Do we have rights to our own bodies yet?!

Well… do we?!

For the last five years, I’ve been active in SheDecides — a movement that is also a battlecry. And also a no-brainer. Why should she not decide what happens to her own body and her own life?!

But the reality is that we live in a world where — most of the time — she does not get to decide. All around the world, when I say “he decides,” people say “yes, that is the way it is.” But when I say “she decides,” I am presented with a long list of objections on why that is just.not.possible.

But, it is possible. It has to be.

March 2 marks five years of SheDecides, five years of commitment, action, and progress for bodily autonomy. Five years of fighting for her right to decide about her body and life.

The story of SheDecides is important. Especially because, five years later, she still doesn’t get to decide.

This SheDecides Day is a moment of celebration of all we have achieved — individually and collectively — to push for progress on bodily autonomy. And, it’s a commitment to work together to tackle the challenges ahead.

But… (why is there always a “but”?!) conservative tides are gaining momentum, further restricting rights and rolling back hard-won progress on sexual and reproductive rights. And, the pandemic’s gendered impact and reallocation of vital funding have drastically changed the landscape for activism and political action for bodily autonomy.

First, let’s talk about some good stuff. On February 21, Colombia decriminalized abortion. That makes it the third Latin American country to do so. Mexico was won in September of 2021, and Argentina legalized the procedure in late 2020.

Abortion rights groups in Colombia are known as the Green Wave — the color of their pro-choice movement. I still have my green scarf, given to me by Colombian feminists.

In Latin America, the influence of the Catholic church is strong, further fueling hostility to abortion. But Argentina, Mexico, and now Colombia are giving the region new hope. Yes, perhaps there, she will decide.

Meanwhile, in the US, January 2022 marked the forty-ninth anniversary of Roe v. Wade — and, likely, the last year that its protections will remain standing. Here’s a refresher: In 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Norma McCorvey — aka “Jane Roe” — in her right to choose to have an abortion.

Today, the climate in the US is increasingly hostile to women’s rights — especially in her right to choose.

In September 2021, the radical abortion ban in Texas — Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8) — was implemented, banning abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy — before most even know that they’re pregnant. And, even when a pregnancy is a result of incest or rape. Yes.

And, even worse, there’s a handy “sue thy neighbor” clause that incentivizes anyone to sue strangers on suspicion of aiding an abortion. This is a whole new level of Handmaid’s Tale.

Texas isn’t the only crazy in the country. Mississippi is on its way. Arkansas. Too many others. And even in more liberal states, abortion is already unaffordable and out of reach for too many. 2021 was the worst year on record for abortion rights in the US.

Right now, if Roe v Wade is overturned, 26 states could ban abortion. That means more than 25 million women of reproductive age losing access to an abortion. Losing access to basic health care. Losing their right to choose.

1 in 4 American women will have an abortion by age 45. The majority are already mothers. The majority — 75% — live near or below the poverty line. Being denied an abortion amplifies that poverty, as well as increases health problems — for mother and children.

Women — especially women of color — have less access to quality health care, less access to contraceptives, less access to safe jobs and education. In our possible post-Roe world, life will be much worse for poor and minority women.

President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — is not only the Black woman justice, she is a victory for reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), US federal legislation that will protect the right to access abortion, was blocked on February 28. This is an attack on women’s bodies, as Republican states continue to make it harder for women to access essential health care, also threatening healthcare providers who try to support women.

This isn’t up for debate. Owning our reproductive lives is a cornerstone for social and economic equality. And that means for everyone. There are literally hundreds of measures being put in place to make our rights nearly impossible — mandatory waiting periods and forced ultrasounds, biased counseling, multi-trip requirements, and lots of unwanted opinions on me, my body, my rights.

Bottom line: 23,000 women die of unsafe abortion each year. Tens of thousands more experience significant health complications. Legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer abortions — they increase unsafe abortions.

At the same time, the world is moving towards pro-choice measures. Since 2000, twenty-nine countries have changed their abortion laws. As of 2019, only six countries — El Salvador, Malta, the Vatican, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua — ban abortion entirely. But too many others make it way too complicated. Like the United States, further restricting women’s rights to choose.

And here we come upon another SheDecides Day on March 2. But she decides EVERY day. Yes, we have some stuff to celebrate, but also much more to do. Those who exercise their right to decide now say they are the “lucky ones”. Because they got to choose.

This cannot be about opinions. Or about “luck”. It is about rights. And rights are not up for debate.

Abortion is healthcare. And, who gets to decide about my health? ME. That’s who. And that’s all.

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Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!