DURING the past few days, three things have settled heavily on my mind. One, the death of Norma Leah McCorvey, better known by the legal pseudonym Jane Roe in the hallmark Roe Vs. Wade case which made abortion legal in the US.
Two, the Mexico City policy, which is otherwise known as the Global Gag Rule due to the fact that countries with US funding to healthcare providers could lose this if they either include abortion counselling or advocate for abortion in their countries. Three, the votes in the US Congress a few days ago which saw Republicans taking the first step to overturning President Barack Obama’s last ditch effort to protect planned parenthood’s state funding.
When one thinks of Roe vs. Wade, depending on which side of the debate regarding pro-choice or pro-life they are on, it could either trigger immense satisfaction or extreme disgust. This divide is nothing new; it has always been a polarising issue even before the landmark case made abortion legal with a 7-2 vote in 1973. Before this, women could only receive abortions if they were raped and even then of course, they had to prove they had been raped. One would have thought that the court’s ruling would have been a great stepping stone for women to finally be able to claim sovereignty over their bodies, but close to fifty years after, women are still strenuously fighting to have complete say over whether they want to have a baby or not. Even the woman, McCorvey who was instrumental in legal abortions would later become a staunch pro-life advocate and I’ve always found that to be particularly interesting.
As it relates to the Global Gag Rule signed over a month ago, the rule can further negatively influence opinions concerning reproductive and sexual health services and can see much needed funding for NGOs being lost. This in turn will see these NGO’s diminishing the services being offered to the public. It is being touted by supporters of it that the rule was to ensure taxpayer dollars would not fund abortions but this is disingenuous as a federal provision called the “Hyde rule” for decades prohibited the usage of taxpayer money to fund abortions. So, basically, they are defunding other services provided by Planned Parenthood such as contraception and HIV testing. Given that the US is the largest bilateral donor of reproductive health services, this will see women, even here in Guyana, being hindered from accessing these services.
Then, there comes the votes. Close to a week ago, the House voted 230-188 on legislation meant to overturn the rule, which sent the bill to the Senate. If the bill is passed and signed by President Donald Trump, states are free to only give federal funding to health care clinics that do not provide abortion services even if these clinics provide things such as fertility services and cancer screenings. States will have freedom to cut funding from health clinics with no fear of the Government as the rule imposed by the Obama administration had stated that “states cannot deny funding to clinics for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide basic family planning services. Federal dollars cannot be used to pay for abortions, except in restricted circumstances.”
The Trump administration is apparently on a mission to further diminish womens rights and their freedom of choice in the abortion debate in an effort to decrease the occurrence. The problem with this as countless studies over the decades have shown is that anti-abortion laws and policies does not decrease abortions, it just makes it extremely harder and unsafe for women to get rid of pregnancies they do not want to carry full term. Even here in Guyana where our abortion laws are progressive, scores of women still die and are left sterile each year after trying to unsafely get rid of a pregnancy. Just recall the case of Liloutie Raggernauth who ingested a poisonous substance so as to abort an unwanted foetus just last year.
I am unapologetically pro-choice. I used to be pro-life a very long time ago but that was not because I had any real or informed views on the matter. I was just pro-life because the people who surrounded me were. I know everyone moves along at their own pace but at what point do we tell them that they either catch up or get left behind? I have been thinking about these three interconnected things because it further makes clear the fact that women may never, at least not in the immediate future, have complete autonomy over their bodies.
I try to be open-minded and surround myself with people with different viewpoints but on some issues such as abortion, I refuse to encourage a conversation where women are being forced to have a child they do not want. One silly argument that usually comes up is, ‘what if the aborted child had a cure for cancer?’ My question to that is, ‘what if a woman who has the cure for cancer cannot accomplish this because you forced her to have a baby?’