Throughout the past month the world has witnessed dozens of actresses reveal yet another powerful male executive to be sexual predator with harrowing accounts of harassment and assault. What sets Harvey Weinstein apart, however, is the uproar his crimes have created. In response to this all too familiar storyline women have been sharing their experiences of sexual assault with the hashtag #MeToo. The hashtag is aimed to portray the “magnitude” of sexual assault, and provide support for other victims to let them know they are not alone. While this is a comforting thought, one can’t help but wonder: how could anyone not be aware of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment? And why does this movement, like so much else, lack accountability? For far too long discussions about sexual violence have consisted of passive statements, without mention of the perpetrators. If we really do hope make progress on this issue we must begin holding someone accountable. We must begin holding men accountable.
An International Look into Abortion Laws
On January 21st of this year I stood in a crowd of pink hat-wearing women chanting “my body, my choice”. To many of us, this may seem obvious. People should have control over their own bodies. However in many countries this does not apply to women seeking abortions.
In some countries abortion is completely illegal, while other nations only allow it in “special cases”. I could talk about any place in which abortion is illegal, but there is one specific country that I’d like to discuss.
I am a first generation American citizen, as both of my parents were born and raised in the Republic of Ireland. I visit Ireland very often because a large portion of my family lives there. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it is not perfect. Ireland is a widely Catholic nation, and as a result its laws and policies reflect many of the beliefs held by the Catholic Church. This means that fighting for issues such as LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights can be an uphill battle.
When my parents were married, divorce was illegal, gay marriage was illegal, and abortion was illegal. Today, divorce and gay marriageGay marriage was legalized in the Republic of Ireland by a referendum in 2015. Northern Ireland still has not enacted equal marriage laws. have been legalized in Ireland, but abortion is still prohibited.
In the Republic of IrelandThe Republic of Ireland occupies the majority of the island of Ireland and has been independent of the United Kingdom since 1922 in 1983, the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution was passed. The amendment states that “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Essentially, this amendment states that the life of a woman is equal to the life of a fetus, meaning that abortion is illegal in all cases unless the life of the mother is at risk. This also means that in cases of rape or incest in which the mother’s life is not in danger, abortion is not an option.
In the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 it is further outlined that an abortion is possible if the life of the mother is at risk, including the risk of suicide. The difficulties with this Act are shown in a case from late 2016. It was reported that a pregnant teenage girl who requested a termination because she was suicidal was instead held involuntarily in a mental health unit, and was only released upon emergency application to the court.
Similar laws exist in Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom, which also includes England, Scotland, and Wales. Although the Abortion Act of 1967 legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland, Northern Ireland did not enact the law. Women seeking abortions in Northern Ireland often have to travel to England for the operation. This is such a common occurrence that English lawmakers have declared that Northern Irish women will have access to free abortion in England. If women in Northern Ireland attempt to procure a medical abortion (by taking pills) they are subject to prosecution. In one such case, which happened a little more than a year ago, a woman who bought pills to induce a termination received a suspended prison sentence.
Currently, there is a campaign in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment. The movement actually began in the 1990s, but grew quiet as time went on. Sadly, it was a tragedy that amplified the voices of Repeal the Eighth campaigners: the death of Savita Halappanavar in County Galway, Ireland.
Savita was an Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway and was told that she was miscarrying. Both she and her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, requested a termination, but they were told that this kind of operation could not be performed. According to Praveen, he and his wife argued that because they were Hindu, they were not against abortion. Unfortunately, the reproductive laws in Ireland meant that Savita could not have the termination that she requested. She suffered a septic miscarriage and died on October 28th, 2012.
This distressing story reignited the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. Five years after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, the Republic of Ireland is set to hold a referendum (an exact date has not yet been announced) on the issue of repealing the Eighth Amendment and making abortion available to all women.
The point of discussing global abortion and contraception laws is to gain an understanding of how the world views women and their bodies. The level of regulation of women’s bodies is overwhelming. Every year thousands of Irish and Northern Irish women must travel to England to have abortions. Even in the United States, where abortion has been legal nationwide since 1973, lawmakers find ways to restrict women’s access to contraception and abortion. Making women travel to gain access to something that should be a right is another form of oppression, and targets those without the financial abilities to do so. We all need to stand up and say that it is unacceptable. Access to safe, legal abortions as well as contraception and other reproductive services is a basic right that should be respected by everyone.
Savita was not allowed to have any control over what happened to her. So until lawmakers around the world hear us, we all need to chant: my body, my choice.
A Climate of Oppression: Environmental Injustice
As the daughter of an environmental lawyer and a person genuinely interested in the future of our climate I often participate in conversations at the dinner table and follow news articles about the effects of climate change on humans as well as on nature. However I imagine that people who are not as focused on environmental sustainability must have noticed the same pattern that I have. People of color and lower income people are disproportionately affected by climate change, and are more likely to suffer the consequences of emissions from the oil and coal industries.
The pattern of unbalanced effects of pollution can be traced back as far as the 19th century. In London during the 1830’s, human, animal and industrial waste piled up in the River Thames creating unimaginable stench and disease around the housing of the lower class. It was not until Queen Victoria's Husband, Prince Albert, died from typhoid fever attributed to the polluted river that the effort to clean the river began. Until the rich are affected, and those with social and political power speak up, nothing changes – both then and now.
This systematic classism oppresses those of color as well. A 2015 study found that 68% of African Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant, which translates to African American children being three times as likely to suffer from asthma attacks. In addition, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and destructive, and recovery acts display a disproportionate affect on those systematically oppressed by society. The devastating effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico has left 80% of the population without electricity and it is projected that it will take years for the island to recover. Instead of supporting the recovery process, Donald Trump has suggested reconsidering and even weakening efforts to aid Puerto Rico. There is an underlying message in the President’s flagrant response: Hispanic American citizens who live in Puerto Rico don’t deserve the same level of support as those affected by hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
The impacts of climate change are yet another extension of America’s systemic racism and classism. Unfortunately, climate change is no longer a national priority, but rather a means of dividing Americans; protecting the oil and gas industry at the expense of the rest of the world. While the largely white male leaders of the oil and coal industries accumulate more wealth, ultimately it will be those who don’t have the financial or social means to attain the help they deserve who will suffer the repercussions of climate change the most.