Abortion and Women’s Rights

I believe that abortion is a woman’s right in Africa.  The decision should be up to the individual woman without any outside influences from society. (2003, Thomas) Lynn M. Thomas explains how “Social controversies for women in Africa are looming presenting a risk of death” because of the laws in the country which ban women from having abortions, in which the issue of reproductive rights in Africa is an important aspect of women’s rights and is one of the central issues in human rights debated in various regions in Africa.

The problem of reproductive rights is therefore linked to larger women’s rights issues in that sex and reproduction are often used as ways of oppressing women in various cultures.     Reproductive rights therefore refer to the issue of choice and the right for women to decide for themselves – particularly with regard to their bodies and the important aspects of pregnancy and childbirth.

One study on this issue states the problem in the following way. “The Right to choose is just one aspect of a much larger issue of reproductive rights – women’s right to control their own bodies and reproductive lives,” according to Smith. ( Smith, 2004)

The right to abortion should be an African woman’s choice and right .  Women‘s reproductive rights and human rights in general, is the right to have an abortion, if she chooses and it essentially is a women’s prerogative.  We will discuss the right of a women and why she must  choose for herself, as well as be legally available to get an abortion in Africa..

For too many years, women who live in Africa have been giving birth to children in which many of them could not afford.  Women were never asked if they wanted to give birth to the child and never given the choice if she wanted to remain pregnant.  It was always assumed that if she got pregnant, she would carry the child without ever considering the possibility of aborting the fetus. A women should also have the full legal right with regard to choosing to have an abortion or not and this right should not be predetermined by society for cultural reasons, but by the woman who will be responsible for carrying the fetus.

Very often the issue of abortion is treated as if it is a separate aspect and not related to the context of the more “acceptable” view of the legitimate rights of women.   Very few people question the right of the woman when it comes to the issue of abortion but the issue of abortion on the other hand carries with it negative associations and connotations and have become a very cultural issue.  However, abortion is an issue that should, of necessity, be viewed in the larger context of women’s rights because the woman is the primary caretaker of the child, if she chooses to give birth, she is the person who must decide if the child can be properly cared for.  In impoverished nations, such as Africa, it should be especially legal since the living conditions are so bad.

Reproductive rights, as the essential rights of women over their own bodies and sexuality, are not something separate from other issues relating to gender rights where the central arguments put forward in this regard, that it is the woman that must make this choice and not a society that is dominated by a cultural view on abortion. It is the woman who offers her body as a vessel necessary for the growth of the unborn child, not a nation’s, such as

Africa, who doesn’t offer assistance for the growth of the child and therefore he leaves the woman to be solely responsible for the development and care for the child.  Since women are the ones who carry babies for nine months, African officials shouldn’t have a right to deny the woman the freedom to make a conscious choice, therefore, they shouldn’t be able to judge the African woman’s decision or her views concerning abortion.

It should also be noted that the issue of reproductive rights for women is a complex and convoluted area of moral and ethical discourse.  However the central fact is that the history of reproductive rights is intimately linked to the history of women’s rights and cultural issues in general, which have become prominent in society.  To speak of reproductive rights is to ask if it is safe for a woman to give birth in a nation that is sometimes incapable of aiding in the growth of the child.  Reproductive rights are sometimes compromised because of a nation‘s views on the subject.

The issue is debated differently from traditional point of view since many Africans believe that it is always necessary to give birth without considering the harmful effects that the pregnancy may cause.  The African woman has to make the choice of if she will carry a child for nine months of her life or if he will be solely responsible for the child’s care, both emotionally and financially since African men have often in the past, denied that they were involved in the child’s development and they certainly have never had to make the choice of carrying a child to full term.

