In our increasingly liberalised society, it is sometimes easy to forget the struggles that women face in the third world in terms of reproductive rights. As a young woman myself, these issues are paramount to me as I can imagine myself or my friends in these terrible situations.
Just look at El Salvador. Due to the misogynistic structures of oppression in the country, women, and particularly poorer women of colour are the most affected and vulnerable to the toxically masculine culture. Their stringent laws on abortion, which ban it outright, were influenced by a strong Roman Catholic pressure group in the country, which overturned a previous statute which allowed for the practice in extreme circumstances. If they are convicted for having an abortion, a woman faces two to eight years in prison. Many women are convicted with aggravated homicide charges, which meant they face sentences of to up to 50 years. Terminations are banned under all circumstances, even in extreme cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in a critical condition.
Thankfully there have been groups like Amnesty International which have campaigned for these women to receive legal aid. In addition to this, they have sought compensation and restorative justice for their time behind bars for women such as Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who filed a suit against the government. She was released from prison after serving almost 11 years for a crime she has always vehemently denied. Her sentence was commuted by the supreme court on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she had intentionally caused the stillbirth, but her conviction was expectably not overturned. Despite this, Carmen Vásquez was 16th woman to be freed as a result of appeal through the consistent campaigns by reproductive rights groups.
For pro-choice campaigners, there is hope on the other side of the Atlantic. In Ireland, a referendum is to be held next month on whether a foetus’ right to life is equal to that of the mother’s. The current equality of both lives is enshrined in Ireland’s constitution in the eighth amendment. If the campaign is successful, the Irish government will allow unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks, which would be a mammoth step for a traditionally Catholic country.
The fact is that governments will have to adapt legislation to accommodate a population which has been fully integrated into the sexual revolution. It is clear that grassroots campaigns do bear fruit: in Chile the government has recently overturned its total ban, allowing abortion under certain circumstances. We can only hope that other movements around the world will be inspired to make change for the sake of liberty and rights for women.