In a Sensemaker special, feminist and best-selling writer Caroline Criado Perez explains how limiting abortion rights harms women.
“…joining him to talk to us also is author and activist, Caroline Criado Perez. Her book, Invisible Women, argues that in general a data bias means that women are ignored in the world of research.”CNN
I’ve spent well over a decade campaigning for women’s rights.
My most recent book, Invisible Women, was about the gender data gap, and how the vast majority of data we collect – everything from medical data, to economic data, to urban planning data – has been collected mainly in men.
And this means that pretty much everything in the world, from the car you drive to the medical treatment you receive, has been designed for men.
I do this work because I believe in women’s rights. I want us to be as safe and as healthy, as men are. And I want us to have control over our choices, our lives and our bodies.
So in my Tortoise podcast, Visible Women, I’ve been looking for solutions to these problems
Last month women around the world were devastated by some news that came out of the United States.
“50 years of a legally enshrined right to abortion has been brought to an end after the Supreme Court decided to overturn its landmark ruling made in 1973. It means that tens of millions of women across the US do not have their right to an abortion guaranteed by the constitution.”BBC News
Let’s be clear here: this decision will not result in fewer abortions.
In fact, data shows that, over an 8-year period, abortions declined by 43 per cent in coutries with generally legal abortion. In countries with severe restrictions on abortion, rates actually went up – by 12 per cent.
What abortion bans do undeniably result in are maternal mortality and female incarceration.
“We are one of the world’s wealthiest countries, but the reality is the US maternal mortality stats are egregious and have been increasing rather than decreasing over the past 30 years, which tells us this has become a systemic issue and it’s something we’re not paying enough attention toward.”CNN
The US already has the worst maternal mortality rate of any developed country. And this decision will undeniably kill even more American women.
“The reality is we are now entering into a public health crisis and we’re going to need our elected leaders at all levels of the government to do everything possible to address it.”NBC News
Calling this a public health crisis isn’t an overstatement, and it’s not alarmism.
The US will see an increase in maternal mortality, both from desperate women – and let’s not forget, children – who will seek unsafe abortions when legal ones are not available.
The same will be true for women who develop complications in their pregnancy but can’t access the healthcare they need because anti-abortion laws mean doctors won’t treat them.
This is now the future facing women in America and any pregnant woman who happens to be visiting America if something goes wrong with her pregnancy.
And again, this is not an exaggeration. This literally just happened to an American woman called Andrea Prudente while she was on holiday in Malta. Here she is talking to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4.
Andrea Prudente: “And the doctors in Malta, weren’t going to protect me.”
Emma Barnett: “Because it’s not legal for them to do so, with the way that their laws are regarding abortion.”
Andrea Prudente: “So long as there was a foetal heartbeat, they wouldn’t intervene. It didn’t matter that the baby could never survive, or that there was.. that it wasn’t viable..”Andrea Prudente speaking to Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
In her 16th week of pregnancy Andrea was told her baby had a “zero chance of survival” after she was admitted to hospital with severe bleeding.
She was eventually treated in Spain, although the journey there could have killed her.
“This was a wanted pregnancy. We planned for it. So there was that, but that kind of got, you know, all jumbled up with this sort of what felt like a fight for survival.”Andrea Prudente speaking to Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
This was a woman who wanted her baby. But her baby was going to die.
And she needed treatment if she wasn’t going to die too – which is what happened to Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.
“Savita was admitted to Ireland’s Galway’s University Hospital suffering back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant, was miscarrying, and told she’d lose her baby. Seven days later, she was dead.”CNN
Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old when she died. Her baby was never born.
“Jacqueline says she miscarried, but the state says it was an abortion. In El Salvador, that’s illegal. Since 1998, over 140 women have been incarcerated. Many say they were wrongfully convicted.”CBS News
This is the other inevitable consequence of abortion bans – female incarceration. This includes jail time for miscarriages – women who have suffered a horrific loss, and then get imprisoned for years for something over which they had no control.
Again, this is not scare-mongering. This is simply what happens. In fact, it’s already happening in the US, where there’s been a six-fold increase in women being imprisoned for miscarriages since 2006.
This problem is only going to get worse following the Supreme Court decision. As someone who has experienced the pain and the trauma of a miscarriage, this horrifies me.
The thought that on top of the grief and the fear I’m already experiencing, I would have to worry about explaining myself to the state, who might lock me up if they were unsatisfied with my answers? It is barbaric.
And… there’s a desperate irony at the heart of all this.
“Okay, this is pop quiz time. What percentage of working women in America do you think have no access to paid maternity leave? 88%.”
“88% of mothers will not get one minute of paid leave after they have a baby.”Jessica Shortall, TED Talks
In addition to its shameful maternal mortality rate, the US is one of only six countries in the world without national paid leave. Access to childcare is practically non-existent.
So, here’s my message for anyone in America who has congratulated themselves for any part they played in this Supreme Court judgement: come back to us when you’ve got serious about supporting the children who already exist in this world, and the women who care for them.
Until then, don’t you dare call yourself pro life.
The right to make medical decisions about your own body is a fundamental human right now – and it’s one that has just been taken away from American women.
The overturning of Roe v Wade is a sobering reminder to women everywhere that we can never be complacent. Our hard-won rights are fragile and we must never take them for granted.
Today’s story was written by me, Caroline Criado Perez, and Patricia Clarke. It was mixed by Ella Hill.