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Women’s Rights in the Age of Coronavirus

The idea that a woman is intelligent enough, strong enough and worthy enough to make her own decisions about her body and have full autonomy over her own life, still seems incomprehensible to some

✏️ Milou Klein

@_milouklein

As someone who has grown up in the Netherlands, a country where abortion has been legal since 1984, it is simply incomprehensible to me how it is possible that that very right is now under attack. Until a few weeks ago, no one would have believed anyone who would claim that those rights that have been established for years now, would be severely restricted or even banned just weeks later. 

With governments being able to classify certain health services as essential or non-essential, many around the world have chosen to classify abortion as non-essential health care, which basically means that there is a ban on abortions for as long as the Corona crisis and the lockdowns will take place. 

source: http://rosa.ie/winning-right-choose-lessons-struggles-past-present/ 

With everything that is going on in the world right now, it can be easy to think that abortions are indeed not essential, and priority should be given to battling the coronavirus. I am not arguing that the current situation does not require the enormous attention it is getting. What is important to remember, though, is that a situation like this, as serious and urgent as it may be, does not grant governments and ‘anti-abortion activists’ permission to use the pandemic as an excuse to further certain political agendas. 

Not only politicians are shamelessly taking advantage of the current state of affairs. Around the globe, anti-abortion activists are also arguing that all our resources should go into fighting the coronavirus, effectively placing a ban on abortion. After the pandemic is over then, they will surely fight to make sure that the autonomy of women will continue to be undermined by restrictive abortion laws or even abortion bans. How ironic then, that these ‘activists’ call themselves ‘pro-life’, when they so clearly do not care about the lives of the women they are oppressing. 

A perfect example of the ruthlessness of the anti-abortion movement during the coronavirus pandemic is taking place in Texas. With most abortions suspended during the coronavirus crisis, women are being forced to travel to other states.  In other words, this abortion ban is definitely not favourable for public health, because even though travel is being strongly discouraged, these women do not have any other option than to travel to access abortion care. Not only then are these women themselves at risk of becoming ill with COVID-19, but anyone who comes into contact with them, from their family members, to their neighbours, to the cashier at the store they visit, they are all needlessly at greater risk of COVID-19. 

Not only in the US are abortion rights under fire, but in other countries around the globe as well. In Poland, Parliament is debating a bill that would restrict an already limited right to abortion. The timing seems suspicious, to say the least, because in 2016 the same bill was met with thousands of women striking in protest. Mass protests are now, due to the crisis, prohibited. 

In Warsaw, women were using bicycles and cars to block the city-centre, in protest of the bill

It seems clear, then, that as women, the autonomy over our own bodies and our own lives are being threatened during this crisis. But even outside of this crisis, many countries still maintain restrictive abortion laws or even bans. Each year, 20 million women are forced to undergo unsafe abortions. Of these women, around 5 million will suffer long-term health complications, and around 68000 will die as a result of the abortion procedure. These women are not given a choice. Facing social isolation and financial distress, there is no other option than to undergo an unsafe abortion. These women are being deprived of their human rights.

So while the danger to public health as a result of women traveling to access abortion care should not be neglected, even without this danger of spreading the disease, women should have the right to access abortion care. Not only because it endangers public health, but quite simply because it is a human right to have autonomy over one’s body. To deny a woman access to abortion health care is a travesty and must not be ignored. 

Even more than 100 years after women finally received a right to vote, it still so often feels like we are second-class citizens. The idea that a woman is intelligent enough, strong enough and worthy enough to make her own decisions about her body and have full autonomy over her own life, still seems incomprehensible to some. With everything that is going on right now in the world, it might even be of greater importance to fight for equality between the genders. Because at the very least we, as women, need to be able to count on being treated equally, with respect and to always have a say over our own bodies. 

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