Abortion is in focus around the world
America's culture war, China's birth rate and a global women's anthology
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The Big Story:
Abortion, an emotive issue, is in focus around the world.
The issue was on the ballot – explicitly or implicitly – in this week’s elections in several US states.
President Emmanuel Macron has promised to make France the first country in the world to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right.
Last month, India’s highest court rejected a woman’s plea to abort a 26-week foetus because of her physical and psychological health.
Pop star Britney Spears’ brand new book, The Woman in Me, reveals an abortion she did not want while dating the singer Justin Timberlake.
Roughly 73 million abortions occur worldwide every year. But statistics can’t really tell the full story. The global trend is toward the liberalisation of abortion laws.
More than 60 countries have liberalized their abortion laws in the past few decades, says the US advocacy group Centre for Reproductive Rights. These include Mexico, Benin, Thailand, South Korea, Argentina, New Zealand and Ireland. Only five countries – the United States, Honduras, Poland, Nicaragua, El Salvador – have restricted abortion rights since the late 1990s.
The most unsafe abortions are in countries with “highly restrictive” laws, according to the medical journal Lancet.
In 1920, Soviet Russia became the first country to legalise abortion.
Abortion is a deeply contested issue. Some say it is a human right and a matter that should only concern individual conscience. Others believe it is a crime against the unborn child’s right to life.
Birth rates can be a political football with the right to abort a child seen as an existential threat in many countries. As American literature professor Sarah Churchwell explains, the far-right “great replacement theory” alleges a global conspiracy to replace white people with those of colour.
Last year, the Russian government revived Stalin-era ‘Mother Heroine’ awards for women who have more than 10 children. Poland, Hungary, Japan and China are all trying to encourage more babies and fewer abortions.
This Week, Those Books:
A novel that delves deeply into one of America’s most hot-button issues.
A global anthology on women’s moral, psychological and physical courage.
An inside look at China’s 40-year, state-directed birth control programme.
By: Jennifer Haigh
This could be called the great American novel about motherhood. It’s set in Boston, “the most Catholic city in America”, in the words of 45-year-old childless protagonist Claudia Birch. There are ‘pro-lifers’, which is to say anti-abortion protestors outside the women’s clinic where Claudia works as a counsellor. And there is Victor, a white supremacist who is angry that white women are allowing themselves to be “outbred” by their brown- and black-skinned sisters. Then there are the patients – some underage, poor, abused or drug addicts. Their lives, Claudia explains, are like a burning building with a fire on every floor. Which fire do you put out first? A compelling story from the frontlines of America’s culture war.
“‘Look,’ Phil said, ‘I’m on your side. You know I have no problem with abortion, assuming there’s a good reason.’
‘There’s always a reason,’ she said. ‘Define good.’”
Choice Words: Writers on Abortion
By Annie Finch
Publisher: Haymarket Books
This collection of poems, stories and essays came together over 20 years after poet Annie Finch had an abortion and turned to literature to understand her “initial sense of shock and loss”. With gems from Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, and the UK, it points out that in the West, abortion is considered a basic liberty but in India and elsewhere, women struggle to not have abortions – usually of female babies.
“When does life begin? All the time.
With every breath, things start over.”
– Cin Salach
“We were pregnant with memory for the rest of our lives.”
– Desiree Cooper
“I could see the (servant) girl lying on the floor, her blood spilled all around, people lamenting only that she had left a big mess behind.”
– Amy Tan
Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion
By: Nie Jing-Bao
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
A China-born bioethicist at New Zealand’s Dunedin School of Medicine examines the usual assumption that Chinese people are untroubled by ethical issues around abortion.
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