In 1973 on January 22, the US Supreme Court enshrined women’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy with Roe v. Wade adjudication at the national federal level. Forty-nine years later, on June 24, 2022, the same court, a body composed of 9 non-elected judges, the majority of whom are reactionaries, decided for the lives of millions of women by overturning the constitutional validity of the right to abortion in a new decision.
In the immediate aftermath of the decision that passed by a 6 out of 9 vote, each state authority was given the freedom to autonomously determine whether abortion will be allowed, under what conditions and within what timeframes. Already 26 states (about half of the total) are introducing legislation for a total or partial ban. It is worth noting that just one day earlier on 23/6, the Supreme Court strengthened the right to keep and bear arms on the streets of New York City, something the state had tried to restrict with special legislation. On the same day, another decision invalidated the validity of the famous Miranda rights, in other words the obligation of the police to inform arrested persons of their rights. It thus removed the possibility for current or former detainees to take legal action against police officers who failed to comply with their obligation.
What is the interpretation of the decision.
A statutory ban on abortion does not mean that women will stop wanting to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or that they will ultimately be prevented from doing so by any means and at any cost. It means a ban on safe – for health and life – abortions. It is scientifically proven and factually obvious that this slaughterhouse law will increase the death rate of women who die from abortion in an unsafe environment and in an unsafe manner. By way of example, six states have triggered so-called trigger laws: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Trigger laws are defined as enacted laws that are “in a state of dormancy” until such time as a specific condition wakes them up. That treaty was the judges’ decision on 24/6.
The “management” of abortion is a more political issue and is not only a feminist issue.
Banning safe abortion is tantamount to a violation of fundamental human freedoms. The attack on women’s gains is part of a more mature authoritarian policy that legitimises in public opinion repressive and punitive laws and sanctions. Therefore, it cannot be detached from the overall power grid that discriminates on the basis of gender, race and class. Women’s sexual and reproductive health are inseparable from the right to health care for every human being, and it is within this framework that access to safe abortion falls. Without reproductive health, women cannot exercise their fundamental human rights, including to education and work. With regard to sexual health, women (and adolescents) have little to no information on contraception, maternal health, sexual diseases and other gynecological problems. Without educating communities on these issues, women will not be able to experience a safe sex life, and will not be able to decide for themselves when and whether they want to bear and raise children. The lack of comprehensive and inclusive sex education in a suffocatingly patriarchal world also intensifies the spectre of physical and sexual violence suffered by women and LGBTQ+ people. Domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, femicide and how these are dealt with by established morality is an unrelenting reality partially documented in statistics and studies.
Non-reproductive sex is demonised. Women who deliberately terminate a pregnancy, or worse, those who do not want children in the first place, are deviating from their biological and national mission. Patriarchal stereotypes subjugate women’s desires and states impose laws on their bodies. Contraception, conception, pregnancy, childbirth and abortion become tools to control women’s reproductive behaviour. They are used by conservative and religious circles as a means of surveillance of women’s bodies in order to limit their free will, not only as to whether or not they desire motherhood, but also when and under what conditions to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
The conditions that apply in cases where abortion is not universally banned vary from country to country and in the US from state to state. All or only some of them may be present. When there is – after medical advice – a risk to the health of the child to be born, a risk to the health and life of the mother during pregnancy and childbirth, when the pregnancy is the product of rape or incest, when there are reasons of socio-economic hardship of the woman. In other cases, women should be counselled by state agencies before they have an abortion in order to reconsider. In many countries the medical costs of abortion are not covered by insurance funds and the written consent of the man or other third party is required. In Ohio, identified fetal abnormalities that may even cause death to the infant or even to the woman carrying it are not a condition for termination of pregnancy, and the same applies to pregnancies resulting from rape. In Georgia, there is an exception to the prohibition if there is rape or incest, but only if there is a prior police report filed as proof of the event. In 2021, Arkansas passed a law requiring women considering terminating a pregnancy to submit their information to a unique ID database. These are some of the many examples of US states that have immediately incorporated the criminalization of abortion and state surveillance of women, or will do so in the near future.
The “management” of abortion has a class aspect.
