Monday, March 21, 2011

Abortion And Equal Rights

Rheality Check asks president Obama to pay more attention to women's reproductive rights when he visits Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. To be quite honest with you, I don't think the president has much of a personal opinion on reproductive rights. They are certainly one of the items in his to-be-compromised-over toolkit.

That aside, I was shocked to read that abortion is illegal in both Chile and El Salvador under all conditions:
Abortion is illegal under any circumstance in Chile, even in cases of rape or when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger. And for the past decade, U.N. human rights committees have recommended that Chile loosen its abortion ban in order to comply with its human rights obligations, but the government has refused.

Similarly, since 1998 El Salvador, the last stop on President Obama’s trip, has criminalized abortion on all grounds. El Salvador’s restrictive abortion law contributes to its high maternal mortality ratio, more than twice the average in Latin America. The government vigilantly enforces the ban, prosecuting women who have had abortions as murderers.
Of course the illegality of abortion does not mean that abortion wouldn't exist in those countries.

But take a step back and consider the kind of world which the US radical religious right would desire: There would be no legal abortion and the contraceptive pill would be banned as an abortifacient. A woman going out of her own home in such a world could, in theory, be made pregnant by a stranger against her own will and that would be it. She would have to give birth. Likewise, her husband could most likely make sure that she becomes pregnant whenever he wishes it to happen, whatever her desires.

That is an extreme scenario, sure. But it shows how essential reproductive control is for women's equal rights in general. And it also shows why the battle over abortion is also a battle over who gets to control fertility. If it is not the women themselves they will, logically, have fewer rights and less freedom than men, especially given who is expected to take care of children and given the radical right's emphasis on mothers staying at home.

It is a pity that the US abortion rights are based on the concept of privacy rather than the concept of equal rights. The latter make a much stronger case for reproductive rights.