CW: This article discusses topics of baby loss, miscarriage and sexual assault, which could be distressing to some readers.
The freedom to make our own decisions about our health and body is a fundamental human right. Everybody should have control over their own reproductive choices. Deciding whether and when to become a parent is one of the most personal and important decisions somebody can make, but now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, many women and others with uteruses are being denied access to safe abortions. This overruling is not just a severe violation of people’s human rights and dignity but a major setback for women’s rights and gender equality.
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade has guaranteed the right to an abortion for almost 50 years, but on 24th June, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 legislation. Each state can now choose its own laws on the medical procedure, but without Roe’s protections, 22 states have banned or severely restricted abortion.
The new law is not only forcing people to continue with unwanted pregnancies but also leaving them with no choice but to undergo unsafe and life-threatening procedures, causing them to suffer preventable consequences. We have entered an era of widespread criminalisation of pregnancy. Women are being punished for pregnancy losses, and some are being convicted of manslaughter after suffering a miscarriage, a traumatic experience they had no control over.
Continuing a legacy of patriarchal control
Forcing someone to have a baby is a form of control and violence. The overrule of Roe V Wade feels more like another attempt of a white heteronormative patriarchal government to control women’s lives. The restriction of reproductive rights will have a devastating impact on women, girls, and marginalised groups and genders, who already struggle to access healthcare, leaving them vulnerable to other abuses and harmful practices. I feel outraged that the Supreme Court has condoned forcing women to stay pregnant against their will. They have undone decades of the progress of women’s rights in a matter of weeks. People everywhere deserve reproductive freedom. It is not something to be dictated by anyone, especially not privileged members of government, most of whom do not have a uterus themselves.
In a country where people do not have access to universal healthcare, free childcare, or paid maternity leave, there is nothing in place to support these people or their unwanted offspring. The states preventing people from terminating unwanted pregnancies are unwilling to give new babies and their families the educational, medical, or financial support they need to lead healthy lives, resulting in thousands of children being neglected and living in poverty. They will grow up in homes with insufficient money to cover basic living expenses or given away to underfunded and broken foster care systems, deprived of the nurturing childhood they deserve.
Abortion requires no justification
In some states, in the case that the patient’s life is at risk, and for victims of rape and incest, there are exceptions to the ban. Arguing that cases of sexual assault or incest are more justifiable reasons for abortion reinforces the idea that for a woman to have a right to her body, they need to have experienced some form of trauma, or someone else has to violate it first.
There are many reasons that people have abortions, all of which are valid, but nobody should feel that they must justify their decision to have an abortion to anyone. The pressure to explain the reasons for wanting a termination only adds to the stigma. It shames women into silence and limits our ability to advocate for abortion care as a vital part of healthcare, persuading them to keep quiet about their experiences. Abortion is a common medical practice. If we don’t normalise these conversations, people will continue being uncomfortable talking about it.
It's more common than you think
The latest annual abortion statistics revealed that during 2021, there were 214,256 abortions in England and Wales. My own included. I had an abortion during my second year of university. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me to make, it was the best choice for me and for the baby I didn’t want and wasn’t emotionally or financially ready for. That personal decision I was able to make about my body saved my life. I can vividly remember the fear I felt when I found out I was pregnant, but the healthcare provided before, during and after made me feel at ease and safe. I was treated with compassion and respect throughout the entire procedure. Not once was I made to feel like I was doing something wrong for making an important decision concerning my own reproductive rights. My heart breaks for those women who cannot access abortion care as easily as I was able to. I’m outraged that their rights have been stolen from them and that they are being forced to seek out unsafe and dangerous procedures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, putting their own lives at great risk.
We shouldn’t feel ‘lucky’ to be able to access safe and legal abortion care. It is a human right that every single person with a uterus deserves access to. I live with zero regrets about my decision, only relief and gratitude that I was able to make that choice for myself. You don’t have to like or agree with abortion, but you should respect other people’s rights, including the right to safe and accessible abortion.