One of the central arguments in favor of the right to abortion for women is that in many societies women are subjected to horrendous oppression and discrimination in terms of sexual role and norms. (2003, WHO) One example that is often quoted is that of Africa.  Many women in African countries have no control over their sexual and reproductive rights.  If, for example a husband contracts HIV/AIDS, in some cultures the wife cannot refuse to have intercourse with him – even though this would endanger her personal health and infringe her sexual rights.  In effect many women in the world have no say or control over their bodies and sexuality. This relates to the issue of abortion in that the right to undergo an abortion is an extension of these reproductive and human rights that should be accepted as ubiquitous in all societies.

Another issue that is often quoted in defense of women’s abortion rights is that, a large number of poor and working-class women die when abortion is illegal. According to the World Health Organization, 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year. Abortion is every woman’s right. This aspect is also highlighted by the fact that the problem of deaths due to abortions usually occur among the poor, oppressed or disenfranchised women of the world.

This fact does not apply only to the less developed regions of the world according to (Rosenbaum, 2001) who says, “Women in Africa are at risk.” These cases are usually among the Black or Hipic populations. With the high poverty rate for African women , it is not unreasonable to believe that the abortion rate would be high among these races. Abortion is every woman’s right, and should be closely looked at more closely when it comes to abortions in countries who offer little or no help to the mother.

In many countries in the world abortion is forbidden and can result in prison terms for women.  It is often the case that reproductive rights are denied in countries which are usually poverty stricken and with poor human rights records. Approximately 25% of the world population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, which is quite common in Africa. These are the countries where abortion is most restricted according to the law. “In Africa, women still are not allowed to obtain an abortion,” says Stuart Rosenbaum. (2001,Rosenbaum)

It therefore follows that allowing women their reproductive rights and providing for legalized abortions could save suffering and lives in these counties. This rationale also applies to the high incidence of rape in many countries where abortion is illegal.  Many women suffer both physically and economically as a result of laws that do not provide for the right to abortion as a fundament human right.

While there is the ethical argument that the unborn fetus also has rights, this is an aspect that must be considered in terms of the rights of the mother as well.  It must be admitted that the issue of the rights of the unborn child presents intricate and complex problems, which involves many often confusing and convoluted definitions of what constitutes life.  A comprehensive study in this regard is The House of Atreus: Abortion as a Human Rights Issue is explained, (Bohan, 1999). The author tells us that “No society that truly believes in human rights can fail to recognize the right to life of the unborn. Human rights are, by definition, rights which inhere in one simply by virtue of being a human.”

Notwithstanding these arguments, the problem of abortion rights finds its proper context in the general view of cultural regards. Therefore the question of abortion rights should be seen in the context of social oppression and other forms of societal discrimination of women.  The traditional view of women is for the African woman to get pregnant, carry the baby for nine month and then to give birth without ever questioning the option of abortion.  These cultural values do not recognize the importance of women’s health and well-being, and they do not ever take into consideration that the woman may die during childbirth or that she may give birth to a child who is born into poverty conditions and may die from starvation or illness. The topic of abortion should be discussed in Africa and offered as an option to the woman who has the right to choose abortion if she sees that it is necessary.

The argument for abortion rights for women should be linked to the larger issues and related to aspects in society that are all interconnected.  As one study suggests, the legalization of abortion rights is closely linked to issues such as class, race and economic discrimination, especially in Africa. “Abortion should be legal in Africa… because statutory bans on abortion during the twentieth century were selectively or arbitrarily enforced in ways that intentionally discriminated against poor persons and persons of color,” according to (Graber, 1996) and those rights should be given to every woman in Africa, so she can make her individual decision of if she will be giving birth to her child or getting an abortion.

Graber,Mark. (1996) Rethinking Abortion, p. 6

Rosenbaum, Stuart E. (2001) Pro-Life Verses Pro Choice, The Ethics of                          Abortion, p. 173

Thomas, Lynn M. (2003) Politics of the Womb, University of California                                     Press, p. 17

World Health Organization, (2003) Technical and Policy Guidance for                            Health Systems, p.6


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