Mankind has always found ways to limit populations when convenient. When the Soviets legalised abortion, it was only due to the fact that they had suffered decades of unrest; they had been through a revolution and a civil war. As a result, their populations were living in abject poverty and women could barely take care of their children. It was poverty that drove them to legalising abortion under specific conditions; it was not the concept of the right to choose. Conversely, others have always been in dire need of mustering strength in numbers. Historically, France has always been demographically outnumbered by her warmongering neighbour, Germany. During both the World Wars, France was forced to fight with fewer men than Germany. France’s fear of being overrun stemmed from the reality that Germany always had more men, and had a history of marching into France. After WWI, in 1920 France outlawed all methods of contraception.
During the Vichy regime in the ’40s, the French motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité was changed to Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Nation). Since WWII, France has followed a natalist policy, which basically favours families with numerous children. Throughout history, societies have shown their incapacity to let women make the decision about bearing a child. Thus, for reasons beyond their control, women have been held hostage because of their wombs. It has scarcely ever been about a women’s choice, let alone her health. When the world needs more soldiers or workers, the woman’s womb becomes the property of the State. Conversely, when the world has too many, governments change their tune. India takes a rather liberal view on abortion simply because it never runs out of hungry mouths to feed. As for Britain, peacetime has been benevolent to women. By the late ’60s, women’s movements and the liberal Left managed to wield their influence in Britain, and by 1967, Britain had legalised abortion while France still could not let go of their women’s wombs.
French women used to cross the Channel merely to undergo an abortion or risk their lives by resorting to gruesome practises, including the use of knitting needles. In 1974 the French government was forced to address the issue because of the embarrassing busloads of French woman crossing over the Channel for solutions chez les Anglais. Under the leadership of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the Right won a majority and decided to propose a law on abortion. Despite the fact that large factions of the Right remained vehemently opposed to the proposition, Giscard knew he could count on the Left in order to get the law passed because the Left had declared themselves as openly pro-choice. Yet, he hoped to win over at least 30% of his own party. Giscard chose the health minister of his government to lead the debates, and so it was Simone Veil who would go down in history as the woman who gave French women the right to choose. Her opening speech was received with hostility from her own colleagues on the Right. During the debates, the Right drew parallels with murderers and baby killers and did not refrain from making frequent references to Nazis. A surgeon by the name of René Feït even played the heartbeat of a foetus for dramatic effect while another colleague, Jean-Marie Daillet, accused Simone Veil of throwing embryos in crematoriums just like the Nazis. They callously brushed aside the fact that Simone Veil had miraculously escaped Auschwitz herself; such was the viciousness of their opposition. It was at this point that 343 prominent women signed a petition declaring themselves criminals as they had undergone an abortion at some point in their lives.
Back then, abortion was still a punishable crime in France, but the women were willing to risk getting arrested. Around the same time, a young girl, barely 16, became pregnant after she was raped by her schoolmate in Bobigny, a Parisian suburb. She had courageously decided to abort her pregnancy with the support of her mother. Although she was made to jump through loopholes and pay 4,500 francs to get the abortion, it did not end her ordeal. To everyone’s shock and horror, she was further traumatised by her rapist who lodged a police complaint against her. All of France was left flabbergasted when the rape survivor was dragged to court by her rapist on charges of an illegal abortion. Then, as now, it was proof that when the law allows for perpetrators to gain the upper hand over victims, it renders the justice system null and void. Fortunately, France’s media stepped in, and the case received wide media coverage, which helped Simone Veil enormously. It gave her the moral high ground to go all out and deliver justice to women. In the end, the law was passed on 17 January 1975 in the wee hours of the morning. The Left that was meant to be the ‘opposition’ voted unanimously in favour, and barely 30% of Simone Veil’s own political family voted in favour of the law. However, the law provided clauses for doctors to refuse the procedure if it interfered with their religious beliefs. Women who live in small towns and villages where doctors are few and far between are left at the mercy of these doctors.
