International Women’s Day: The Long Road to the Universal Right to Choose


It was Christopher Hitchens, veteran journalist, author and fierce condemner of religion, who said, “there is only one cure to world poverty that has ever been found and ever will be, and it’s very simple, it’s called the empowerment of women.

He made this astonishingly obvious and brilliant remark in a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in 2009 about whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this statement is surely a contender for the single most profound and inspirational truth ever spoken.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s consider one of the world’s most controversial debates.

How can we possibly tackle world poverty, how can we possibly empower women, while at the same time advocate laws that forbid women from having control over their own bodies? Laws that, in the 21st century, can send women to prison and even condemn them to execution for the simple crime of taking control of their own bodies. How can abortion possibly be argued against? How dare democratic governments criminalise abortion while at the same time they claim to be democracies. The very definition of a democracy is a system in which power is vested in the people, and in which the human rights of all citizens are guaranteed. All citizens. And yet millions of women living in these so called democracies are told that, hey, you’re equal to men, yeah we men used to see you and your body as our property, and hey we recognise that we’re not really patriarchs any more and here, have a vote, but oh yeah, your body is now the property of the state, sorry.

How can any sane and educated human being advocate a law that prohibits another human being from controlling their own body? How does that even remotely resemble common sense let alone basic humanity?

The self-named “pro-life” movement, which, let’s not forget, also includes the majority of the world’s religions, demands this right to control a women’s body by first, claiming God says you’ll go to hell if you “kill” a microscopic collection of cells that has no ability to think or feel, and second, by using the inane argument that to abort a pregnancy is to commit murder. If we were to apply this ludicrous logic elsewhere then surely eating a full English breakfast is also murder? US comedian, author and philosopher George Carlin once said, “How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?

Frankly, if you’re going to claim that a microscopic collection of cells that has no ability to think or feel, and that doesn’t have any semblance of human consciousness, does actually constitute a human and therefore is protected by human rights, then surely every time a woman has a period you should be accusing her of murder and locking her up? Because they’re all potential humans too, right? Chance just decided that those eggs wouldn’t bump into any sperm on their way. Why would the egg the sperm missed not be given the same rights as the egg chance decreed the sperm didn’t miss? A foetus or embryo or prenatal mammal conceived by humans may genetically be a potential human but it is not yet a human in any other sense of the word until the moment it can survive outside the womb.

Regardless, the fundamental rights of the human must take precedence over the rights, if any, of the potential human.

Amazingly, and paradoxically for a nation that would go on to utterly obliterate the rights of its people, Russia was the first country to legalise abortion in 1919. Iceland followed in 1935, Sweden in 1938, and eventually the UK in 1967. The US did not see sense until 1973, with the infamous legal case of Roe vs Wade that began with Norma McCorvey, later given the alias Jane Roe, who tried and failed to gain an abortion four years earlier. In the US especially, the debate remains one of the most contentious political issues of the day, though why it should be a political issue at all is a mystery, with Republicans traditionally being “pro-life” and Democrats “pro-choice.”

But in many countries across South America, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (and, um… Ireland), women still do not have the right to choose. This alone should prove Hitchens right, that there is a definite correlation between the empowerment of women and the alleviation of poverty, and where women are still oppressed, poverty reigns supreme.

19th century American nurse and political activist Margaret Sanger said, “No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.” Italian journalist Italo Calvino said, “In abortion, the person who is massacred, physically and morally, is the woman.” American lawyer and activist Florynce Kennedy said, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” It’s a simple fact that 205 million pregnancies occur each year worldwide. Over a third are accidents and a fifth end in abortion. How many of those that do not are due to immoral laws, I wonder? And what effect does that have on the child?

The right to have an abortion should be on the UDHR. Yes, the entitlement for a woman to choose should be added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Frankly, how can it not be on there already?

Eleanor Roosevelt with the UDHR

Eleanor Roosevelt with the UDHR



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