by Sarah Jensen
“When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back!”
–Demonstrators at Virginia State Capitol
On March 3rd, a protest was held in Virginia against the newly passed forced ultrasound bill. An estimated 1,000 women, men and children walked from downtown Richmond and assembled at the Capitol building. There they were met by police who, within three minutes of their arrival, decided to use force to disperse them. More officers were called in, equipped with riot gear, pepper spray, dogs and machine guns.
The reason for the authorities’ swift, extreme reaction? The demonstration was deemed unlawful because many of the protesters were on the Capitol steps without a proper permit; the permit that they had acquired only allowed them to assemble at the nearby Bell Tower. So, because of this transgression, police armed with riot shields held back protesters at the bottom of the steps, while unshielded officers arrested 33 demonstrators who sat in peaceful protest on the steps.
Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, has spoken out against the arres, saying they are “…the latest example of government overreach that we’ve seen in recent weeks.”
“The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right,” McQuinn said in a news release. “At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events,” she said.
The pictures and video from the event are both disturbing and inspiring. It’s frightening that peaceful protestors were met with intimidation and threats of violence. These extreme reactions, however, have only brought more attention to the issue.
In the same week as the Virginia protest, all of the female Democratic state senators walked out of the Georgia Senate to protest bills put forward by the Republican male majority. State Senate Bill 438, one of these bills, prevents state health plans from paying for abortions, making no exception even in cases of rape and incest. The other bill, state Senate bill 460, amended a 1999 law so “religious employers” no longer have to cover the cost of contraception. Both bills were passed.
Women’s rights are under attack in the United States. “We’re looking at about 430 abortion restrictions that have been introduced into state legislatures this year, which is pretty much in the same ballpark as 2011,” says Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group that focuses on health and reproductive rights. This year, Nash says, “is shaping up to be quite busy.”
Here in Canada, abortion rights could also be at risk; some Conservative MPs such as Stephen Woodworth want to re-open the abortion debate. Woodworth has told the Canadian public, “Don’t accept any law that says some human beings are not human beings.”
Though abortion has been legal here since 1988, it can already be quite difficult to get one, depending on where you live. There are no abortion services in Prince Edward Island, for example, and in New Brunswick a woman must have approval from two doctors to be granted a publicly funded abortion.
Women not living in their home province or territory also face obstacles, because abortion is not part of the inter-provincial billing agreement. Women who attend school in another province or have recently moved and are in the process of transitioning their health-care benefits may have to pay the full cost of their abortion care out-of-pocket, or incur additional expenses as a result of traveling back to their home province to gain access to a publicly-funded abortion.
Restricting access to abortions or even banning them outright will not stop them from happening; prohibition simply compels women to have the procedure done illegally, often in unsafe and unclean conditions. Abortion has been used to control fertility in every known society, regardless of its legality.
Moreover, a recent study has shown that women are just as likely to get an abortion in countries where it is outlawed as they are in countries where it is legal. Where it’s illegal, it remains a leading cause of maternal death, with about 70,000 women dying every year from unsafe abortions. An additional 5 million women suffer permanent or temporary injury.
Roughly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. If pro-lifers want to prevent abortions, they must accept that women need to be able to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Prevention starts with education; teens receiving comprehensive sex education are 60% less likely to become pregnant or to impregnate than teens receiving no sex education at all. Contraception also needs to be affordable for the user, be it subsidized, or covered by health insurance. For those who object to their tax dollars paying for someone else’s birth control pills, a recent study shows that birth control actually saves taxpayers money.
Birth control can greatly reduce the number of abortions; it is not foolproof, however, at preventing pregnancy. Abortion will always be needed by women. The abortion debate was already decided here in Canada twenty-four years ago; Conservatives should be concentrating on issues relevant to 2012. We need to stand on guard for our own rights here and support our sisters south of the border. The protestors in Virginia and the congresswomen in Georgia have shown that women will not take this attack sitting down. It’s time for the third wave of feminism to swell.
(photo via Progressive States Network)