Indeed, religion trumps women’s rights and women’s health issues too. As recently as 2018, French doctors in positions of power made official statements denouncing the right to abortion. Bertrand de Rochambeau, a gynaecologist and the president of the Syngof, which represents almost a quarter of France’s gynaecologists and obstetricians, likened abortions to homicide. The neo-Victorians and neo-Bonapartists across Europe have figures to show that women are ‘killing’ the future. Oskar Freysinger, a Swiss right-wing politician, calls it the ‘invisible genocide’. In recent times, Spain’s Right, under the able leadership of Mariano Rajoy, threatened to severely limit the rights to abort except in cases of rape or when the woman’s life is at serious risk. The fact that it is the subject matter during modern-day election campaigns goes to show how the matter is far from resolved. In addition, there is virtually no responsibility asked of the men who are equally responsible for the situation. The onus is entirely upon the women, and the shame is theirs too.
Of all the developed countries in the world, one might have assumed the United States would have granted their women the unequivocal right to choose. In 1973 the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on ‘Roe V. Wade’ in favour Roe (Roe was a legal pseudonym adopted by the woman who was seeking the right to terminate her pregnancy). Shortly after the court’s verdict, New York was the first to open an abortion clinic, but barely a year into its running, the clinic had managed to make a powerful enemy – the Church. Over the decades, powerful lobbies, the Republicans, and pro-life lobbies have lent their support to the Church. These groups see the woman’s role as the producer of solid soldiers and workers. Their ideas have struck a common chord with every bigoted group. Things started looking up for the pro-life movement when George H.W. Bush declared his war on abortion and openly announced his decision to work towards overturning Roe V. Wade. His words gave impetus to movements like ‘Operation Rescue’, a self-proclaimed group of zealots who claim to be ‘rescuing the unborn children’. The opinions of professional physicians were brushed aside, and hysterical lobbies got their way by making repeated references to women as ‘murderers’ and ‘baby killers’. Since 2010 over 300 amendments have been introduced to restrict abortions. Depending on the state one resides in, women have to jump hurdles as well as deal with pro-life activists who even attack them physically. Many states have just one clinic that is willing to conduct the procedure, and those who work in the clinic are left vulnerable to attacks from Operation Rescue and other such outfits. George Tiller, a doctor who had kept his clinic open despite repeated threats, was brutally murdered.
People in the West rarely realise that it is not just the Taliban who gun doctors and teachers for breaking their code. Extremist factions can be found all over the world, but when they are empowered by politicians or the state, it turns into a toxic potion that makes the society sick. In truth, women in Islamised societies suffer because their extremist fringe elements have been empowered. As for America, successive Republican Presidents add fuel to the fire by appointing pro-life or anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court. They hope to overturn the super slim vote of 5-4. Women who are privileged enough will always find a way, but taking into consideration that one in four women will have an abortion in America, one can only imagine what underprivileged women have to go through in a privileged country like the United States. In September 2020, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away and Donald Trump lost no time in nominating his choice to the Bench. The Republicans are rallying behind Judge Amy Coney Barrett and women’s wombs are once again the subject of hot debates.
Last week, Poland’s top court banned almost all terminations when it declared that abortions in cases of foetal defects are unconstitutional. Things are worse further south in Latin America, where they have been held hostage by religion. As recently as 2019, women from Nicaragua, Ecuador and Guatemala filed cases against their own governments with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Many of them are raped while they are still in school, and they are forced to drop out. In March, an 11-year-old Argentinean girl who became pregnant after she was raped was forced to give birth because her country thinks it was God’s will. A 65-year-old randy pervert raped her, but the pro-life groups remained obsessed with the foetus and called for saving both the lives. The Guttmacher Institute research reported that 777,000 babies were born to girls aged 10-14 globally in 2016. Latin America and the Caribbean made up 14% of these births. The idea that the primary role of a woman is to bear children is defined as ‘the order of nature’.
Can we expect things to get better when seemingly mature nations can’t let go of their women’s wombs? America today is masquerading as a democracy, but it is fact a plutocracy (government by the wealthy). It is hardly surprising that the democratic process in today’s America is massively manipulated by private funding. The Americans have gone from PAC (Political Action Committee) to Super PACs, making the sky the limit when it comes to spending money in order to influence elections. Although money cannot be handed directly to the candidates, unlimited funding can be poured into groups and organisations who can take up their causes. Despite the fact the PACs shape American politics, barely 40% of Americans could even define a Super PAC. H.L Mencken, the American journalist, essayist, cultural critic and satirist left us with a quote to reflect upon when he said, “To believe in democracy is to believe that collective wisdom will emerge from individual ignorance.”