25 Aug My Body My Human Right: The Abortion Pill
A quarter century after women in France were first given access to it, the abortion drug known as RU-486 is finally going to be available in Canada. RU-486 is listed on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, where it is the only medicine ascribed with the caveat of “where permitted under national law and where culturally acceptable.”
After an unusually lengthy medical approval process, Canada approved the abortion pill in 2015. However, stock only became available early this year. The combination of Mifepristone and Misoprostol (the most common combination of the abortion pill) has now been approved in Canada, where women* in Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta and Quebec will have FREE access to this drug. Pharmacists will invoice the Canadian health ministry $337.25 (R 3526,11) which includes the packaging and dispensing fee.
How does the abortion pill work? Mifepristone, which is taken first, blocks the effects of the hormone progesterone, causing the lining of the uterus to break down. It is followed two days later by misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions. The effect is like an early miscarriage. Most countries which have legalised the abortion pill, allow for the pill to be taken for a pregnancy up to 9 weeks.
Making the pill freely available has numerous benefits, specifically providing women with more independence related to their reproductive health. It increases access to safe abortion practices and removes financial barriers especially for women in remote and rural areas. Although lagging in their legalisation of the drug, Canada has taken the stand to provide free access to the drug, which is an absolute game changer. They’ve recognised that it’s not just enough to provide access to this drug but to take into account that in some instances women cannot afford this drug. Britain also offers the pill for free, however only to those individuals covered under the National Health Scheme. At a private entity the pill will cost you around £546. Abortion has been legal in South Africa since 1997, when the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act came into effect. Although legal, many South African women struggle to afford these pills or to get access to them. In regard to the bigger picture however, our fellow African women aren’t us lucky as us South Africans.
In many African countries abortion, in any form, is deemed illegal, or only permitted to save a woman’s life.
|Abortion illegal in all circumstances or permitted only to save a woman’s life||Abortion legally permitted only to save a woman’s life or protect her physical health|
|Central African Rep||Cameroon|
|Dem. Rep. of Congo||Malawi|
In April this year, a United States Federal Bill was signed allowing states to withhold federal money from organisations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood. I’ve always found it easy to relate to the premise – my body my right, but this has not been the case for all women. Recently, there has been an increase of gender restrictive laws, specifically targeting women’s rights. A week ago, Texan lawmakers signed a bill banning all insurance coverage for abortion, requiring women to take out separate policies if they want the procedure covered—even in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormalities. This comes after the Texas Senate passed a version of this so-called “bathroom bill”. A shameful attack on the lives and dignity of transgender people, that would ban transgender men, women, and children from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
I can’t help but wonder why women are the ones that are unfairly targeted and burdened when it comes to the right to make a decision concerning their bodies. Thankfully, all is not lost for those women who live in countries were abortion is illegal. The website Women on Web (WOW) will refer you to a licenced practitioner who can provide you with the abortion pills you need, if:
- you live in a country where access to safe abortion is restricted
- you are less than 10 weeks pregnant
- you have no severe illnesses
This website asks you a set of 25 questions, which are then submitted to a medical practitioner. If there are no contradictions they will deliver the pills to you.
In October 2011, UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover stated: “Criminal laws penalising and restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of impermissible barriers to the realisation of women’s rights to health and must be eliminated. These laws infringe women’s dignity and autonomy by severely restricting decision-making by women in respect of their sexual and reproductive health”. UN experts released a new legal commentary, in March 2016, reiterating that the right to sexual and reproductive health is not only an integral part of the general right to health but fundamentally linked to the enjoyment of many other human rights.
Effectively, denying women access (which includes access to afford medicines) equates to the nonrecognition of their human right to health and this directly influences a women’s access to other fundamentally recognised human rights, including the right to individual autonomy, education, work and equality, as well as the rights to life, privacy and freedom from torture.
In the 21st Century, we cannot allow or stand for any form of violation of human rights, in particular women’s rights. The nonrecognition or restriction of women rights, equates to gross human rights violations. It is time that lawmakers realise that the only person suited to make a decision concerning their own body, it that person themselves.
*The author recognises that cis women are not the only individuals who get pregnant and that the abortion pill would be beneficial to any person who gets pregnant, such as trans women and other LGTBQI+ people.