[Previously published in Humanist Voices; written by Scott Douglas Jacobsen and Julia Julstrom-Agoyo]
Of all perennial ethical precepts in the world, the Golden Rule stands ‘head and shoulders’ above the others in terms of durability and consistency across time and culture, respectively. Religious institutions, formal or informal, preach the ethic. Secular ethical frameworks advocate for it too. Right into the present, it is presented as an ideal. Maybe it is unattainable, but the ethics hold sway in religious and secular moral universes.
The Golden Rule in the modern context remains consistent with the proclaimed ideal of the religious ethical worldviews and the international equivalent with human rights. Human rights are not equivalent to, but overlap significantly with, women’s rights: do as you would be done by. So if one were a woman, and required appropriate medical attention for reproductive health, and the technology was available and funded, then the moral act would be to provide the access to the medical services because another would want the same. This is consistent with ‘middle-of-the-road’ human rights organisations as well.
“(E)quitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right.” Human Rights Watch has affirmed, “Where abortion is safe and legal, no-one is forced to have one. Where abortion is illegal and unsafe, women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or suffer serious health consequences and even death.” Research shows that many pregnant women, desperate in their situation and without access to safe abortion, will undergo dangerous procedures, risking harm unto themselves.
The Golden Rule should compel us to act in accordance with our better natures and provide the “equitable access to safe abortion” for women. Governments pressured by religious groups, whose leadership are made up primarily of men, like the Trump Administration, have posed a direct threat to this affirmation. Take, for instance, the Executive Order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on his very first day in office, notably surrounded by a group of men.
The “Global Gag Rule” as it is commonly referred to prohibits NGOs from providing abortions or even providing information or services (eg counselling, referrals) about abortions if they want to receive funding from the U.S. for family planning. The U.S. has an undisputed powerful global influence, and with this executive order, countless women around the world will undoubtedly be negatively affected.
According to Forbes, “The U.S. hasn’t allowed use of federal funds for abortion since the 1973 Helms Amendment, [applied]internationally as well as domestically. In fact, gag rules that harm women are already widespread in the U.S. under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’”
“There is no evidence that the global gag rule reduces abortion, according to Wendy Turnbull, PAI [Unparalleled Leadership and Impact] senior adviser.” Forbes said, “Instead, loss of funding from this punitive regulation eliminates access to contraceptives for more than 225 million women globally, greatly increasing the need for abortion. It also increases pregnancy-related deaths by about 289,000. How is that ‘pro-life?’”
Exactly whose life is valued and to what extent? Why must the compassion for an unborn fetus ring louder than that for the child that is born into poverty and for the mother and the state who are forced to shoulder that burden?