not have a safety net, these are usually the women, the poor and racial minorities, who otherwise have few resources.
For IAW reproductive rights have always been part of our Action Programme. At a recent meeting with our membership reproductive rights were high on the list of concerns IAW as a whole should be addressing and upcoming meetings will have strong components on this health issue.
While abortion opponents seem to think reproductive rights are code words for free access to abortion and nothing more, we see the issue in a much broader sense. Reproductive rights start with education for girls (and boys) about how their bodies work, sometimes called sex education, with a strong social component requiring mutual understanding and respect between the sexes. Sufficient quantities of quality menstrual products should be available to girls and women, in the home, at school, in the workplace, even in prisons! [IAW-Project: Water&Pads]
Reproductive rights would include the right of a girl to complete her education before she consents to enter into a permanent sexual relationship, which could lead to pregnancy. As the timing of a pregnancy is important for the future well-being of a girl or woman, it is a matter of reproductive rights to have a variety of contraceptives readily available and affordable. If her contraceptives fail or if she is without that protection and suffers rape or incest, then the necessary medical assistance must be available to safely carry her through the trial to a healthy future, when she is able to bear the children that she wants.
When a woman decides it is time to fulfill her desire for a child, the joyful event should be accompanied by excellent prenatal care. The birth should take place in surroundings of her choice, with the advantages of modern medicine available, but not forced upon her if they are not necessary for her and her baby’s well-being. A maternal mortality rate close to zero is the proof that a woman’s reproductive rights are being respected. Reproductive rights also include consistent post-natal care transitioning to pediatric care for the child as well as sufficient paid maternal leave for the mother so that the child may be nursed and reap the benefits available in mothers’ milk. This leave also gives a mother time to rest, recover, and bond with the child. Continuing attention must be given to the woman’s health, as such care must also be available in cases of medical problems like hormonal imbalances and cancers.
All this we demand for women. We demand an end to child-marriages and reject the notion that women are glorified incubators for children, that a family member should be able to enlarge the family by impregnating a relative, that a rape should last for nine months if an egg is fertilized in the act. We demand that procedures that contribute to the health and well-being of women, and especially pregnant women, not be criminalized. Women’s healthcare must be not only physically, but also legally safe for both patients and healthcare providers. No one should go to jail for providing necessary medical services.
I can take some comfort in the statement of Dr. Milly Nanyombi Kaggwa, senior clinical advisor for Africa at Population Services International, a global nonprofit group that works to provide sexual and reproductive health care in 50 countries: “Globally, abortion is only prohibited in 5% of countries. While that is unacceptable for the estimated 90 million women of reproductive age who live in those countries, this also means that in 95% of countries, abortion is legal for some circumstances. It’s critical that people – health consumers and providers alike – understand what their rights and options are.”