Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
This article is part of The Broad's short series in response to the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. For more articles like this, search the hashtag 'Roe v Wade' on our website.
With the overturning of landmark Roe v Wade ruling on US-wide protection of abortion access, the phrase ‘war on women’ has been thrown around, from vice-president Kamala Harris to your favourite feminist on Twitter. However, when people describe this abortion ban as the be-all and end-all war on women’s rights, they’re missing some crucial points. At stake is not just abortion access for women, but reproductive justice and, further, bodily autonomy for all.
SisterSong is a collective of Black women who campaign for, educate, and provide resources for those who were underrepresented in the mainstream (white) reproductive justice movement. They define reproductive justice as the “human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” They make it clear that we should not just be concerned about access to abortions, we also must fight for a safer world to bring up our children in – something which anti-choicers always fail to address. They write that ways to achieve reproductive justice includes contraception, sex education, STI care, prenatal care, adequate wages to support our families, and safe homes, among many other things. For anti-choicers, the conversation begins and ends with the foetus in the womb.
According to SisterSong, there is no worthwhile discourse about abortion that does not include a myriad of other interlinked issues. The conversation about reproductive justice must go further than abortion discourse to truly make an impact, and the conversation must be more than about white middle class women. Far more important than choice (as the abortion debate is often framed) is access – what good is a legal abortion if ability to travel, time off work, and adequate healthcare post procedure are not available? Full autonomy is needed.
Ellen Willis’ 1992 collection of essays includes one on abortion: ‘Putting Women back in the Abortion Debate’. She highlights how the discourse around abortion is centred almost always on the foetus, and that the body of the person carrying it is “merely the stage on which the drama of f[o]etal life takes place.” Those participating in the abortion debate put the rights of the foetus above the rights of the person carrying it in every instance.
Willis adds that studies have shown that people’s position on abortion is best predicted by their opinions on “family issues” like sex, marriage, homosexuality, rather than “life” issues like the death penalty, nuclear war, gun control, which illustrates how this discourse is about the control of bodies rather than the protection of life. Like SisterSong, Willis shows how abortion is just one small part of a wider issue, that of patriarchal forces seeking to subjugate those of marginalised genders.
Besides abortion, there is no other case where anything has an essential right over someone else’s body – if someone needs a kidney, a person with a kidney is not forced to give them it; if someone needs blood, another person is not forced to give it; if a person has a tapeworm, they would not be forced to carry it. The foetus is given a unique position as something which has an absolute right to the body of another person. Anti-choicers frame the debate as a question of whether the foetus has the absolute right to life in the same way a born human does, but Willis’ answer is, “Can it be moral, under any circumstances, to make a [person] bear a child against [their] will?”
The question, then, is not about the life/non-life of a foetus, but the autonomy/non-autonomy of the person carrying it. We must centre the pregnant person and prioritise their bodily autonomy above all. Firstly, by their being the only force deciding whether they want to carry the foetus, and secondly by providing the care they need.
On Abortion Access in Scotland - Statement by Anna Cowan, campaigner for Back off Scotland
The verdict of Roe v Wade represents a huge step back in the progress we have made for equal reproductive rights. Allowing abortion to be banned does not ban abortions - it bans safe abortions.
Although decisions like this may seem incredibly far away, in Scotland we are facing a fight against abortion access in the form of anti-choice protests outside of clinics which provide abortions. These protestors come from Texas-funded organised 40 Days for Life, who are an insidious and restrictive religious group who's sole purpose is to ban abortion.
In Scotland we must show our solidarity with our American sisters and siblings, while also being vigilant and fighting against anti-choice movements. If you want to be apart of the cause to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, please fill out the Scottish Government consultation to enact this into law at bufferzones.scot
Please fill in Gillian Mackay’s consultation on buffer zones here, open until 06/08/22.
You can write to your MSP here.