The American feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem dedicated her book ‘My Life on the Road’ to John Sharpe, a London doctor who in 1957, ten years before abortion was legal in England, took the risk of performing one on a 22-year-old girl on her way to India. That girl was Gloria Steinem. Before proceeding with the intervention, the doctor told him: “You have to promise me two things. First, that you will not give my name to anyone. Second, that you will do with your life what you want. In that dedication, many years later, the writer replied: “My dear Dr. Sharpe, I trust that you, aware as you were of the injustice of the laws, will not mind my saying this so long after his death: I have I did the best I could.”
Steinem’s was one of the testimonies that, between the 60s and 70s, served to break the stigma of abortion in the United States and favor a climate that led to a historic sentence that finally protected this right. Fifty years later, the tables are turned: the world’s leading power eliminates federal protection for abortion and leaves half of its population orphaned of a fundamental right. It does so against the majority of public opinion -approximately 70% of the US population is in favor of abortion-, also against all evidence: the United Nations Population Fund and the World Health Organization have made it very clear that restricting abortion does not reduce its use, but it does greatly increase the risks to women’s health and lives.
It also does so against the current that has made several countries with which it shares a continent legalize the right to abortion or take important steps in that direction. This is the case of Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, and surely soon, Chile. Abortion became a rallying cry that fueled some of the most powerful feminist protests in recent history. Its symbol, the green scarf, could already be seen in the hands of many American women during the marches that took place days after the Supreme Court’s draft was leaked in early May.
But if the right to abortion has been a binding claim for feminism, it is also for conservative movements and extreme right-wing forces. The protection of life is the excuse behind which all those who do not tolerate women having control over their bodies, their reproductive capacity and their sexuality hide behind. That of the uterus is an ideological, strategic battle, which simply seeks to subjugate half of the population. Only under this logic of submission, of considering women as second-class human beings, can it be understood that there are those who consider it acceptable to force a woman to gestate for nine months, to give birth, to raise children and assume the enormous consequences of all this even at the expense of his will.
It is a violent and despotic logic that seeks to strip women of the reins of their lives from something as essential as the ability to decide for themselves and for themselves. Under the discourse that accused feminism all these years of carrying out a kind of puritanical crusade, a reaction of great proportions was forged and, this yes, authentically puritanical. The US is now the spearhead of this strategy that is undoubtedly trying to spread to many other places, including Spain.
The Supreme Court’s decision gives strength to those who, over and over again, try to make us believe that a democracy is possible in which women are forced to be mothers and lack the most basic rights. It is also a good offensive against a movement, feminism, which has stood up to the system and has been able to articulate an international and massive protest against the state of affairs that these sectors want to maintain. When you have to dedicate energy and resources to fighting for the most basic, to prevent someone from having the ability to decide for you whether or not you will be a mother, it is more difficult to advance rights and build a vanguard.
The defense of life is the alibi to continue building a world in which they rule and where rights and freedoms are deeply restricted. The heartbeat that matters so much to them when it reverberates in the ultrasound machine is the one that they then ignore when the girls and boys are already born and need early care, education and quality public health, healthy menus, families that can pay the bills and a society that respects them, be as they are.
The same ones who deny contraception or sex-affective education, the same ones who are scandalized by the workshops in which condoms are talked about or masturbation for adolescents, fiercely defend the prohibition of abortion. It is a good time to remember that the US has maternal mortality rates similar to those of poor countries. It is also the only developed country that does not have paid maternity leave. It is not life that matters to them, it is their notion of life.
That doctor, John Sharpe, is long dead. But now there will be many, thousands, of women who are desperately looking for a John Sharpe who takes risks, who are looking for a way to travel thousands of kilometers, who take drugs obtained clandestinely, who pay for someone to put a wire in her vagina, those who bleed to death on a kitchen table, those who are unintentionally mothers, those who suffer, those who become impoverished. Those who live in fear and feel that their lives and their rights are worth much less.