Thursday, July 23, 2020

Conservatives and Motherhood

Around the world there is no shortage of conservatives who want women to bear as many babies as they physically can. They oppose contraception and are against safe, legal abortion. Motherhood is extolled.

You would think, given obsession with motherhood, thy would have campaigned to ensure childbirth is a safe and positive experience for women. Instead, they have paradoxically left such campaigns to the feminists and global health experts who they vehemently oppose.  Many have attacked the World Health Organization (WHO) - the global health body that is standing up for women's rights to timely, quality and respectful care in childbirth. Globally, "pro-life" and "pro-family" movements have been busy campaigning - not to protect the rights of pregnant women and new mothers. Their focus has been on limiting women's choices.

Many women have endured unacceptable dangers and mistreatment giving birth. The pandemic appears to have made this much worse. The United Nations warned that COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown disruptions could result in seven million unintended pregnancies in just six months. For a heartbreaking number of women, they have had no choice but to continue these pregnancies or seek unsafe abortions.

 Since March, women in at least 45 countries have faced childbirth experiences during the pandemic that defy international guidelines as well as national laws and policies. In countries around the world, women have been forcibly separated from newborns; required to give birth "alone" without support from partners or relatives; denied pain medication. At some hospitals, all women have been subjected to "mandatory" caesarean sections. Those who have arrived at maternity wards to give birth during the pandemic have faced other restrictions that top doctors and lawyers denounced as "unnecessary" and part of an "alarming pattern of women's health and rights being deprioritised". 

A week after the pandemic was declared, the WHO even issued specific guidance on childbirth during COVID-19 - insisting, among other things, that women giving birth be treated with respect and dignity; be allowed birth companions, and; be supported to breastfeed and have skin-to-skin contact with newborns. (Yes, the very same WHO that the "most pro-life president" Trump has sought to savagely defund.)

In the US, conservative states moved quickly to "ban" abortions by classifying them as non-essential services. Last week, the Supreme Court upheld Trump administration rules allowing employers to opt out of including birth control in an employee's health insurance plan.

By not using their power to make a difference for women in childbirth conservatives reveal how their interests actually lie elsewhere - in promoting and defending childbirth as "women's work", something that women must do in patriarchal societies, and that they should not "complain" about. This is bad news for women.

This pandemic should teach us we have more in common than we do not - and help  protect women's rights and lives.

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