Reproductive Rights Abroad: Part Six in Our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for the sixth edition of our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable!

Today, we switch gears a bit, as I talk with a group of horror writers who are located outside of the United States to see how the overturning of Roe vs. Wade is affecting people abroad.

So with that, I will allow my five interviewees to take it away!

All of you are from countries other than America. Please tell us where you’re from and why you feel the overturning of Roe in the United States is everyone’s problem.

HS DILAZAK: Given the special relationship between the UK and the US, the overturning of Roe Vs Wade concerns me as I’m anxious about the impression this might create on our political landscape. There is already evidence of this happening with the current conservative government. We have an MP, Danny Kruger who has made some sensational comments in regards to whether women truly have full autonomy over their body as there is another body involved in the making of a child. With men like this in parliament, the overturning in one of the most powerful countries in the world will embolden their personal positions, and in a few years, we might also be looking to overturn our own abortion laws. It’s very troubling as it is considered by many here, a fundamental human right.

EVA ROSLIN: I’m from the Eastern coast of Canada, and the overturning of Roe in the United States is absolutely everyone’s problem. There’s a lot of helplessness here because many, many women and female-identifying folks are just as outraged about this ruling and this attack on bodily autonomy, and then seeing the subsequent response from the Democractic Party, but knowing that we cannot vote in midterm or other elections there, or do something more concrete. There have thankfully been some fundraising and other donation campaigns that are trying to make sure that folks donate to those organizations most in need, and that the funds are going to the right places because unfortunately, in this day and age, there are a lot of scammers who are getting cleverer about taking advantage of human goodwill.

One thing I want to speak out about is the Canadian sense of smugness that I have seen from past co-workers, online posters on social media, and in some newspaper headlines as well as news anchors–there is a troubling trend of “Phew, glad that’s not us! Oh, those silly Americans” that runs through Canada, and it makes me rage. I have wanted to scream at co-workers in the past because I wanted to say: this is ALL of us. This is not just some disparate separate thing that only affects one country. Yes, we all watch in horror at the mind-blowing rates of gun violence and protection of guns in the US from here, but we have our own problems.

The same radicalization particularly of white men that exists in the US and in other countries, as we saw with the Christchurch Massacre in New Zealand, is the continuing legacy of a problem that several Western nations try to ignore or stick their fingers in their ears and pretend is not there. We have had terrorist acts in Canada, including an attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014. We’ve had shootings at a Mosques, and a man who ran over a family of Muslim people in London, Ontario, in a hate crime. Earlier this winter, we had a “Freedom Convoy” radicalized by US politics and increasing divisions over covid safety policies and vaccines as well as other issues that became politicized who held the city of Ottawa hostage. It made me beyond ill. And it’s still there. The province of Alberta, on the west coast of Canada, is like Texas in many ways, and while that used to be just another reason for non-Canadians to make fun of us, the real issues that are going on are extremely distressing.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there and the illusion that many people outside of the US cling to like oh that’s a “them” problem and “it will never happen here” but we have since seen that is simply untrue. As many other people have more eloquently or perhaps more clearly pointed out, this is not just about women’s reproductive rights. It’s an assault by a cabal of probably some of the most privileged white judges on the planet, and painfully for Black communities, Clarence Thomas, who have collectively decided that they want to eradicate all hard-fought equality rights. This is an attack on LGBTQIA+ rights particularly targeting trans communities and children, which is beyond sickening and invasive. It’s targeting racialized peoples and exposing even more glaringly the lack of equality toward Black communities. It’s about an absolute lack of regard for any form of life that isn’t cis, hetero, white, male, essentially. And the guns. We cannot forget the guns… (tries not to scream)

PENNY JONES: Hi. I’m over in England, and there is huge shock over here at the overturning of Roe vs Wade. As well as our fears for both those who we count as friends and family over in the States, and those who are strangers to us; It is very concerning to see the insidious nature of religion infiltrating in to politics. I’m not naive and I have always been aware that politics is at best coerced, but to see the corruption of politics, and the resultant impact on policy and law, by funding and party donors being so blatantly celebrated by an ever-growing faction of the states should be a concern for everyone. As a white, middle class, western woman I have grown up with certain privileges, and had never particularly been concerned if I could obtain an abortion if I needed or chose to have one. I just accepted it as my right under the International Human Rights law. Control of abortions was something that happened to other people: to those in Iran after the revolution, to those who lived under Ceausescu’s dictatorship, to those who were too poor or too oppressed to be able to access the services that I took for granted. For me abortion control was history, it was fantasy, it was nothing more than a dystopian horror story. But the truth is, that those small insidious tendrils that made their way into American politics are already being seen here over in our own, and I only hope that these atrocities aren’t repeated once more.

