Commentary on the 2016 American presidential election made it out to be a ﬁght between two individuals; voters had to pick good or evil, evil or less-evil, Republican or Democrat. Yet the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump made it clear: the election was not just about who got to sit in the Oval Ofﬁce, but about the politicisation of women’s bodies.
Women have been politicised in a historically unprecedented way: across the globe they have had to ﬁght to their right to vote, their right to own land, their right to take custody after divorce and even their right to “own” themselves. In contemporary American politics, the politicisation of women has manifested in the debate over reproductive rights, seen in the sparring pro-choice/anti-abortion movements. This election saw Trump enter the oval office and bring with him a staunchly anti-choice Republican cabinet.
Since 1973, abortion in the USA has been technically legal: the Supreme Court verdict in Roe v. Wade made abortion the decision of the woman and disallowed federal or state restrictions on abortion legality. However, the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling opened the gateway for the anti-abortion movement to take political action and restrict women’s reproductive rights – it allowed states to regulate abortion procedures and enact laws that would both discourage women from getting abortions and prevent abortion clinics that provide not only abortions, but fundamental reproductive healthcare, from remaining open.
These restrictions are commonly called TRAP laws – Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These laws include legislation forcing mandatory waiting periods between consultation and abortion, forcing women to view an ultrasound, and forcing doctors to recite scientiﬁcally unsound “risks” abortions carry. During Obama’s tenure, numerous TRAP laws were passed in Republican-controlled states despite his pro-choice presidency.
THE ELECTION WAS ABOUT THE POLITICISATION OF WOMEN’S BODIES.
Now, aggressively anti-abortion Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives – the abortion debate is taking the main stage and going global. One of Trump’s ﬁrst actions upon taking ofﬁce was to sign an executive order reinstating the Mexico City policy: the global gag rule. The executive order blocks any federal funding totalling 9.5 billion dollars from going to NGOs that provide or even discuss abortion such as International Planned Parenthood Federation, which does not spend any federal funding on abortion services. This is only the start of what will be a frighteningly anti-choice regime.
The war against abortion is undeniable, and given, abortion is still a hugely debated topic around the world. The problem is that these anti-abortion legislations are anti-woman, and hurt women who are most vulnerable in society. Take Trump’s war against Planned Parenthood: he said in a speech that he would defund Planned Parenthood, acknowledging they help millions of women, but simply because they also provide abortion. Yet Planned Parenthood is legally barred from using one single federal dollar to fund its abortion services. Rather, the government funding goes to the 97 per cent of other services they provide: contraception, pap tests, breast exams, STD screening and treatment, among other services. Not only would defunding Planned Parenthood reduce women’s access to basic reproductive health facilities, but it would hurt women from lower-income backgrounds more than anyone. 79 per cent of Planned Parenthood clients have incomes at or below 150 per cent of the federal poverty rate. TRAP laws and defunding of women’s health facilities hurt the most vulnerable in American society and contribute to the raging socio-economic inequalities Trump claims to be ﬁghting against.
The gag order will perhaps have the most frightening consequences, since it takes this domestic war to the global stage. This order has been ﬂip-ﬂopping since the Reagan era, with Democrats overturning it and Republicans reinstating it. Therefore, there are statistics that speak for themselves: when George W. Bush reinstated the order to a lesser extent than Trump in 2001, abortions increased in Sub-Saharan Africa. Why? Because these NGOs provide contraception to women and men, including the pill, IUDs, and condoms, since their own governments do not. Take away funding, and you take away contraception. Take away contraception, and you increase the unwanted pregnancies. Taking away abortion will not stop women from having abortions, it just means they resort to dangerous back-alley methods, herbal remedies, or even throwing themselves down stairs in an attempt to terminate their pregnancy.
Legislation is part of larger a political effort to reign women in and prevent them from having equal rights. Ask yourself, are there any legislations in the USA or UK that prevent men from accessing contraception, vasectomies, arousal-enhancers, or anything related to their reproductive organs? The answer is no. In fact, in the USA the government has helped fund citizens to buy Viagra and vacuum erection systems, aka penis pumps. Now, think globally. You may know that in 2014 Iran banned vasectomies in an effort to increase birth rates. This is one of the only global examples where government legislation has restricted male control over their reproductive rights. Of course, Steve Bannon’s alt-right Breitbart News labelled this move as “violating men’s reproductive rights”.
gender roles vary from culture to culture, but female sexual oppression is a global reality.
So why are women’s reproductive rights put under scrutiny? There are many reasons, and in the USA tea party politics and fundamentalist religious activism are actively responsible. However, the overarching problem is that women have been oppressed and are too often conﬁned to ﬁt with patriarchal norms. Traditional gender roles have assigned women the role of birther, mother, housekeeper. Women are not conceptualized as sexual beings, and thus, sexual freedom is frowned upon. This manifests in abortion restrictions that punish women for having sex, in contraception restrictions that prevent women from having sex freely, and even in day-to-day interactions where women
are shamed for “sleeping around”. While gender roles vary from culture to culture, female sexual oppression is a global reality: anti-abortion legislation prevents women from using modern medicine to control their reproductive organs, while female genital mutilation physically prevents women from accessing their own sexuality. The fact of the matter is that women can be sexual beings. It is their choice, and government policy has no business restricting women in any capacity for something personal and natural.
Perhaps the biggest hypocrisy is that the anti-abortion movement in the USA refers to itself as “pro-life.” The movement deems women as secondary citizens by asserting that their life does not matter as much as a ball of cells, a foetus, or an unborn child. A woman’s life is not important enough to allow her to make her own decisions about her own body. Her life is so inferior that the government restricts access to contraception, then punishes her when the thing that contraception could have prevented occurs: pregnancy.
Anti-abortion legislation retains gender inequality and enforces unnatural gender norms. Moreover, it prevents women from taking control over their own bodies. Women have too long been objectiﬁed and presented as tools for male entertainment. Government restrictions have conﬁned women inside their bodies, deeming their minds, sexualities, and ideas as secondary to that of men. Yet no policy can truly take ownership of something that is inherently yours. Women worldwide must recognise that their body is their choice, and we must ﬁght to ensure all women have this right.