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Once a Battle, Now an All Out War

November 4, 2009
Battle is now War


I hate to use such grim terminology, but after reading Mary Cuddehe’s article in The Atlantic, “Mexico’s Abortion Wars,” “war” seems an apt term for the horrible push-pull that’s being played with women’s lives.  And I’m getting steamed.

Cuddehe lays out the wacky ride to reproductive freedom in Mexico, with some victories but far more backslides along the way.  After Mexico City decriminalized abortion in 2007, and the Supreme Court reaffirmed this move in 2008, (amazingly, making abortion up to 12 weeks free and legal on-demand) what happened wasn’t a domino effect of freedom and rights, but rather the opposite.  A retaliation on women’s personal agency and reproductive freedom courtesy of the Catholic Church, which wields a questionable amount of power in Mexico, a “secular” state.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Newton’s third law of motion, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, applies to more than just physics. But it makes the road to reproductive rights quite a hard one to hoe, and one littered with mines.

An editorial in El Pais last month, which calls “A for abortion” the “scarlet letter” of Latin America, smartly notes that, “a reactionary response is to be expected from these [anti-choice] institutions: It is part of their ideological platform.”  How many women dying and getting injured will be enough to convince lawmakers, government officials, and anti-choice groups that there’s a conversation that needs to be had and a reality to be faced?

The author denounces the continent for its shameful silence on the issue of abortion despite the public health/human rights equivalent of being hit in the head with a two by four.

And yet, despite the near super-human fervor of Latina feminist groups and women’s rights advocates, anti-choice groups are amazingly vigilant and successful at chip-chip-chipping away at hard-won reproductive freedoms, whether they’re big or small.

Take the tug-of-war on legalizing and distributing emergency contraception in Peru, for example.  It wasn’t free and accessible, then it was, now it’s not…with rights groups and anti-choice groups continually duking it out in lower level courts. It’s happening in the U.S. as well.  Since Roe v. Wade, restrictions on access to safe abortion have only increased, and they would be much stricter without the 24/7 policing of groups like Planned Parenthood, NOW and the ACLU.  Four months after Obama repealed the global gag rule and refunded UNFPA, Dr. Tiller was shot dead.

More evidence of the dangerous tit for tat over women’s rights is that in Peru, while access to emergency contraception is being limited, a bill proposing decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape and fetal impairment is moving forward for debate.  Oh, OK, so I can’t get my hands on some EC to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, but I can get an abortion if I’ve been raped – if I’m lucky and this bill passes?  This two steps forward, one step back approach to women’s rights is untenable, and furthermore I don’t trust it.

The criminalization of abortion, or effectively of miscarriage in some places, is not about protecting an unborn life but is about oppressing and subverting women.  It allows doctors and law enforcement officials to be invested with some misplaced and repugnant moral authority over women who, most likely, are probably already dealing with the worst that society has thrown at them.

I hate to sound biased (no I don’t) but criminalizing abortion or limiting access to family planning and other safe, legal, critical measures that improve lives and empower people is not about improving or protecting women’s rights.  It’s about retaliating out of some misplaced principle.  But then again, and I speak from experience, you can’t argue with a child over what color pants her imaginary friend is wearing.

And amidst the tug-of-war over reproductive rights and freedom, individual women with real lives and families that depend on them are falling by the wayside, getting stepped on and crushed.

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