Feminism | Posted by Kadin Burnett on 01/30/2017

We Have To Remain Vigilant About Global Reproductive Justice

A protest in the DR

A protest in the DR

Those who bear the brunt of childbirth should not have their bodies continually and unreasonably regulated by those who will never have their ankles suspended in stirrups, nor their reproductive well-being suspended. Female bodies — especially the bodies of the mothers-to-be —are frequently put under duress and subjugation, not only from culturally sexist rhetoric, but also by lawmakers. Domestically, we must certainly remain vigilant about what looks to be the most anti-abortion cabinet in U.S. history, but we are not alone in our need to focus on women’s reproductive rights. Legislation abroad has also stifled women’s control over their bodily freedom.

In late 2016, the Dominican Republic passed legislation that reinstated a criminal code that effectively bans abortions. A prior law passed in 2014 stated that abortion was legal under “specific circumstances,” but the new bill bans abortion even in cases of rape and when the woman’s life is in danger. Essentially, this law holds women and girls accountable for their bodies at the same time that it takes away any agency they have over them. Dominican women will in some cases have to choose between death, jail, or seeking an illegal (and therefore likely unsafe and amateur) abortion. When these women are at their most fragile and vulnerable, they are rendered inhuman in the eyes of lawmakers — as vessels and nothing more.

Beyond suppressing women’s rights to choose and rights to their bodily freedom, this abortion ban also endangers the physical safety of women and girls throughout the country. By forcing women to take every pregnancy to term, these legislators essentially dismiss the magnitude of the emotional and physical reality and ramifications of pregnancy. In cases of rape and incest, this law perpetuates a sick, ugly cousin of victim-blaming: It ensures that not only will women remain accountable for atrocities perpetrated against them but also that all consequences of those actions will fall squarely on their shoulders and impact the rest of their lives. What’s more, studies prove that the rate of backstreet abortions as well as unsafe births increases where women’s reproductive rights are restricted — as does the chance of disease or other bodily harm inflicting the mother and/or child. The well-being of those yet to be born is being firmly placed above that of Dominican women.

Still, one of the most egregious aspects of the ban is that it was established by men — that men were able to essentially legislate female submission. How have we come to view the governing and restriction of the lives and wombs of women by men as logical over the more reasonable reality that those who are most qualified to understand and oversee female bodies are those who have them? We live in a global society in which erroneous disciplinary reactions to female bodies and their sexuality has been perpetuated for centuries by those who have no actual experience having a vagina.

The frequency with which effort is put into undervaluing and subjugating women all around the world is astounding. Women’s bodies — and only women’s bodies — are so powerful as to be capable of bringing life into this world, and yet men — and almost exclusively men — have the final word on how and why childbirth and pregnancy should be handled. Laws like the Dominican abortion ban cement the belief that a correct social hierarchy places men at the top and women below embryos. We rely on women’s bodies yet we undercut their freedom to regulate them — a wicked betrayal.

On the day the bill passed, hordes of people descended on Independence Park in Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, to voice their opposition to it. They did so nearly a month before the Women’s Marches. This assembly of concerned and determined citizens served not only as a forebear to the march itself, but as a symbol of women’s ongoing commitment to their tireless pursuit of justice — and hopefully more acts of resistance to come, both domestically and abroad.

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