(Written by Scott Jacobsen and Phoebe Davies-Owen)
Times are changing, and fast, especially regarding reproductive technology, rights, and, in some dominant areas of the world, the repeal of women’s reproductive rights and technology. It’s rather extraordinary on both sides of the proverbial moral coin. Extraordinary to see the implementation of women’s rights in areas of the world with women and girls in exceptional circumstances, e.g. war ravaged countries or cultures with female genital mutilation practices. Extraordinary to see the repeal of those same rights, hard won and fought for, in countries with the wealth, freedom, and citizen leisure to implement them. The global situation is all over the map. Same with the United States. But there is a definite direction. This trend in the United States (US) is a reflection of the erratic and fecund hand of President Trump to issue executive orders. Recently, in a series of swift executive orders by the American President, the landscape of American political and socio-cultural life has begun to shift.
One huge detriment is the immediate decline in available money for women’s reproductive health services in the form of funding for NGOs providing abortion services in the world, which were previously provided resources by the US. America is a nation of zeal. It wants to export its values, whether directly or indirectly. Whoever holds the levers of power and influence, they will set the tone for the values to be sent out into the world. Any funding for reproductive health services is an internationalist value because, as stated unequivocally by Amnesty International (AI), “…equitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right.” My Body My Rights was a campaign devoted to awareness of this, by AI. The Trump Administration defunding has been termed the “global gag.” That is, global reduction or elimination of funding for NGOs and other organizations providing abortion services, whether directly, e.g. safe abortions, or indirectly, information about abortions. When abortions are made illegal, women will resort to unsafe abortions, which is a common phenomenon because of the taboos against abortion as a super-minority procedure within women’s reproductive health services. The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Women, including adolescents, with unwanted pregnancies often resort to unsafe abortion when they cannot access safe abortion.”
An estimated 22 million abortions occur each year with 47,000 women dying in complications associated with unsafe abortions. Not only outrageous in the number of deaths, some 5 million women suffer from disabilities associated with the unsafe abortion. This is, frankly, outrageous. It’s at once unfair and unjust. Progressive actions in the advancement of contraceptive use have made “impressive gains” in the reduction of unintended pregnancies and, by implication and therefore, have resulted in the reduction of complications with unsafe abortions because women will not resort to them. Therefore, there has been more contraceptive use with unintended pregnancies prevented, which is a good thing for the mother and the child. Simultaneously, there are still unsafe abortions with tens of thousands of deaths and millions of disabling conditions as a result of these risky procedures. “To the full extent of the law, safe abortion services should be readily available and affordable to all women. This means services should be available at primary-care level, with referral systems in place for all required higher-level care.” WHO recommended, “Actions to strengthen policies and services related to abortion should be based on the health needs and human rights of women and a thorough understanding of the service-delivery system and the broader social, cultural, political and economic context.”
G. John Ikenberry in Foreign Affairs described how Joseph S Nye, Jr. created the term ‘soft power’ in the 1980s. That’s the core of the conversation here. The ways in which American hard power, military and economic dominance since the end of the Second World War, and its flourishing exporting of its culture, its soft power, have consequences. “U.S. culture, ideals, and values have been extraordinarily important in helping Washington attract partners and supporters.” Ikenberry said. That is, American society arguably sets some, but not all, international standards. If something happens there, then other international actors will justify their actions within the framework of behaviour set by the United States. Abortion remains the same. Yet, even with Northern Ireland and the Republic residing within the sphere of soft power influence that the US dominates, it still has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, more so than even Poland, which has traditionally taken a hard line on abortion. Terminations within the jurisdictions of the island of Ireland are only permissible on the grounds that the foetus threatens the life of the mother, in contrast to equally as strict Polish laws where abortion is banned with the exceptions of: there being a severe and irreversible damage to the foetus, a serious threat to the mother’s health, or when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Most abortion news has been distressing if not depressing, especially for women and girls, since even the ongoing 2010s. Chile has moved closer to decriminalization of abortion. El Salvador has a total ban on abortion, which is harmful to women and girls. The Dominican Republic Senate postponed the vote for decriminalization of abortion while women’s rights activists have been receiving increasing pressure from conservative and religious groups. Even in the general Latin American region, the “draconian abortion laws and policies” continue to, punish millions of women. On the other side of the world, in East Asia, South Korea penalizes doctors for performing illegal abortions. There remain issues in Spain and Portugal too. Abortion is still a contentious issue. Portuguese women are required to pay for a termination and undergo rigorous testing. There were plans in Spain to further tighten abortion accessibility – making abortion illegal except in the case of rape, risk to the health of the mother, and having two doctors verify the conditions – but were scrapped after numerous demonstrations in 2014.
The US may set an example, but it is rare that it is kept to, even in its own states. Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for Supreme court justice, has not made any current declarations as yet on his position on reproductive rights, but previous statements would suggest that he would take a stand against Roe vs. Wade. His positions on abortion are opaque, but possibly inferable from other views. On assisted suicide, he views “intentional taking of human life …is always wrong,” according to reportage, on a book on the subject by him, by Forbes. And considering the views on abortion rights coming from Trump’s administration, it doesn’t hold out much hope for the women of America.