As the 2020 US election has approached, the reproductive rights of American women have once again been called into question by the anti-abortion rhetoric in the power centres of the United States. Donald Trump and the majority of the Republican Party are vocally pro-life, while Democrat candidate Joe Biden is pro-choice and pledges to keep access to abortion safe and legal if he is elected this November. Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in American politics right now; 46% of Trump’s supporters and 35% of Biden’s state it as a ‘very important’ factor in how they will vote in this election.
At the heart of the abortion debate is the concept of Reproductive Justice. Sister Song defines this as: ‘the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities’. It is based on the international human rights framework, which views reproductive rights as human rights.
The history of Reproductive Justice positions abortion as an integral factor in contemporary political discourse and the ongoing fight for gender equality. However, the current movement for Reproductive Justice differs from how it has been practiced historically, namely the action that emerged in the 1970s. While the 70s campaign, part of the second-wave feminist movement, focused on the representation of white, middle class, cis-gendered women, today the movement is striving for consideration of marginalized women, women of colour, women on low incomes, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This inclusion is absolutely necessary if we are to collectively overcome the historical oppression that has placed limitations on our reproductive rights.
It is also important to remember that Reproductive Justice is not only about the freedom to have an abortion, but also removing the barriers that exist in access to abortion. There are intersecting factors which means that this issue impacts groups and individuals differently; even in countries where abortion is legal, there can be alternative restricting factors or oppressive circumstances which are an impediment to someone’s access to abortion. When you take into account the social, political and economic factors that also influence this access, whether this be the cost of an abortion or the distance it takes to travel to the nearest provider, simply following a basic pro-choice narrative is often not enough in the fight for reproductive freedoms for everyone.
There are multiple other elements of Reproductive Justice which need to be taken into consideration within the political framework. Comprehensive sex education for everyone, access to contraception, prevention and care of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, alternative birth options, safe housing, adequate pre-natal and pregnancy care, domestic violence assistance and ensuring the provision of a living wage to those supporting families, are all topics which converge under the umbrella term of Reproductive Justice. The fight for these basic human rights is not over even while and if abortion remains legal.
When a female taxi driver in Boston in 1971 said, as recorded by Florynce Kennedy and Gloria Steinem- ‘if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’– it is unlikely she could have predicted that, almost fifty years on, the world would watch while two old white men debated a woman’s fundamental freedom to choose what she does with her own body. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court landmark decision which ruled that the American constitution protects a pregnant woman’s liberty from excessive government restriction, is at danger of being overturned if Trump is reelected this year.
With the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death earlier this year, what is at stake concerning Reproductive Justice has never been more crucial. Barrett, a Republican pro-life originalist, has stated that she sees a scenario in which abortion should be punishable by death. The irony of this statement reveals an uncomfortable truth that perhaps Conservative American’s are less interested in saving lives than they are about removing women’s reproductive rights.
This is not simply an American issue. Poland, which already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, have introduced a new rule that abortions in cases of foetal defects are unconstitutional, meaning that terminations will now only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother’s health is at risk. 90 million women in 26 countries around the world who are of reproductive age are prohibited from access to abortion altogether, including when the woman’s life or health is at risk. This is a global issue, and the repercussions if abortion is made illegal in the United States will be catastrophic for women everywhere.
The fact that it is 2020 yet one of the most supposedly progressive and democratic countries in the world is threatening to revoke women’s fundamental human rights is genuinely frightening to me. Reproductive Justice, specifically safe and legal access to abortion, should not necessarily be a political issue; the fact that it is at the forefront of the current political landscape says a lot about how we have failed to progress in the past century. We need to maintain this right to our own bodily autonomy, as well as work to gain this right for others, if women around the world are to remain truly free citizens.
– Esther Huntington-Whiteley