In a nutshell, it means a woman has control over her own body when it comes to matters concerning reproduction. Even that phrase is not clear. What does control over her own body mean?
The World Health Organization has provided perhaps the best definition by stating: “Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”
What is really included?
For a woman to truly have reproductive freedom, she has to know what it means. The starting point, therefore, must be education. And it must commence before girls have the potential to be sexual beings, it must start young.
Next women should have access to quality reproductive healthcare. To enshrine an idea in theory but give it no practical back up is to create an idea, not a practicality.
The healthcare concerned should be able to provide women with safe contraception, morning-after pills and ongoing protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
It should also be able to provide legal and safe abortion. Without these women are not able to make free and informed reproductive choices.
Sterilization also comes into the equation. One the one hand a woman should be free from coerced sterilization. But should she want it, it should be available to her.
There is one other area which falls under the concept of reproductive freedom, FGM or Female Genital Mutilation. (For the purposes of this short article this will be put aside, but not condoned, not minimized and in no way recognized as acceptable.)
These freedoms simply don’t exist
The words used in the section above are careful. The above facets of reproductive freedom should be the right of all women. Usually, they are not. They are not enshrined in law, they are not protected and they are frequently under attack.
Even in countries where the last 40 years of women’s rights have marched forward, these fundamentals are under threat of repeal or redefinition.
The list of countries where abortion is illegal is long. Some counties will provide a caveat where abortion might be legal in some circumstances, but they are not a concession to reproductive freedom, rather an avoidance of an alternative ill. For example, the threat of the Zika virus has caused some countries to rethink the policy.
The fight for reproductive freedom
Amazing though it seems a western northern hemisphere country took the step to legalize abortion in 2018. This is 45 years later than women in the U.S. Canada got there in the 1960s four years earlier. The point of having the freedom is that a woman has the right to choose. Don’t we hold these truths to be self-evident?