Maria Jovita, penultimate year law student at Jindal Global Law School, India, discusses the impact of reversing Roe v. Wade, particularly on members of marginalized communities...
“Sticks dipped in oil, wire, knitting needles, coat hangers, ball point pens”
This is not your ordinary grocery list but the list of items used to induce abortion in a country that has criminalized abortion. People specifically from marginalized communities resorted to consumption of turpentine, bleach and detergent solutions and used the above listed objects to induce abortion. The consequences ranged from chemical burns; perforations of the vagina, bladder, uterus and rectum; inflections; septic shock; heavy bleeding; and, in many cases, death. A whole fraction of people was and continue to be cruelly affected by the criminalization of this medical service. People who can get pregnant are shackled by the law, and their autonomy over their body is stolen. They are deprived of their fundamental human rights and the state becomes the master of their body. I must ask then, how does such a blatantly discriminatory, perilous ban on abortion continue to exist in various countries? How does abortion become politicized, and how is it found in the center of political debates specifically in the United States? How are political leaders elected to bring back this ban? Through this paper I will critically analyze the anti-abortion campaign. Secondly, I aim to breakdown the holographic nature of abortion laws in many countries.
Unmasking the Pro-Life Supporters
The discourse around anti-abortion stems from pro-life arguments, which label the fetus as a “human baby” despite it being in the womb. The human rights and right to life of this fetus are valued more than the rights of the pregnant person, despite the fact that the fetus is dependent on the pregnant person for survival. The nature of the pro-life campaign and campaigners is depicted in the documentary, Reversing Roe. The Catholic Church plays a crucial role in the reproduction of these coercive violent patriarchal ideas around abortion. It has consistently been the primary pro-life actor and has pressured states and international institutions to abolish existing abortion laws.
I perceive this desperate attempt by religious entities to criminalize abortion as a struggle to cage women and their sexual life. Accidental pregnancy acted as the punishment for sex outside of procreational reasons—that is bad sex. Sex is treated as guilty until proven innocent, in the words of Gayle Rubin, and with access to abortion, the guilty women escape their punishment. These are the true intentions hidden behind the veil of argument about the right to life of a fetus. These notions were engraved into penal codes such as the Napoleon Penal Code and the British Penal Code and through colonization spread through various parts of world, including Asia, Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean. As per María Barajas and Sonia Corrêa these laws are a tool for a larger biopolitical apparatus aimed at macro-managing populations and the micro-discipling of procreative practices. In reality this tool disproportionately affects those from the marginalized community, since those with the privilege of class and social identity still manage to slip past this control and gain access to much safer abortion service.
Though the Catholic Church is one of the primary origins for strong anti-abortion sentiments, politicians have used fragile fear-ridden notions to forward their own political agendas. It isn’t a coincidence that many pro-life campaigns in the United States are cis-gendered white man, who are the last to be affected by abortion laws. Their shallow intentions are vividly represented in the previously mentioned documentary, where they expose themselves as they reveal that pro-life stance is used as a way of growth in their political career. The best example is Donald Trump, who changed his stance from pro-choice to pro-life to gain a larger vote bank.
It is crucial to note, the pro-choice or pro-life debate among these cis white men translates to a life-or-death debate for many pregnant people from marginalized communities. Further political slogans used by these men in power label abortion as “manslaughter,” “child killing act” and “a sin” and invent terms such as “partial birth abortion,” which has no medical standing. These terms have a severe effect on the mental health of those who seek abortions and those who provide abortion. All this is done to gain votes of the conservative voter population. Hence, the right to abortion has been used as a disciplinary device and is central to contemporary politics, both of which cause significant barriers to a pregnant person’s reproductive autonomy.
Holographic Nature of Abortion Rights
The struggle toward the right to abortion sadly doesn’t end with the passing of progressive legislation. It ends with providing accessible and affordable abortion services to all, especially those from marginalized communities. Without accessibility to these services, the right to abortion remains a holographic right, one which exists only on paper. The lack of accessibility could be due to the services being expensive or could be due to the institutional barriers. In South Africa, where despite abortion being fully decriminalized for over ten years, access to abortion service is limited due to the extensive spread of conscientious objections among healthcare providers. In the English-speaking Caribbean, women have to travel islands to gain access to procedures, thus limiting it to only the upper-class women.
With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the state of pregnant people in America has resorted to how it was 51 years ago. The fundamental right to bodily autonomy will be unequally stripped away, and pregnant persons from marginalized communities will now be further ostracized and face greater health risks.
Politicians and the Catholic Church together with pro-life supporters have worked to bring in Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws in the past decades. These state laws make abortion inaccessible and expensive. In the aftermath of the Roe judgment, abortion providers were targeted, assaulted and, in a lot of cases, shot or bombed. It truly makes one question who is the real murderer here? In conservative states, such as Texas, multiple abortion care clinics shut down as a result, and people were forced to travel to different states to gain access to this medical treatment. Pregnant people had to travel across state borders to truly exercise a right over their bodily autonomy.
Abortion thus becomes a unifying factor of people who can get pregnant from around the world. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations held that forced pregnancy is a violation of the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Further judgments from around the world have consistently held that the fetus is not a human life and can only be a “baby” with an independent right after birth. But the continual restriction to abortion access makes me question the true intentions of the pro-life stance. Since forced pregnancy leads to an increase in child maltreatment, psychological aggression, neglect and abandonment, it is clear that abortion restrictions value neither the life of the pregnant person nor is the life of the child after birth. This temporary interest in the fetus’s life has become one of patriarchy’s greatest tools to continue to keep pregnant people in shackles in a cold, dark, inhuman condition at the mercy of the men in power.
Maria Jovita is a penultimate year law student at Jindal Global Law School, India. She is an associate researcher to Fulbright Fellow Professor (Dr) Anuradhaa Shastri, SUNY Oneonta. Her interests lie in the fields of the environment, sustainability and gender and human rights.
Suggested citation: Maria Jovita, Unravelling the Reversal of Roe v. Wade: Who Are the Real Benefactors and Beneficiaries, JURIST – Student Commentary, July 29, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/07/maria-jovita-unravelling-reversal-of-roe/.
This article was prepared for publication by Hayley Behal, JURIST Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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