On February 28, PAI is calling on people from across the world to join ‘a day of action’ on Twitter to speak out against President Trump’s Global Gag Rule. Ahead of this twitter chat and twitterstorm, we ask, can writers join this resistance, that has, for too long, being a subject of political back-and-forth?

Every year, over 21 million women experience unsafe abortions around the world. A majority of such unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, and risks are even higher in conflict-affected contexts. Unsafe abortion is also among the main causes of maternal mortality. President Trump’s re-introduction of the Global Gag Rule has stirred further debate and action on the already widely contested issue of abortion, and overall, on concerns around women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as women’s freedom of choice and empowerment.

Yet, as the massive women’s marches in Washington – that quickly spilled over across the world – demonstrate, there is a never before seen urgency in the protection of women’s rights to health, safety, and families. In fact, sexual and reproductive health and rights are not just a woman’s right, but also a human right.

What is at stake?

The Global Gag Rule was first announced in 1984, under the Reagan Administration, and has since been a subject of political back-and-forth between the changing democratic and republican administrations. In essence, the Global Gag Rule withholds US family planning funds from foreign organisations if they provide information, referrals, counselling and services on legal abortions. Yet, this time around, the Gag Rule is seen as having ‘massively expanded’, applying to US$9.5 billion in global health funding. Around 60 organisations in low and middle-income countries will be impacted, including organisations offering maternal health care.

Among the millions of women who will be most vulnerable are women in the developing world, victims of rape, teenage girls, women affected by HIV and AIDS, and lesbian and bisexual women. Without access to critical health services and counselling, women’s lives may be put at further risk, in light of unsafe and illegal abortions. Women may die or become disabled through unsafe abortions, which will have further impacts on families of these women, and communities as a whole.

Fiction as a form of resistance?

I had spent some time in the last few days gathering fiction and pieces of literature that centre on or delve into themes of abortion, family planning, or women’s sexual and reproductive rights. I have compiled more of a ‘to-read’ list of fiction, rather than a ‘have-read’ list.

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has seen a rise in sales in recent times. It centres on the repression of women under a theocratic dictatorship, and through Offred’s story, raises questions around control of women’s bodies and reproductive functions.

Writing on The Handmaid’s Tale, this NewStatesman article also draws comparison with Gina Correa’s, The Mother Machine, published in the same year. The piece presents a feminist analysis on the impact of reproductive technologies on women’s freedoms. Drawing on a powerful quote from the analysis –

“Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders – not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women”

– the article argues that such a viewpoint is valid even today, where there are ‘wombs on rent’ for meagre amounts of money – yet, money these women can only dream of earning – in surrogacy hostels.

Sadly, what such fiction and pieces of analysis remind us is that concerns around women’s body and reproductive functions have been bounced around too often and for too long in the political stage.

I am also gripped by Joyce Carol Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs that was published this year and couldn’t have been better timed. Described as a powerful and provocative novel, it tells the story of an ‘ardent Evangelical’, who, ‘acting out of God’s will’, assassinates an abortion provider, and portrays the lives of the families left behind, particularly, the lives of the daughters of the two families. Having yet to read the novel, I was drawn to this excerpt, that really does not hold back. Readers are taken directly to a scene outside the Women’s Centre, where the clientele are ‘pregnant girls and women who believed they did not wish to become mothers’. The ‘execution’ of the abortion doctor is graphic.

A reviewer of Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs comments that the book will provoke, anger, and enrage. Perhaps, this is what we need of fiction?

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