September 28th is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. I’m late on this one, but feel the need to comment on it since this issue is so central to the work that the Colectivo does. This day has its roots in Latin America where women’s rights groups have been campaigning and mobilizing for the last twenty years, demanding that their governments decriminalize abortion and provide women access to affordable and safe reproductive health services. These groups are also working to end the shame, stigma and discrimination associated with having an abortion. Nicaragua is one of a handful of countries where abortion is outlawed in all cases, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Young girls who have been raped, sometimes by their own family members, are forced to have babies. Children having children. Doctors risk being put in prison if the government finds out they have helped a woman terminate a pregnancy. Women are needlessly dying.
I received an email from the Global Fund for Women on September 28th asking the question “Why do you support a woman’s right to choose?” This is a question I have been thinking about a lot lately, and the answer to which I need to articulate in my work on a regular basis. Abortion is a divisive and controversial issue, but for me it is a fundamental right. Women have the right to jurisdiction over their own bodies, to decide if and when they will give birth. I am fortunate to be from a country where abortion is legal, where I have access to contraception and where many women, myself included, are able to insist that their partners use protection. Many girls and women don’t have these options: they can’t say no to sex; they can’t demand that their partners use a condom; they can’t access or afford birth control and when they are pregnant, and don’t want to be, they can’t do anything about it.
Who then is raising these children? Who is paying for them? Who is dropping out of school for them? Who is staying trapped in a cycle of poverty? Who is dying when complications from pregnancy arise and they are not allowed to seek medical help? It is not the men. I am absolutely convinced that if men were the sex that gave birth abortion would be legal and free worldwide. It is the women that are suffering and that are dying.
Denying women the right to an abortion is oppression. Abortion happens whether we legalise it or not. It happens in back rooms with untrained hands, overdosed pills and dirty equipment, in conditions that are unsanitary and dangerous. Women have the right to have their governments provide them with safe and affordable reproductive health services, including abortion. Women have the right to be able to make informed decisions, to have control over their bodies, their health and their future.
A distinction needs to be made. I am not pro-abortion. Abortion can be traumatizing and can be an incredibly difficult choice to make. Many women suffer in silence, scared to seek support and talk to friends about their decision and experience. Abortion can be painful. Right wing conservatives, religious fundamentalists and certain media outlets often vilify women who choose to have abortions. Abortion is not easy, but it exists and rightfully so. So I am pro-choice. Pro-agency. Pro-liberty.