There’s so much to keep up with in regards to the world, activism, and social issues right now. I can tell you personally, that my head is absolutely spinning. As a Canadian, and a resident of Ontario, my main concern revolves around washing my hands, sanitizing, trying to get to and from work without getting sick, and sometimes looking beyond that can make me feel dizzy.
COVID-19, Trump’s pathetic waddle out of the Whitehouse, and somehow still what the Kardashians are up to have completely saturated our news feed and the rest of the media that we consume. With such a busy and chaotic world, sometimes overwhelming and important stories still manage to fall through the cracks; but I like to keep the momentum going when it comes to women’s healthcare.
New and overtly strict abortion bans have been revving up across the world, right under our perfectly sanitized, mask-covered noses.
In the middle of several European countries with very liberal abortion laws, Poland has implemented a near-total abortion ban. This ban is new (implemented within the last week), particularly harsh, deeming abortion only permitted under specific circumstances of rape, incest, or a direct threat to the mother’s life.
Among others, women’s rights activists are absolutely outraged throughout the country and the world, with Poland’s top human rights official calling the decision “a tragedy for women”. Several nights of unrest and protest have taken place throughout Poland, several arrests have been made—including Klementyna Suchanow, leader of the Polish women’s rights group “Women’s Strike”.
What does this mean for women in Poland and across the world? What happens when safe and legal abortions aren’t an option? Who does this affect? Who made these rules? Those of us who are women, or who have invested interest in the wellbeing of our fellow people may be wondering, although I’m not an expert, I do have a uterus, and I read a lot of feminist works, so here’s what I’m thinking.
What does abortion ban mean for women in Poland and across the world?
Poland currently stands as the loudest country going through strict and unfair abortion legislation for several reasons, Poland is a predominantly white, and developed country in Western Europe. Poland holds money, tourism, and influence, and a shared camaraderie with other predominantly white developed European countries like France and Germany. When white European countries speak, we tend to listen.
Although Poland may be the loudest regarding their protests, they are not alone in harsh and restrictive abortion laws. Reproductiverights.org hosts a very comprehensive and powerful coloured map of the world, showing where abortion is legal and to what extent.
Countries like The United States, Canada, Greenland, Australia, Germany, Italy, and France all have fairly free abortion legislation where an abortion would be granted (depending on the gestational period). All the countries surrounding Poland fall within this category of legislation; however, Poland and Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Pakistan hold far more restrictive legislation.
South American countries also seem to have often abortion legislation that is on par with or even worse than Poland’s new laws. Chile, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, and Paraguay all hold very strict laws regarding reproduction and women’s bodies.
What happens when safe and legal abortions aren’t an option?
As fucked up as it sounds, I think when conservative legislators restrict abortion access; they think that abortions will no longer happen and people will just cease to get pregnant, or they’ll have the baby and be grateful for it. But time and time again, this has been proven to be a false wishful narrative. Regardless of law, there will always be abortions, but unfortunately, this means higher-rates of at-home and unsafe abortions that put women’s health and women’s lives at risk. In times of strict abortion law, many desperate women and girls will turn to highly dangerous at-home procedures to take care of the unwanted conception themselves. It is estimated that about 7 million women have been treated for complications because of unsafe abortions, an annual rate of 6.9 per 1000 women.
Beyond the horrific circumstances of unsafe and unclean abortions, healthcare will always be compromised in the face of an anti-abortion world. In her article What Life is Like When Abortion is Banned Margaret Wurth writes about her conversation with Rosa Hernandez in the Dominican Republic—where there are very strict abortion laws—Rosa’s daughter was sixteen dying from cancer but was denied chemotherapy because she was pregnant. Because Rosa’s daughter was unable to have an abortion as it was against the law, she and her baby died.
Rosa’s story is not uncommon, as many as 22,800 women die annually from maternal deaths abortion could prevent that, this is why abortion is and should be considered a necessary part of women’s healthcare.
Who does this affect?
One of the banners held high during recent Polish protests said “Abortion ban is discrimination against the poorest,” This sign basically sums up this question’s entirety. When abortion access is restricted it tends to greatly affect the young and the poor (which in many instances, young and poor go hand-in-hand). In many instances, for rich Polish women, this ban does not necessarily affect their access to abortion. Though they may have to travel across borders to access the healthcare they need, money comes access. You see this frequently within the United States, where women will travel over state lines to access safe abortions.
This law is going to affect the poor, and the marginalized outwardly—remembering the article I wrote recently about homelessness, those who live below the poverty line are disabled women, women in marginalized racial groups, and single mothers. These groups of women are more likely to experience discrimination, violence, and sexual assault that can further be perpetuated when faced with a lack of adequate healthcare or the expectation to raise a(nother) child.
Who made these rules?
I had to do a lot of round-about research to figure out Polish politics. Still, yes Poland, like the rest of the world is a primarily white male-dominated democratic leadership. This means that Poland, along with the other countries to pass strict and abhorrent abortion legislation, allow men to pass laws on women’s bodies and healthcare. Even in countries like Canada and Germany where there are few restrictions on abortion access, men have implemented the rules that have been put in place, regarding women, and women’s health. I don’t think I sound radical when I suggest that women themselves handle these legislations.
This is obviously nothing new; laws often affect women they do not make that or with them in mind. We live in a world where men dominate women and decide on their behalf.
Listen, I know that this world is absolutely crazy right now. This pandemic has been raging for over a year, and we’re all exhausted. We’ve lost loved ones, we’ve lost graduations and Christmases, but being entirely consumed with COVID we miss key events that are overshadowed by chaos. The abortion bans and restrictions taking place across the world need to be seen, monitored, and fought against women’s healthcare now and the women to come.