SLICE OF LIFE: Whose body is it anyway?

I recently discovered a Facebook group called “I regret having children”. It’s a group where parents anonymously post about how they regret their (often unplanned) pregnancies and how much children have ruined their life. I had left the group absolutely certain that, at least for the next 10 years, I do not want to have children and began considering long term birth control like the Intrauterine Device (IUD). Yet, when I explained this, I was met with, “but how can you know? What if you meet someone in the next few years and they want kids?”

At the time I dismissed it, along with all the laughs I received from older people when I explained my stance. They gave me knowing winks, as if saying, “sure honey, wait a few years and then get back to me”, before asking what my hypothetical future husband would think. I then slowly began to realise how universal the attitude is.

The first realisation came when a family member described to me how she had gone to a government clinic for an IUD. She arrived only to be asked by a nurse what her future husband would think and got pressured into getting a Depo Provera injection because, according to the nurse, giving her an IUD would be a waste of government money as she would just come back to take it out in two to three years after she’d met a suitable husband.

The second came when in America, reproductive rights, which had seemed like a settled debate after Roe v Wade (1973), were thrust back into public discourse due to policy and legislative changes which threatens to roll back funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood. This has created a ripple effect felt by women in developing countries, where Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule has led to non-profit organisations which provide women with reproductive services being defunded. As a result, millions of women have nowhere else to turn for reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services.

And to drive the matter home, just two weeks ago, medical doctor and reproductive rights activist, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, was left visibly frustrated as an interviewer on Afrovoices derailed a discussion about abortion access into a debate about whether or not it was the duty of black African women to birth African populations comparable to India and China.

Earlier this year, I attended a talk held at Wits Junction about access to abortion titled Whose body is it anyway? In many ways, this question has become only more relevant in 2018. To whom do women’s bodies belong? To lawmakers in faraway countries who can cut off access to reproductive services with the stroke of a pen? To future armies and workforces who need someone to provide them with young, healthy bodies? To governments who can pressure women into taking potentially harmful hormonal birth control for the sake of being economical? Or to hypothetical husbands whose feelings must be accounted for in our present day medical decisions?

What these questions point to is the invasive policing of our bodies. The societal pressure we face to have children, combined with the increasing restrictions women the world over face on reproductive healthcare, has created a suffocating scenario in which we are beginning to lose control over our own bodies. As some women resort to desperate methods like backstreet abortions to cling to that control, others deal with the devastating consequences of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which, ironically, are often derided by the same people who oppose reproductive justice in the first place.

I believe it is impossible to envision women’s liberation without reproductive justice, because of the many ways that a lack of access to reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services directly harm the wellbeing of women. As we move into Women’s Month the central question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to reproductive issues, such access to abortions and contraceptives, should be “whose body is it anyway?”

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