This essay illustrates the discriminative nature of women’s reproductive rights and how it contributes to inequality. Women are constantly denied their sexual and reproductive rights which hinders their access to essential reproductive health care. The demographic that is most affected by such discrimination is teenagers, poor women, those who engage in sex work, women with disabilities, those living with HIV, and those who use drugs. Violation of these rights is frequently embedded in social values and norms and is experienced in many forms.
However, in this essay, the elements of discussion are first, the issues surrounding abortions and why it is essential to guarantee access to safe abortion. Second is the involuntary sterilization of women with intellectual disabilities and how it’s significant to current practices on women’s reproductive choices. Lastly, it evaluates discrimination as a form of torture. Sexual and reproductive rights are a fundamental segment of a just society and all women should be entitled to this basic freedom.
Abortion is an integral part of the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Choosing whether and when to turn into a parent is one of the most private and significant choices an individual can make. For women, specifically, the capacity to control choices relating to their conceptive wellbeing implies they control their fate. Lawfully or not women continue to seek abortion when they have an unwanted pregnancy and it is too late for contraception. Approximately 50,000 women succumb to complications caused by unsafe abortions yearly around the world and a further 5,000,000 who survive, experience a disability (Gruskin). These figures show that abortion is still sought despite being restricted in many countries. According to Gruskin, unsafe abortion incidences among the vulnerable are high due to stigmatization and discrimination against those who lack information and the poor.
Luckily, there is a growing trend towards the progression of abortion laws with many countries making it legal and easily accessible. Policies around the world are changing to reduce the incidences of unwanted pregnancies. Contraceptives are now easily accessible and affordable in many parts of the world and sex education has been made a compulsory subject in schools.
Up to the mid-twentieth century, sterilization was still a lawful practice for women with intellectual disabilities. These women were perceived as asexual and unruly hence sterilization was used to stop menstruation and manage reproductive capacity and sexuality. According to Ladd-Taylor, ‘Sterilization policy was as much about preventing child-rearing by the so-called feeble-minded as it was about preventing childbearing’. In the US and the Nordic regions, it was argued that women were not fit for parenthood and indeed incapable of nurturing so sterilization would empower them to live outside mental establishments without the risk of pregnancy.
People with disabilities constantly experience prejudice when accessing medical services essentially because some people still perceive their lives to be of low quality and value (Wolfensberger et al.). Sexual and reproductive rights for women with disabilities are violated in many ways including a high prevalence of rape, limited access to quality reproductive care, and lack of consent over contraception. Currently, sterilization is still carried out under the guise of long-term contraception injections. This practice is commonly negotiated by their guardians or family members. Although medical practices have changed, basic inquiries regarding the rights for intellectually disabled women to partake in choices about their conceptive prospects remain.
Violations as Torture
Women face many violations of their sexual and reproductive rights which include female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence in schools and prisons, lack of access to safe abortions, and involuntary sterilization. More often, when accessing reproductive care, they encounter, negligent, abusive, and low-quality care. These violations inflict tremendous physical, emotional, and mental agony to the victims. Denying women their reproductive rights amounts to torture which is against international laws (Sifris). Recognizing some of these violations as torture has coerced governments and authorities to provide solutions, remedies, and stop future violations. Some of the significant changes include governments declaring FGM unlawful, restrictive abortion laws being lifted, and severe punishment for sexual offenders and medical personnel who infringe women’s rights during medical procedures.
Restrictive abortion laws that outlaw abortion even when it is necessary to save a life violate a woman’s rights to life, health, and freedom from torture. However, legalizing abortion is just the initial step. Women should also be empowered to claim their rights when seeking to terminate a pregnancy and making choices regarding contraception. All the information regarding the procedure should be made available to them and they should be granted comprehensive pre and post-abortion care when they make the decision. Safe abortion improves the overall health outcome for women.
Involuntary sterilization denies women agency over their bodies and their right to informed consent. Violation of women’s reproductive rights has tremendous effects on their physical and psychological health which adversely affect their lives. An open society is a guarantee of fairness. Reproductive rights for women imply having the option to control their reproduction choices regardless of the circumstances, personal preferences, age, or status. Without these rights, women will never fully experience what an open society implies. Authorities must respect, safeguard, and fulfill rights related to women’s sexual and reproductive health.
Gruskin, Sofia. “Safeguarding Abortion: A Matter of Reproductive Rights.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 103, no. 1, 2013, p. 4. PubMed Central. Web.
Ladd-Taylor, Molly. “The ‘Sociological Advantages’ of Sterilization: Fiscal Policies and Feeble-Minded Women in Interwar Minnesota.” Mental Retardation in America: A Historical Reader, edited by Steven Noll, James Trent, New York University Press, 2004, pp. 281-299. Web.
Sifris, Ronli. Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture. Routledge, 2013.
Wolfensberger, Wolf, et al. The Principle of Normalization in Human Services. Books: Wolfensberger Collection, 1972.