Right to abortion: the cold war against women is never over

As the US Supreme Court prepares to question the Roe vs. Wade enabling women to have abortions, Amandine Clavaud, director of the Observatory on Equality Between Women and Men and author of Women’s rights: the big setback? Test the health crisis in Europeback in this column published in The world on the overall strategy of conservative states that undermine women’s rights and in particular their freedom to dispose of their bodies.

In 1991 he published Susan Faludi Knockback. The cold war against women (Women’s Editions) which chronicles the strategy of conservatives in the United States to obstruct women’s rights. More than thirty years later, the term “backlash”, used to speak of the regression of women’s rights around the world, has never been more relevant, as evidenced by the US Supreme Court’s plan to postpone the ruling. Roe vs. Wade of 1973, allowing women to have abortions. “The cold war against women” is never over. If this announcement constitutes a shockwave for women’s right to freely dispose of their bodies, it reflects the strategy being put in place – and not new – by a number of conservative states backed by rigorous religious actors who have escalated the attacks. to women’s rights in recent years.

This wave of reactionary terrain fits into a context in which the mobilization of feminist movements in the wake of #MeToo since 2017 has made it possible to put women’s rights on the political agenda and to achieve progress in the fight against sexist and sexual violence or for the defense of sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRHR). While some countries have decriminalized abortion after long battles led by feminist civil society in Ireland in 2019, New Zealand in 2020, Argentina and Mexico in 2021 or others have lengthened the appeal times as in France in 2022, the situation for the access to contraception and the right to abortion remain of concern internationally, endangering women’s health and lives.

Alarming figures

Abortion is defined as a fundamental and inalienable human right in several international texts including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of 1979, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) of the 1994 and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995.

However, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated in its report, My body belongs to me. Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination covering 57 countries around the world, that “only half of teenage girls and women can make their own decisions about autonomy and body integrity”. Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the number of unwanted pregnancies worldwide at 121 million. The Center for Reproductive Rights points out that nearly 700 million women live in a country where abortion laws are restrictive. Finally, a study by the Guttmacher Institute specifies that 45% of the voluntary interruptions of pregnancy carried out are in dangerous conditions for women.

These alarming data are to be correlated with the coalition of states that systematically oppose in international forums the defense of human rights and in particular sexual and reproductive rights and health. The Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations is the scene of heated negotiations on agreed conclusions every year, these countries refusing to address the issue of abortion or even rejecting the term “gender”. This offensive, led by Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican among others, was accentuated under the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States who had restored the “global gag rule” called “global gag rule”, banning any funding. for sexual and reproductive health by international NGOs. Donald Trump was also one of the signatories of the Geneva Declaration of Consent along with some thirty heads of state and government in October 2020, which affirmed the national sovereignty of states over abortion laws. The former American president has also appointed conservative judges of the Supreme Court, thus laying the groundwork that would allow the Roe v. Ruling to be challenged. Wade.

A situational element is added to this political agenda, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reinforced inequalities in access to contraception and in the right to abortion. A UNFPA study revealed that 12 million women experienced disruptions in their care with family planning services, resulting in 1.4 million unwanted pregnancies during childbirth.

Enforce the rule of law

More seriously, the health crisis has been used by conservative governments to restrict women’s freedom to dispose of their bodies. Abortion has been considered a “non-essential” procedure in Ohio, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Iowa, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in the United States. In Europe, this also happened in Romania, Lithuania and Slovakia, where a bill was presented in July 2020 to make access to abortion more difficult before being rejected. definitely from Parliament. These attempts, however, ended up being successful in Poland in January 2021, with abortion only being authorized in cases of rape, incest or life threatening the woman. To date, several women have died from the inability of doctors to take care of them for fear of being condemned by the courts.

The arrival of Ukrainian refugees who cannot have access to abortion underlines the urgency for the European Union to defend the rule of law. On January 19 Emmanuel Macron asked for the right to abortion to be included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. France, which chairs the Council of the European Union, has until June to translate this declaration into action. In the face of this reactionary wave, the president can also consolidate his feminist diplomacy alongside Sweden or Canada, in particular by increasing the funding allocated to him, to defend women’s rights in international bodies.

The forum is available on the website of the newspaper Le Monde

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