Abortion: A Subversive Answer to Patriarchy?

In this blog ASAP Coordinator, Dr. Suchitra Dalvie surfs the internet and books to answer the question, “So, how does patriarchy affect access to safe abortion ?

Let us, re-phrase that to understand the answer better ! How does abortion affect patriarchy ? As Joyce Arthur puts so elegantly in her article Abortion: The Ultimate Insult to Male Authority

“What it all comes down to is sexuality. We need to have sex to have children. How we express ourselves sexually, or more accurately, how we’re expected to express ourselves sexually, is closely tied to our cultural notions about procreation and motherhood – which in turn has everything to do with oppression against women.”

The origin of patriarchy can be traced to the male need to establish paternity of their children, especially in a propertied society where ownership is heritable. In ancient human societies, the obvious and most practical way for men to ensure that they invested only in their own children was to dictate and restrict women’s sexual behavior.

Throughout patriarchal history, society has guaranteed men’s paternity by controlling women’s reproductive capacity. Here’s a list of some common ways this happened, and still happens today in various countries:

  • mutilating girl’s genitals to reduce sexual desire and ability later in life.
  • imposing premarital virginity.
  • covering up women with veils and burkas so they won’t tempt men.
  • arranging marriages.
  • punishing female adultery harshly.
  • committing “honor killings” of women.
  • raping women to dishonor their families.
  • confining women in their houses and chaperoning them in public .
  • teaching abstinence-only education.
  • making abortion illegal and unsafe etc

In another article, Joyce says

“Anti-abortion laws are rooted in patriarchy and religious tradition. The following patriarchal myths are the root cause of all abortion restrictions, and form the basis of the anti-abortion viewpoint.”

The main anti-abortion goal is not to “save babies,” it’s to keep women in their traditional roles.

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  • Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling
  • All women should be (and want to be) mothers.
  • Women should endure the discomfort and pain of pregnancy and childbirth as their natural duty.
  • Women should sacrifice themselves to raise kids.
  • Women who have abortions are “bad” or “victims.”
  • Women who have abortions suffer psychologically (at least they should).
  • Women are irresponsible or too emotional, and need direction and guidance
  • To “protect” women, we must restrict abortion.

Sadly, as Chine writes on her blog

“ The problem with patriarchy is that it’s like beach sand; it gets in everywhere – particularly in the unexamined crevices of the mind. Even the most dedicated feminists can find themselves dancing to the patriarchal tune without even realizing their feet are moving.”

We would like to be optimistic and we believe that knowledge is power! Being aware of the web that patriarchy weaves around us, will help us recognize it, name it for what it is, avoid it, fight against it and finally dismantle it!

(2021)

About Suchitra Dalvie

Suchitra Dalvie is the Coordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and a Steering Committee Member for CommonHealth. She is a strong believer in women's rights to safe abortion and has worked in promoting the cause for over 10 years. She is also a practicing Gynecologist.
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