For the economically weaker – and especially for non-white women – it is for most impossible to travel to states where it is permitted in order to exercise their right to safe abortion. They are also extremely limited in their access to information around modern contraceptive methods and to primary health care services in general. These women are forced either to complete an unwanted pregnancy, with all the consequences this may have for themselves and their foetuses, or to resort to illegal and dangerous procedures in inappropriate places, or to treatments with controversial pills. This legislation is being introduced in a country where there is no universal health care programme. Health care coverage comes primarily from private insurance and only a portion of it is covered by the money of American taxpayers. The US health care system is made up at its core of private for-profit entities. The good of care offered in ‘health care packages’ has for years been turned into a commodity delivered to lobbies of insurance companies, banks and high-priced clinics. The war on abortion is nothing new for the US. In the more recent past, since 2016 under the Trump administration, the Global Gag Rule, known as the Global Vise Law, has been reintroduced. Under this law, family planning organisations that offered advice and services around sexual and reproductive health were excluded from government funding. Classically weaker people were automatically excluded from these services.
The problem is not just in the US and not just about abortion.
Six European countries still maintain strong bans around abortion. The recent example of Poland confirms what criminalisation brings. In 2020 the court ruled that abortion should be illegal even in cases where a fetus has been diagnosed with a serious and irreversible genetic defect (vital organ damage, brain development issues, etc.). Women even with severe pregnancy complications died in hospital beds, left helpless by doctors who invoked the current law. Even those who wished to become mothers, but in safe conditions, were denied care while in emergency obstetric care. Thirty-seven-year-old Agnieszka T, and thirty-year-old Isabella were the first to die under the law, a year after its introduction in Poland. In Ireland in 2012, thirty-five-year-old Savita Halapanavar, was left to die an agonising death from septicaemia because of doctors’ refusal to proceed with an abortion during the miscarriage of the foetus.
These women were murdered, not by quack butchers in makeshift clinics, but by certified doctors, in beds of legal clinics with the blessing of right-wing governments and the church.
In Greece, where free and unconditional abortion has been institutionalized since 1986, anachronistic right-wing slogans that maintain the ideology of reproduction as a national and demographic duty are still echoing today. Women who do not want to be forced into unwanted pregnancies are spoiling the nationalist narrative of racial homogeneity and strengthening the national body with new blood. Some sad pro-life organisations in collaboration with the clergy and the ND (Nea Demokratia) government have attempted to put back into the public debate the issue of procreation and the responsibility each woman has to fulfil her “biological duty”, while throwing the responsibility for the line of succession and the inheritance of the couple’s assets back at them. The embryo is treated as a ‘personality’, an ontologically distinct person who acquires a ‘soul’. Abortion is treated as a tragedy and a stigma on a woman’s life and devastating to her health. This is not the case. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures for a woman’s health and life when done in a safe manner, and is part of basic medical care.
In 2019, the priests of the Holy Synod established an “unborn child day”. In 2021 the MPEs of the ND (Nea Demokratia) voted against abortion in line with the Poles. In the same year, under the auspices of President Sakellaropoulou, the abortion congress was organized with speakers mainly priests and politicians, which incriminated women who did not procreate “on time” and which was torn down in no time after the stormy outcry. In 2022, anti-scientific, homophobic and misogynistic videos of prenatal education were introduced in the Greek schools, with the personal proposal of the Minister of Education herself, Kerameos. These were also withdrawn overnight due to the reactions, which in both cases proves that spontaneous and mass reaction has the power to pick up right-wing aberrations. The attempts by the ND (Nea Demokratia) government and the clergy to take up the abortion issue, even if they failed, are indicative of their direct challenge to social freedoms at this and every other level, they are indicative of how they see the position of women in society more broadly.
In America, over 1200 women have faced prosecution for miscarrying due to complications or inducing miscarriage with next-day pills. Women have been imprisoned on manslaughter charges or stigmatized for simply not wanting or being unable to either safely carry a child to term or provide the necessities for themselves and the upbringing of a child. Women are arrested, detained and placed in state custody for carrying out acts considered potentially harmful to the foetus. This very well-coordinated far-right propaganda is the basis for the criminal prosecution of women who have experienced pregnancy loss due to complications. People from the woman’s family/friends or even medical personnel who may have helped this woman miscarry will be investigated for possible complicity.
It is estimated that worldwide one in four pregnancies will result in a voluntary termination, regardless of the condition. One in 8 pregnancy-related deaths worldwide is due to unsafe abortions. The 24 June decision is punitive, not only for those who wish to have an abortion, but for all women, whether or not they have freely and consciously chosen motherhood. The attack on women in the United States is a matter for all of us. Every woman’s right to a safe, free and without charge abortion is non-negotiable. Every woman’s right to define her body and her sexuality as she wishes is one, unified and indivisible. It has no preconditions, no exceptions.
Safe, free and without charge abortions for all
HANDS OFF OUR BODIES