Aleksandra Kusnierkiewicz is a second-year student of International Relations, currently on an exchange in Sydney, Australia. She is particularly interested in radical feminism and ethnic identities. Her hobbies include writing, acting and film.
The 25th of March marks the international day of the Unborn Child. As I watched a large group of people marching in Sydney, with pictures of babies and signs proclaiming their respect for life, I found it absolutely necessary to openly discuss the topic of abortion. Is abortion a feminist issue?
From the most basic standpoint, as feminists we have the obligation to support women’s self-determination; this liberal premise means we naturally support access to safe abortion to encourage people’s full control over their bodies (as the chant goes – “not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate”). But it goes deeper than that.
Supporting access to safe abortion literally means saving women’s lives. Take the example of El Salvador. El Salvador has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world – it is completely banned and those found guilty are subjugated to years in prison. The consequences are striking – Amnesty International reports revealed that because of the ban, underground abortions are common (methods used include ingesting rat poison, shoving knitting needles, pieces of wood and other sharp objects into the cervix, and the use of the ulcer treatment drug misoprostol). Only from 2005 and 2008, there were 19,290 abortions in El Salvador and the number is likely to be much higher. 11 percent of girls and women who underwent an abortion died as a result. Moreover, suicide accounts for 57 per cent of the deaths of pregnant females aged 10 to 19.
Strict abortion ban, resulting in secret procedures, undoubtedly risks women’s both physical and mental health. Let’s look at the example of Uruguay, the only Latin America country with unrestricted access to abortion under all circumstances. The procedure was legalised in 2012 and the results were astonishing – the mortality rate from performed abortions has dropped dramatically. In the late 1990s approximately 30% of maternal deaths could be attributed to unsafe abortions. In the two years after abortion was decriminalized, there were only two abortion-linked maternal deaths, both of which were attributed to underground procedures.
This is why people across the globe march for the protection of the reproductive rights of women. Tens of thousands of women took over the streets on the 8th of March in Argentina, demanding the decriminalization of abortion (and continuing the legacy of Ni una menos movement started in 2015– not one less, meaning not one woman’s life should be lost to gender violence and gender oppression). The black protests that took place in Poland in 2016 successfully stopped the ruling party, Law and Justice, from banning access to abortion under all circumstances (the existing law in Poland is already one of the strictest ones in Europe, as abortion is only permitted in extreme cases). The continuing protest of activists against the draconian ban in Northern Ireland led to a political success – a referendum on abortion will be held in late May, 2018.
Let’s not forget that abortion is a class issue, which is illustrated in hundreds of example. For instance, around 21,000 Kenyan women are hospitalized every year because of complications from unsafe abortions; 2,600 die from procedures carried out by untrained “professionals” in back alleys and people’s homes. Health facilities are inaccessible, as women can be charged up to 14 years in prison for having abortion. As a result, more financially privileged women travel to South Africa, where the law is more lenient – it is only those with no money who are left with a dangerous option of using herbs, detergents and drug cocktails to end their pregnancies. Opposing safe and freely available abortion upholds the economic inequality of our existing societies. Even in countries or states where abortion has been decriminalized – as it is the case with Tasmania, Australia – the class inequality means that low-income women are forced to continue the pregnancy, as they cannot afford the expensive, privatized procedure (abortions are not offered in the state’s public health system).
Despite the growing support for access to safe abortion, it is, nevertheless, a contested subject in virtually all countries. The issue of abortion does present a moral dilemma, which I do not intend to discuss in this article. Nevertheless, the fact remains that making abortion illegal does not stop it from occurring – it simply makes it unsafe. Women deserve to be trusted with the choices regarding their lives and bodies. If you care about saving lives, support safe and legal abortion. Support access to family-planning services. Support sexual education programs. I stand strongly with the words of bell hooks, who said that being anti-abortion and a feminist is impossible – as a feminist, you can choose not to have an abortion, but you can’t oppose reproductive rights for women.