Well, it's been a royally depressing few days for reproductive rights. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the previous decisions of six federal courts—not to mention its own precedent—when it declared that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (yeah, this act) didn't violate women's constitutional right to safe abortion and didn't endanger women's health. Why? Because Congress and President Bush say so, and who cares what doctors think and what the legislation actually says?
Say what you will, but I think it's pretty unbelievable that Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy (notice any similarities?) have enough power between the five of them to definitively decide what's best for me and the rest of America's entire female population. There may have been a number of issues at play in this case, but fundamentally, last Wednesday's decision was about one thing: the make-up of the Court, and how that's changed since it found an essentially identical law unconstitutional back in 2000. "Differently composed" is how Justice Ginsburg diplomatically put it in her righteous dissent (scroll down). "Five justices short of justice sandwich" is a little closer to the mark, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, as usual, all kinds of anti-abortion nonsense continued to happen at the state level, like for example the North Dakota legislature voting on Monday to make abortion a felony, provided the law isn't found unconstitutional. The trend is clear. According to the New York Times, we can expect even more state-level restrictions in the months and years to come—and no wonder, considering the Supreme Court has effectively unfurled the judicial equivalent of a banner reading "Bring it on, Roe haters!".
Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, 36 women have died from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes so far in 2007—a situation that has certainly not been helped by last year's ban on therapeutic abortion, which makes the procedure illegal even if a woman's life is in danger. There are 25 petitions challenging the law currently before Nicaragua's Supreme Court, but last week, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (a long-time equivocator on the abortion issue who threw his support behind the ban last year in a political calculation worthy of Mitt Romney) and Nicaraguan National Assembly President Santos René Núñez strongly confirmed their support for the ban via official reports submitted to the Supreme Court. The reports focused on the inviolability of the right to life, ignoring the fact that several women have already died since the ban became the law of the land, and that 19 Nicaraguan medical associations and countless women's organizations oppose it on the basis that it puts women's lives at grave risk.
Days after Ortega and Núñez submitted their reports, long-time Nicaraguan anti-abortion crusader Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo was back to calling abortion to save a woman's life a "moral crime." In an interview with the Latin American Catholic newswire ACI Prensa, he explained (translation mine):
The legalization of abortion only feeds the abortionist mentality. In countries where abortion has been legalized, it's been recognized that the law hasn't eliminated clandestine abortions—an outcome that advocates for legalization always claim will take place—but rather that liberal abortion laws increase the rate of illegal abortions.
I wonder where Obando y Bravo is getting his data—perhaps from the 109th Congress? He's certainly not getting it by looking at the experiences of countries like South Africa, where the Health Department declared last year that since abortion was legalized in 1997, deaths from unsafe abortion have gone down 91.1 percent.
At any rate, lies and misinformation from Catholic leaders on the abortion issue are nothing new, and I for one am relieved to see that Obando y Bravo has fully recovered from his brief moral struggle over the therapeutic abortion issue. I'm sure his change of heart had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that political BFF (Best Friend Forever!) Daniel Ortega, after months of silence, recently renewed his support for the therapeutic abortion ban. How could I even think such a thing?
Anyway, this all adds up to the sad reality that given the current political environment in Nicaragua, the likelihood of a Supreme Court overturn of the ban is looking slim at best. The Court is dominated by Sandinistas, after all, and Ortega—who runs the party, and doesn't tolerate dissent—has spoken. Sound familiar?
I bring all of this up in light of last week's SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) decision because I really do think that despite the differences in our circumstances (and believe me, Nicaraguan women are far more screwed than women in the United States right now, even given health disparities among American women), we as women—in the United States, in Nicaragua, and worldwide—are essentially in the same boat when it comes to our reproductive rights. All over the world, political battles are being played out on our bodies. All over the world, we are dying as a result of our ability to get pregnant, even though safe, affordable medical technology could all but eliminate those deaths. And all over the world, small groups of men get to make our reproductive decisions for us. So here's my takeaway from the whole stupid debacle that was last week: It's time for us to get serious about moving this issue out of the "controversy" pile and on to the "urgent test of our democracy" one. Not because "Roe" is being threatened, but because we're all at risk in a society that is so willing to subjugate our lives and our well-being to political concerns.