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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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On The Couch: Still a long right turn

Women's rights advocates at a Women's March, held after Texas rolled out a near-total ban on abortion procedures.

Women's rights advocates at a Women's March, held after Texas rolled out a near-total ban on abortion procedures.

Published May 14, 2022


Right, where are we?

As humans in the global village, we need to take stock.

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It’s hard enough being a woman in South Africa. Women here live on constant high alert. Just walking along a street attracts cat calls, hooting, invasive suggestions or “invitations”, always with the possibility of that behaviour escalating. Shopping, exercising, commuting, eating out, going for a drink, getting in a lift ‒ doing anything is dangerous for women. We are always calculating the risk and trying to have “a plan”.

At home, so many live the reality of rape and possible murder by their partners. And girls (and boys) by family members.

And that’s with all our rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Now add the US Supreme Court’s leaked plan to overturn Roe vs Wade, the right to a safe abortion.

So what’s that got to do with us?

There is something called the global gag rule which bans any health-care NGO outside the US, but which receives US funding, from using those funds to offer abortion or referrals. This gag rule, not in force under President Joe Biden, has been enforced by every Republican president since 1984. It was expanded to include contraception and prevention and treatment programmes for Aids/HIV under the orange one.

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Organisations and nations that have fought against instituting reproductive health care, including abortion, could grasp this opportunity to have safe abortions banned again.

The Roe vs Wade ruling was made on the basis of a patient’s right to privacy. As it stands, states cannot ban abortion, but each state can set its own restrictions.

This would no longer hold if the court strikes it down. Women and girls will lose the right to make their own choice about their health, physical or mental, even in cases where pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, or if it endangers the woman (or girl’s) health.

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Backstreet abortions have killed or maimed so many. Naturally, there are no official statistics because of the secrecy involved. One can only guess by the number of those who end up in hospital emergency rooms, near death or dead from blood-loss or septicaemia.

The South African Bill of Rights protects the right to reproductive health, including abortion, with several restrictions.

However, we need only refer to the number of reports of dumped, killed or abused babies and children to know that rights to protections or choices do not always result in real-world rights.

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Women’s rights have come a long way, even in my lifetime. I remember when women could not own property, open a bank account or a shopping account without the consent of their husbands (no LGBTQI marriage then). When it was nearly impossible to work in certain fields (including journalism, other than recipe pages, good housekeeping or fairs). When a woman “obviously” got the job because she had sex with the boss, and many “had no sense of humour” when accosted with sexual harassment.

It is very different now, but the Roe vs Wade outrage (if it is overturned, expect a new women’s revolution) should remind us to guard every single right every one of us has.

And that we all need to re-read the Bill of Rights to see what we have already lost.

  • Lindsay Slogrove is the news editor

The Independent on Saturday

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