The Misleading Use of "pro-life"
How to Turn Women Against Their Own Rights
+September 29, 2019
The shift to the extreme right that the world is living in these past years carries multiple threats to the hardly- conquered women’s fundamental rights. One above all is abortion, a boiling topic currently all over the news due to the criminalization of the procedure in Alabama and the increasing support pro-life movements and demonstrations are gaining throughout those states where abortion is legal.
Before moving deeper into the issue, I think it is essential to think about the expression "pro-life" for a moment, probably one of the most ambiguous of our era as two lives (one of which is just potential: it depends on which side you are standing) are involved in the same termination of one pregnancy. Which one does it refer to? And who chooses which one it refers to, and therefore which one is more important than the other?
Most conservative laws are guided by all-men commissions, who will never need an abortion and whose right to decide in the place of women is highly questionable. Of course, determining someone else’s fate without their approval is a form of abuse, but a deceiving use of language can disguise submission as protection. Patriarchal rhetoric then turns an act of self-determination and self-affirmation into a private matter of shame and immorality not worthy of discussion nor engagement, oftentimes taking advantage of the mouldy discourse on maternal instinct. As a result, an upsetting number of women too firmly oppose legal pregnancy interruption.
What needs to be understood is that denying legal access to abortion does not mean preventing it; it just means preventing safe abortion. No matter what laws, politicians and society say: it will happen. What can be discussed is just the way in which it happens. Since the beginning of time women have been seeking to end pregnancy, not because they want it but because they need it. So, if they are desperate and cannot get a doctor to safely do it, they will find another way. The alternative is usually an unsafe place with dangerous and uncontrolled procedures that is just adding suffering to an already difficult decision.
Where abortion is not illegal in any case, it is oftentimes limited differently by law according to specific circumstances, for example if the woman’s life is in danger, if the pregnancy was caused by rape or if the foetus presents malformation. In some cases, as in Italy, where abortion is freely legal up to the 12th week and limited by exceptions up the 20th, the legislation allows medical professionals to refuse to carry out abortions on the basis of conscientious objection, usually related to their personal religious beliefs.
Even though pregnancy interruption has been explored poorly by artists if compared to other issues, or at least it has been hidden and kept out of the media because of its "private" and ‘shameful’ nature, art has helped shifting the mainstream narrative through the exploration of the lack of access and trauma. Coherently with the feminist tradition of advocating the personal as public, photographers are bringing stories of abortion to the surface. One of the most complete works on such controversial subject is Spanish artist Laia Abril’s first chapter of her project A History of Misogyny, On Abortion, a visual research undertaken through historical and contemporary comparisons. The photographs collected in her work journalistically retrace what is behind illegal procedures and the criminalization of "feticide" with images of women, tools and places, and demonstrates how the death of 47,000 women every year caused by botched abortion is not political nor gender-based, but a human right matter.
With feminists and feminist photographers forcing the question into public debate, women are acquiring awareness of their rights and the role they should have in decision-making, and are gathering in protest. 47,000 deaths is a number in open contrast, clearly incompatible with any meaning of "pro-life". If the concern about human lives is real, shouldn’t the concept be reconsidered?
Photos by Alejandra Fontecilla (@boondinga)