Last year my Grandmother turned 100. In thinking about this milestone, I pondered the world she was born into and what life was like for women in 1916. It is hard for me to imagine that women were not allowed to vote when my Grandmother was born; she was four when the 19th amendment was ratified. As women, we have come a long way since then; we can vote, are no longer barred from professions or from owning land and, since 1973, women in the U.S. gained the right to control their reproductive lives and if they choose, to end a pregnancy. However, since the legalization of abortion in the U.S., politicians have used women’s reproductive rights as a platform for campaigns. Threatening the loss of reproductive choice, including the right to an abortion, should never be a rallying cry for political parties or heads of state. That right and choice lies with women and women alone. Politicians and conservative leaders would have us believe that abortion is not a component of women’s reproductive health; and changing legislation every four, eight or twelve years makes it an issue of control, not choice.
The Not-So-Surprising Truth About Planned Parenthood
The far-right and pro-life proponents would have us believe that Planned Parenthood is a liberal organization bent on only providing abortions. Pro-life media outlets like LifeNews.com, refers to Planned Parenthood as an “abortion corporation”. When, according to Planned Parenthood’s most recent annual report (2014-2015), abortions comprised 3% of their services while STI/STD testing and treatment made up 45%. Little is reported on the reality that taxpayer money does not fund abortions. Medicaid is the only exception which reimburses Planned Parenthood for abortions performed in extreme cases like risk to maternal health, rape, and incest. Considering the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood, a report by the Congressional Budget Office noted that women, mostly rural and low-income, will have less access to safe abortions. Most women in their childbearing years do not remember or may not have heard stories of the ways in which American women resorted to ending pregnancies before the legalization of abortion; including using coat hangers, knitting needles, motor oil and tire pumps. Although many of us are removed from that horrifying American memory, our reproductive rights are in just as much peril as the time before Roe v. Wade.
Women in the U.S. Are Not Alone
While we’d like to think that the days of having to resort to alternative methods of ending a pregnancy are gone, these are the only options for women in other countries where abortion is illegal. Unbelievably, in 2017, there are still a handful of countries, like Ireland, where abortion is illegal and many more countries where access to abortion is restricted or hard to obtain. Ireland, a Catholic country, prohibits doctors from performing abortions in all cases except when maternal life is threatened which is separate from the risk of maternal health. In other words, under Irish law, according to Dr. Rhona Mahony, “When women get sick, we can’t intervene until her life is at risk, and then we have to hope we save her in time”. Unfortunately, in the case of 31-year old Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist living in Ireland, her life was not saved even when she begged for an abortion. Halappanavar died from a septic miscarriage in 2012 after being denied an abortion at University Hospital Galway.
Three days after taking office this January, Donald Trump signed a presidential order to defund International Planned Parenthood. In the past, the U.S. provided monetary assistance for reproductive health care options for women across the globe. For those women across the world affected by Trump’s defunding, dire consequences including unsterile abortions and fatalities will occur. As in the U.S., due to Planned Parenthood International defunding, the poor women of the world will suffer most. Safe abortions are expensive and require women to travel long distances to get. As is the case of Ireland and Northern Ireland, those women who can afford the cost of an abortion have to travel outside of their country, the majority to England. The Northern Ireland Family Planning Association reports that “…over 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travel to England for an abortion every year” while the Irish Family Planning Association reports that “Between January 1980 and December 2015, at least 166,951 women and girls travelled from the Republic of Ireland to access abortion services in another country.” An alternative to traveling to another country for an abortion is the abortion pill, also illegal in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Both governments have stiff penalties for those who smuggle the pills or for those who perform illegal abortions. For someone who performs an illegal abortion or for those who take an abortion pill, the penalty is a life sentence in Northern Ireland and in the Republic, a maximum of 14 years jail time.
Reproductive Rights are Human Rights
Although Ireland and Northern Ireland represent only a sampling of the experiences of women around the world, it should be a wake-up call for women in the U.S. who stand to lose their healthcare choices during Trump’s presidential term. Gone are the days of feeling secure that we, American women, are guaranteed reproductive health care options like abortion. Now is the time to hearken back to the generation of women, like in my grandma’s time, who championed women’s rights. Our struggle is not over. Here in the U.S. and elsewhere, abortion and reproductive health care services are denied to women. No one deserves to have control over another person’s body nor should a woman be criminalized for seeking to end a pregnancy. Ultimately, the right to an abortion is not a political issue, it is a human rights issue. The only way to prevent defunding of Planned Parenthood in the U.S. is to make your voice heard and stand up for those who are voiceless. Not sure about how you can make your voice heard? Contact your state’s elected officials or seek out a local Amnesty International affiliate to learn more about how you can ensure women’s control over their own bodies here and across the globe.
Jami Demuth is a Midwest-based freelance writer and editor who abhors the Oxford comma. She enjoys writing about parenting issues and strives to promote cultural understanding. You can follow her blog at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/jamidemuth-382
Photo Credit: @zoebuckman