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Friday, August 12, 2022

When women’s bodies become not only the playgrounds of men but significantly their theatre of decision making

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By Njundu Drammeh

Interesting times in the USA.

Roe vs Wade decision overturned by the Supreme Court ( 6 to 3). In effect, the SC has ruled that the right to abortion is not a federal Constitutionally guaranteed right that women enjoy.

While the battle line has been drawn between the pro-life and pro-abortion, what the judgment has done is to leave women to the tender or cruel mercies of various States Legislatures, politicising women’s lives and the control they have or can have over such right.

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In the Gambia, the Women’s Act 2010 recognises women’s right to “medical abortion, where the continued pregnancy endangers the life of the mother or the life of the foetus” (s.30.1). Section 30(4) stipulates that “where the woman in question is unable to afford thr medical expenses involved, Government shall bear the cost of the medical services” ….. While this provision looks progressive on the face of it, the right to decide whether to have “medical abortion” or not is not determined by the women. It cannot be “carried out without the confirmation of the state of health of the woman in question by a registered medical practitioner who posseses the necessary expertise in the field (s.30.2).

Apparently in the Gambia, unless the conditions specified by S.30(1) of the Women’s Act 2010 are present, it could be criminal for a woman to seek abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or an incestuous relationship, or if she just doesn’t want to keep the pregnancy. Even with the provision, what if the “registered medical practitioner” with the requisite expertise refuses to perform the abortion based on his or her religious beliefs, a kind of “conscientious objector”?

The ruling of the USA Supreme Court on Roe vs Roe aside, few questions running through my head on abortion are: why can’t a woman have a right to decide whether or when to keep a pregnancy or not? Who benefits from an anti- abortion law? Men? (Certainly a woman of higher means can procure abortion at whatever financial cost. The victim would be the poorer woman, a victim of backstreet clinics). Why can’t abortion, in the instance of the Gambia, be extended to pregnancy which is the result of rape or incestuous relationship and the woman doesn’t want to keep the pregnancy?

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And hold your horses or rather don’t draw your daggers yet. I know Islam permits abortion in some special circumstances, especially when a pregnancy is or would be detrimental to the life of the woman or the foetus.

The issue though is about the lives of women and what choices they can have or make over their bodies. And who else should or can have that “agency” than the woman herself? In the USA, like in most countries around the world, the decision though, the constitutionality or otherwise of this right, is always in the hands of either a male dominated Legislature or Supreme Court.

Well…..My sparring partner argues that the question is not about “choice” but rather the sacredness and sanctity of life; that a foetus has the right to life. Sad part of it is that he favours the death penalty. We are still arguing on the question “when does life begin?”

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