I don’t always comment on every major event that’s happening in relation to women’s rights – I simply don’t have the time – but it still surprises me how long I have managed to stay silent about the current “War on Women” that is being waged by the GOP in the United States. The main reason has certainly not been ignorance, as I have been following the developments in detail. Rather, I have been speechless in light of the severity and magnitude of the political attacks on women’s rights and freedom. My initial reaction has been sheer incredulity.
I want to emphasize something I keep mentioning on this blog: feminism to me is fighting for women’s rights to ensure equality, but that doesn’t simply mean looking for new means to get there. More and more, feminism means preserving the rights that we already have, because even though they may seem common sense to us, it doesn’t mean there aren’t forces out there ready to take these rights away if given the chance.
The US-American War on Women is simply the most blatant and extreme example of how this plays out: the GOP race for the presidential candidate started out with confirmations of its anti-abortion stance (very sad indeed, but not at all surprising), and culminated in the demonization of all forms of birth control, the violation and criminalization of the woman’s body and the reduction of women’s lives to that of breeding cattle. I see no better way to phrase this and I don’t have the nerve for euphemisms. Women’s lives as we know them today? In the U.S. they are at risk, and if I lived over there I would seriously consider emigrating before I got into a situation where I would have to hand over my own bodily autonomy to the state.
But make no mistake: If you’re European and tend to dismiss the Republicans, the Tea Party and their supporters as crazy extremists, you’re fooling yourself. Because even Western Europe is slowly seizing to be a safe-haven when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. The attacks come mainly from the political right. In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen stated her plans for restructuring Planning Familial centers (the French equivalent to Planned Parenthood), claiming that abortion had become too comfortable. Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s been trying to pander to the FN voters for a long time, recently suggested that minors need to obtain parental consent before being able to get on the pill. In England, anti-abortion voices (I refuse to call them pro-life; that’s simply false advertising) have grown stronger and more influential, and they are not falling on deaf ears either. In Germany, a medical insurance company offered financial benefits to those who are members of the anti-abortion organisation Pro Life Deutschland and pledge that they would never have an abortion.
To be fair, all of these examples pale in comparison to what is happening in the U.S. right now, but they are a reminder that women cannot rest on the laurels of second wave feminism, when these same achievements continue to be under attack. It is very easy to argue that these anti-abortion advances are based on moral and ethical values – and I am the last person to deny that these issues are something we need to negotiate as a society – but as the developments in the U.S. have shown, the underlying motives have little to do with progressive ethics and life choices, and everything to do with religious fundamentalism and reactionary views on family and the role on women.
Fact is, there is a generation of men and women out there that still believes that women should not be allowed to make decisions for themselves or for others. Because abortion and birth control isn’t just about children; it is about women’s ability to participate in society. And it is on our generation to reject this backlash and to prove that there are kinder, more sustainable alternatives that include a women’s right to her physical autonomy. To be clear: fighting for women’s reproductive rights is key, but we should never forget to emphasize the economic and social dimensions as well. Many attempts towards the restriction of abortion are justified with accusations of racism and eugenics without including the bigger picture. We cannot allow for these false accusations to take over the public debate. We need to reject the tampering with symptoms and continue to stress the causes: poverty, precarious labor, structural discrimination, societies hostile towards children and working mothers, austerity and the dismantling of the welfare state, an uncertain future…
On a lighter note: here is a hilarious response to former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s anti-abortion campaign, and the termination of said campaign…