Where We are Now
Putting together an issue that is critical of the new anti-abortion laws in the USA has been wrenching for us at WordCity. It has been exactly two years since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and look where we find ourselves as women and as members of a society that sees so much of our present and future reflected in the politics and laws of our powerful neighbour, the United States. We are mourning the reversal of Roe v. Wade (decided in 1973) by the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling of June 24, 2022. Despite life-long efforts by activists and legal authorities like Justice Ginsburg, work that was meant to shift the social and political course of American society, the country is once again at a precipice.
Each of us has had her own personal demons to face down in regard to reproduction, pregnancy, the risks of pregnancy, and the consequences of bearing or not bearing children. For those of us who could truly choose because our bodies were able to manage pregnancies with only minor foreseeable risks — well, that choice still left a great deal out of our control. We were still dependent on good luck, biologically speaking; we were dependent on obstetricians’ availability and their willingness to acknowledge us as people for whom pregnancy, whether our first one or not, was exhausting or anxiety-provoking, or otherwise stressful in a myriad ways; we were dependent on those, such as partners or parents, to be there after the child’s birth, and there — emotionally and financially — for the years it would take to get past infancy, then early childhood, and, following that, the tricky years of adolescence (just imagine for even a moment the gaping maw of the prospect of not having someone stable and caring to count on); we were dependent on the good will, the empathy and understanding of our employers or any individual involved in our efforts to further our careers (how often is that faith in a new and not-so-new mother absent when it comes to hiring decisions!); we were dependent on our material circumstances working out for us so that we had the confidence that we would be able not just to feed and house a child (no easy feat given the rising costs of rent, utilities, and food), but also spare the child the indirect experience of terror to which each of us would we subject if for any number of easily imagined reasons (like illness, sudden disability, or job loss) we were unable to provide those essentials.
It never ceases to outrage me that all of these requirements for successful childbirth and childrearing are so often glossed over in everyday public discourse, or how often people’s physical and mental health needs are soft-pedalled or discounted altogether in debates about abortion rights. I see it as a form of ignorance or unintentional cruelty, especially when such opinions concerning reproductive autonomy are offered by men or women, usually white, with children, and with partners or parents who provide or provisioned for their economic security. How often do I have the urge to tell them to f-ck themselves and their terribly narrow, unreflective worldview. How dare they presume to know what other people can or cannot, should and shouldn’t do with their bodies and lives!
To reiterate, each of us had at one point in our lives been frightened, profoundly shaken, or made ill by an actual, intended or unintended pregnancy. Such experiences are deeply personal and hard to write about. They expose us to judgement by strangers and family members (You had an abortion? Everyone goes through it, so don’t complain. What do you mean you didn’t want Johnny? You didn’t want to be a mother?). Yet without these testaments to the real, lived experience of dealing with pregnancy — actual or prospective — and the hardships faced after childbirth, the only voices we’ll hear will be ones coming from the supercilious, uninformed, the cold-hearted or religiously affected, who claim to know how and to what ends all of us were made.
Below is an excerpt from a recent Wikipedia article, “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.” Note the statements by medical experts and medical associations, as well as the opinions expressed by international community of heads of states.
Health and education
The president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, David J. Skorton, released a statement that said the decision “will significantly limit access for so many and increase health inequities across the country, ultimately putting women’s lives at risk, at the very time that we should be redoubling our commitment to patient-centered, evidence-based care that promotes better health for all individuals and communities.” …The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Moria Szilagyi, released a statement that the organization reaffirmed the policy to support “adolescents’ right to access comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive healthcare services,” including abortion. She added that the ruling threatened adolescents’ health and safety and jeopardized the patient-physician relationship.
Academics from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the University of Colorado Boulder criticized the ruling, saying that as there is going to be an increase in pregnancies, there will be an increase in maternal and infant deaths. In 2020, there were 23.8 deaths from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes for every 100,000 births, the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, with black mothers 2.9 times more likely to die than white mothers.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that demand for abortion medications in the United States, as reflected by internet search trends, reached record highs nationally after the draft Dobbs opinion was leaked online. Public health activists have begun exploring ways to make medical abortion more available, particularly in states where it is subject to limitations, using social media for this purpose.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that the opinion “represents a major setback after five decades of protection for sexual and reproductive health and rights.” The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “I am very disappointed, because women’s rights must be protected. And I would have expected America to protect such rights.”
Western world foreign leaders generally condemned the ruling. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the decision “horrific,” while pledging, “[I]n Canada, we will always defend the woman’s right to choose.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the decision “a big step backwards,” while reassuring that there were laws “throughout the UK” for a “woman’s right to choose.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted after the ruling that this was “[o]ne of the darkest days for women’s rights” in her lifetime. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that he was “very concerned about implications of U.S. Supreme Court decision” and “the signal it sends to the world.” French President Emmanuel Macron said that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected.” He expressed his “solidarity” with U.S. women. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the decision “a huge setback” and said that her “heart cries for girls and women in the United States.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the decision “incredibly upsetting” and “a loss for women everywhere.” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “really troubled” by the decision, saying it is “a major step back in the fight for women’s rights.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that “we cannot take any right for granted” and that “women must be able to decide freely about their lives.”
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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.
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