In between patients, OB/GYN specialising in reproductive and sexual health Dr. Leah Torres, said something interesting:
“We have to call out what being anti-abortion really is — it’s reproductive coercion,” she said. In other words, being anti-abortion is forcing someone to give birth against their will.
That’s why recent moves by the UN are so important. In 2001, it declared that the ability to access abortions is a human right. It even awarded reparations to K.L., a Peruvian woman who was denied the right to an abortion after discovering her fetus had a fatal birth defect.
And late last year, the UN upheld the ruling.
Case closed, right? Accessible abortion for all! Wrong.
When you think of countries that violate their citizens’ human rights, the U.S. probably isn’t one of the first nations to come to mind. Sadly, however, when it comes to abortion, a lot of organisations and state leaders are trying to do just that. More than 43 years after the historic Roe v. Wade decision, efforts to end legal abortion are running full steam ahead, ranging from legislative actions to protests and rallies to even terrorist attacks.
In many countries, abortion is just outright illegal — a clear violation of the UN’s stance.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, just four territories allow abortion without exception: Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay. In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Suriname, abortion is outlawed without exception. Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Dominica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela allow abortion only when it’s required to save the life of the mother.
Why the focus on these countries? Because there’s a new challenge facing these areas that’s making the question of abortion that much more pressing: the Zika virus.
The Zika virus has been linked to severe birth defects, and it just so happens to thrive in many of these same countries.
Specifically, it’s been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that typically includes permanent brain damage.
In response to the spread of Zika, the government of El Salvador — which bans abortion — is advising women not to get pregnant until 2018. As it’s sometimes not so easy as to simply not get pregnant, that advice is not especially helpful, if not absurd.
Torres says there are a host of reasons someone may not want to give birth to a child with a severe birth defect like microcephaly.
“It may be inhumane to give birth to a child with severe birth defects, or parents may be incapable of caring for them, but only the one facing the decision of continuing the pregnancy can decide.”
Simply put, she adds, “people must be empowered to make decisions regarding life they bring into the world.”
Between the risks of giving birth to a child with microcephaly and the general risks of pregnancy, abortion is a truly necessary option.
“People have this notion that because pregnancy is a part of our reproductive lives and continuing the species that it is perfectly safe,” Torres says. “It is far from safe.”
Having an abortion early in a pregnancy is 14 times safer than carrying the fetus to term and giving birth. There are risks involved in any medical procedure, and it’s barbaric to revoke someone’s right to decide what risks are worth taking.
“When we undermine the risks undertaken and sacrifices made by those who do give birth to our children, we are showing a severe lack of gratitude and it is inhumanly insulting” says Torres.
Yes, abortion rights are human rights. It’s time we all started acting like it.
Nobody — not your Congressperson, not Dr. Torres, not me, not your next-door neighbor — should have a say in what you choose to do with your own body. Whether someone has an abortion is a very personal, often difficult decision. No one will ever force you to have an abortion, nor should you be able to force someone to give birth. That’s just how it should work.
Sadly, the UN’s ruling is mostly toothless. That’s why it’s up to us to advocate on behalf of people to have the right to choose whether an abortion is the right option for them. It’s especially important in situations like the Zika epidemic.
Whether someone’s reason behind getting an abortion is the Zika virus or it simply being the wrong time in their life to have a child — or anything else — that decision needs to be their call, not anybody else’s.