Alabama’s recent decision to implement a near-total ban on abortion has sparked a worldwide reaction, bringing new life into the debate around female reproductive rights and abortion laws. The ban, passed on May 14th, effectively bans abortions outright. According to Amnesty International, access to abortion is one of the most hotly contested topics globally, and the debate is clouded by misinformation about the true ramifications of restricting access to this basic healthcare service. What does this ban mean for the people’s reproductive rights in Alabama, and what does this near-total ban mean in the greater scheme of things?
One of the major criticisms of the ban is that each and every one of the lawmakers voting in favour of the ban were white men. In fact, in Alabama, 85% of all lawmakers are men. When a female lawmaker stepped up to the microphone on the day of the decision, she said: “We do not police men’s bodies the way we police women’s – and this decision about an issue concerning women so intimately is being made almost entirely by men.” This fact has sparked another debate; should men have a say in decisions concerning women’s bodies?
The controversial ban has not fared well with everyone on the anti-choice side of the debate either, due to a lack of exceptions in the case of rape and adultery. Additionally, the penalty for performing an abortion is put on the surgeon, earning them an excruciating 99 years behind bars, deemed by many as unreasonable.
However, Alabama is not the only place abortion rights have taken a recent hit, and is one of several cases in a Trump-era surge in anti-abortion legislation. The passing of these bills has been dubbed the “heartbeat bills,” outlawing abortion past the sixth week of pregnancy. So far, four states have passed a “heartbeat bill,” all with women in the legislature in the minority.
In a wider perspective, the even stricter Alabama ban has the potential to challenge Roe v Wade, a US Supreme Court ruling in 1973 that declares abortion a constitutional right. Proponents of the bill have openly admitted challenging the ruling was in their plans. Given the present composition of the Supreme Court, the fear of the landmark ruling being overturned or dramatically eroded is an all too valid one.
The ban also comes after Argentina failed to decriminalize abortion in a historic vote last year. Many supporters of the decriminalization had high hopes, and the green scarf worn by Argentinians who supported the passing of the bill became a region-wide symbol of the struggle for women’s rights. Latin America and the Caribbean famously has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, and decriminalization in Argentina was predicted to have far-reaching effects in the region. Despite the vote not coming through, the movement has signified the “possibility of placing women’s reproduction rights and social justice at the center of the collective agenda.”
Not usually a country connected to setbacks in abortion rights, Norway recently had theirs up for discussion. The debate came after the Christian People’s Party, KrF, put a stricter abortion law forward as of their terms for deciding to go into coalition with the current right leaning government. The decision split the party, resulting in the long-standing party leader Knut Arild Hareide deciding to step down in protest.
Ultimately, after much debate, KrF got part of their wish into the new government platform, banning “fetus reduction” in the case of multiple fetuses under any circumstances. However, they had to forgo the removal of §2c from the abortion law, which opens for abortion after week twelve in the cases of risk to the fetus or the mother’s life and health. As such, this year, the abortion law was changed for the first time in Norway since it was first implemented in its current form in 1976.
This decision sparked a range of protests and was met fierce opposition from both the people and other parties not in government. In Norway, as well as elsewhere in Scandinavia, the right to abortion is seen as almost untouchable. For the right to abortion to be played as a political card came as a shock to both women’s rights activists from the 70s and the newer generation alike.
More recently, abortion rights were a major topic in this month’s Spanish general election. The right-wing parties are split in many ways but stand united on one thing; their opposition to abortion. While the Socialist Party ultimately won the election, they did not manage to get a majority and the right-wing party Vox won seats in the parliament for the first time since the death of the Spanish dictator Francis Franco in 1975.
We need only consider Donald Trump’s recent efforts to restrict abortion access in the US to see how the rise of populism translates into patriarchal policies. In the US, the abortion ban sets the battle lines for the 2020 elections. The rejection of the abortion bill proposed in the Argentine senate last summer reminds us that the progress made in Ireland is not necessarily indicative of a consistent international trend. Even Norway, a country where the right to abortion seemed untouchable, is willing to debate making it stricter.
The morality of abortion will most likely always be a hotly debated topic, in many cases splitting the population. With current trends in mind, perhaps it is less interesting to render a verdict on the morality of abortion than it is to trace the increasing politicization of the issue.