Abortion Policies Reflect Status of Women*
*“Abortion Policies Reflect the Status of Women” in the Boulder Daily Camera, July 21, 1991, and in Brother (The newsletter for NOMAS), Volume 9, Nos. 2 and 3, Summer/Fall 1991.
By DAVID A. YEATS
A recent letter to the editor stated, "The World Hunger Project has been teaching us for years that there is more than enough food to go around...What stands in the way is corruption and greed at the government level, not unborn babies." These conclusions are both misleading and simplistic, as are anti-abortion policies that result from them. There are two essential reasons for supporting abortion rights. One is simply that there is a finite number of people this planet can support; the second is that human beings have a right to control their own bodies.
We have an abysmal record for preserving human lives - 14 million infants perish annually and 40,000 children under five years die daily, of hunger-related causes. For 80 percent of our species, there is insufficient food, shelter and health.
One-third of humanity is forced to consume contaminated water; half of the men and women in the world have no access to modern contraceptives; and unsafe abortions and complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for women of reproductive age in the Third World. The contrast in the quality of life for those in the industrialized world compared to those in the Third World is profound. Compounding this is the plight of Third World women. Worldwatch Institute states: "There is no more telling measure of the gap between rich and poor countries than the rate of maternal death. Infant mortality... is about nine times higher in the Third World than in the industrial world, but the risk of maternal death is often more than 100 times as great." (Italics added.) Yet, 20 percent to 50 percent "of all maternal deaths worldwide could be prevented by providing access to safe abortion services." It is women throughout the world whose lives are sacrificed en masse by anti-abortion policies. urther compromising women, a recent study by the World Bank noted that women's reproductive needs are "poorly met" and "many women resort to sterilization despite its irreversibility because of the lack of alternative methods.” It is the world system of "corruption and greed" that maintains a patriarchal structure of enforced control over women, keeping poor poor as the rich get richer, while hoarding and using up the world's resources through hyper-consumption and feigning economic "'vitality" through planned obsolescence. The U.S. uses up 28 percent of the world's energy resources on 5 percent of the world's population. The richest 20 percent of the world's population creates 90 per cent of the chlorofluorocarbons that are destroying the ozone layer. Significant damage is currently being done to the environment; industrialized countries consume natural resources to extinction; we exploit indigenous peoples' lives to satiate our greed; we create megatons of unnecessary garbage, nuclear wastes, and chemical toxins; we obliterate rainforests (a football field per second), animal species (two daily), and countless species of plant life. And we do this simply because we can. Control and power equals right - exactly the same reasoning and valuing that create the arrogant self-serving assumptions used to steal women's power over their own bodies. A U.N. survey reported men own 99 percent of the world’s wealth, perform one-third of the work, and accrue 90 percent of the wages. These are real disparities between men and women. Make no mistake: men are victimized in real and destructive ways. Nevertheless, men can really achieve healing and growth only to the extent that they accept personal responsibility for meeting their needs, while both acknowledging and struggling consciously to eradicate male privilege. Men's victimization and pain, significant and painful though it is, cannot be used to justify gendered and institutional power that men, especially white men, have over women, people of color and diverse others. Males have the wealth, and males make the decisions. Males, because they control women's access to reproductive resources, also have sexual power over women.
The powerful - those of industrial nations, heterosexuals, males, whites - exercise control over others because they can. Might is right. Gender power is real.
From the Middle East and North Africa (where women lack birth control; where the population of 340 million people will double in 23 years; where women are confined to the home to have children), to the streets of America (where wife beating results in injuries requiring medical treatment than rape, auto accidents, and muggings combined; where 75 percent of women have experienced male violence; where 51 percent fear their partners; where women can be tried for murder for having an abortion), women are clear who has power and control.
Nevertheless, demographers conclude that one-third to one-half and of all women of reproductive age undergo at least one induced abortion in their lifetimes. Estimates put the total annual number of abortions worldwide at from 40 to 60 million. Women quietly, determinedly and humbly seek abortions as a fact of their lives.
Given women's lack of economic and political status, their lack of gendered and institutional power, coupled with the massive amounts of violence directed toward women, it is not possible to conclude that there is no hidden agenda. There is. Women are controlled and their choices are restricted.
This truth is daily illustrated in our world by the politics of abortion; yet this issue is only symptomatic of the many ways women, are devalued, disenfranchised, and objectified. Genital mutilation, bride burning, dowry deaths, spousal and stranger physical and sexual assaults, preference for male offspring, female infanticide and malnourishment, prohibitive access to health and reproductive resources, laws permitting wife beating, as well as forced childbearing, restricted access to the workplace, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, date rape, incest, controlling women's autonomy and pornography are all daily and frequent manifestations of an agenda to own, control, and exploit women with the same abandon and abuse as we treat our Earth and our environment. It's time those with anti-abortion sentiments look beneath the surface of superficial and ethical condemnations of abortion to the realities of global sexual politics, power and epidemic maternal death. It's time too for men to tend to our responsibility to change this reality..
(David Yeats, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a psychotherapist and a member of the Boulder County Domestic Abuse Prevention Project Advisory Board,)