Abortions are a sensitive topic to many, and while it may seem obvious why this is a gendered issue, the history of abortion is a blatant example of how the patriarchy governs women’s bodies. Importantly, not all women have uteruses, and not all people with uteruses are women, a topic that is not discussed nearly enough. An awareness of the history of abortion, and a sensitivity when discussing the topic, are important for us to unpack the methods of patriarchal control and the delegitimising of ‘women’s issues.’
Abortions are shrouded in myth and misinformation. Abortions have been around for thousands of years, with one of the oldest records coming from an Egyptian papyrus in 1550 BC. Even Christians, who are some of the largest protestors against abortions today, were accepting of abortions before ‘quickening,’ which is when the pregnant person feels the foetus first move. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when advancements in medicine and sanitation led to a ‘standardisation’ in Western healthcare, that abortions became a moral and legal topic. This standardisation sought to delegitimise women doctors, especially midwives who performed the majority of abortions, most of whom were black and indigenous women.
The creation of gynaecology was an attempt by elite men doctors to exclude these midwives who they branded as savage and unhygienic. At the same time as forcing women out of the healthcare profession, gynaecologists pulled women’s bodies from the private sphere into the public sphere. This enabled men to create a ‘monopoly of power’ over women’s bodies, a precedence that continues today. You needn’t look too far to find a person who has a horror story about misdiagnosis of endometriosis, or side effects from the contraceptive pill.
The statistics around women (the data does not mention non-women with uteruses) who still live in countries that ban abortions are shocking. 90 million women live in countries where abortion is blanket banned, 360 million can only have abortions if their life is threatened, and 240 million can only have them when there is a health risk. Whilst these laws do nothing to decrease abortion rates, they do a lot to increase death rates. The lack of people with uteruses in decision-making processes means that abortion legislation is largely made by people who will never experience pregnancy. There is global precedence of men-led administrations controlling the rights and bodies of people with uteruses, showing that the fight for abortion rights is tightly woven with the fight for representation in government.
Misinformation is the greatest enemy of those fighting for abortions rights. It is very rare that abortions are mentioned in schools, let alone taught about. They are surrounded by so much stigma that even those seeking to learn more must be discerning about the information they read. The idea that abortions lead to decreased fertility, that they are unsafe, or that they lead to cancer are part of common understanding but are massively untrue. Misunderstanding and lack of education about the effectiveness of other forms of contraception can also add to the stigma around abortions, as those seeking abortions are seen as ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’ for not considering other options.
There are many reasons a person might want to get an abortion, and they should be supported in this choice, not met with unwarranted fear and stigma. The control that the patriarchy maintains over bodies with uteruses is scary and should be at the forefront of feminist thought. Access to safe abortion shouldn’t be a privilege.