ASTRID ADDAMS: Hello, I am from England in the UK. I feel that overturning Roe vs Wade is a step backwards for women’s rights as well as a step backwards for environmental and social conditions. Not just in America, but for the international community. America for large parts of the world, represents the West and has a reputation for being the best country in the world. The big American Dream. As a kid, I wanted to be American from watching The Mighty Ducks and other such kids film. A friend of mine who grew up in Thailand learnt American English and grew up loving Friends, hell they even used to have Friends themed cafe’s in England, they might still do for all I know. Weirder still were the Dairy Queens in Bangkok. I’m sure most people have their own examples of the American Dream popping up in the oddest places.

Now America, being such a big voice on the world stage has overturned a right people have fought for and which many people still don’t have access to in our unequal world is MASSIVE. Especially given the potential environmental and social implications for our planet. Abortion is such an emotive subject that people are still passionately against, now they have a great big dump of proof from a historic super power that they too, can manipulate people’s emotions and get abortion made illegal again in their own countries. To hell with the environmental impact of more people increasing the strain on a planet experiencing climate change. To hell with the reality of poverty and child poverty and all the disease, crime and everything else that comes with it. They see abortion as murder, yet care nothing for the babies born nor the people who die. Prices are increasing globally as I write this, fuel costs are increasing globally, in both the UK and US work does not guarantee a living wage and there is not enough housing. Adding more babies into the shit show will only make things worse.

Then there is the body autonomy issue, which opens up a whole new can of monstrous rights violations. Forcing fetuses to be carried and birthed should be seen with the same horror as forced sterilization or FGM. Who the hell is anyone, except a doctor, to tell someone what to do with their body? Worse still, what kind of person forces their beliefs and themselves on someone’s body then denies the consequences of their actions? Rapists and pro lifers to name but a few. What level of cruelty does it take to not only force someone to carry a pregnancy to term no matter the damage to the mother, her life or the eventual baby. But to force that baby on its mother or parents for the next 18 years? Or force the baby that grows into a kid and a young adult into the adoption or care system? Certainly the British state does a pretty crap job raising kids and I’ve read sources that suggest the US is no better. An abortion ban forces women to carry and give birth to babies no matter the cost to them, the fetus that becomes a baby and society because of a fantasy and cute emotive images of fetuses. Used to great effect to tug at our heart strings.

CAITLIN MARCEAU: I live in Montreal, which is a major city in Quebec, Canada. Our country has always been close to the United States, and I don’t just mean geographically. It’s not uncommon for ideologies and popular rhetoric—both good and bad—in the U.S. to slowly gain steam up north. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is a major problem for Americans and people around the world because it demonstrates that the anti-choice/forced-birth movement is gaining steam. It shows that the human rights of the many can be taken away because of the beliefs of the extreme few. It’s also a horrible reminder that the fight for bodily autonomy is never really over.

What’s the current status of abortion rights in your country? Even if it’s legal, is it often still difficult for pregnant people to access basic abortion care?

PENNY JONES: The basic rule in England (it’s the same in Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland) is that an abortion can be carried out before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions can still be carried out after the 24 week timescale in very limited circumstances – for example, if the mother’s life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.
An abortion however cannot just be carried out for no reason, and they are only permitted within the 24 week timescale if there is either:

A risk to the life of the pregnant woman.
Or it is done to prevent grave permanent injury to the pregnant woman’s physical or mental health.
Or there is a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.
Or there is a substantial risk that, if the child were born, he or she would “suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

Counselling is usually offered prior to an abortion, usually through crisis pregnancy centres, and although this is not supposed to be pro-life, there are numerous clinics springing up in the UK who state that they are a crisis pregnancy centre, but actually only offer a biased pro-life counselling service.

There is also very much an expectance from society on whether you will want or need an abortion; and often the response you may receive when announcing that you are pregnant, will often be affected by your age, class, relationship status, and whether you are deemed capable of raising a child. It would not be uncommon for someone who was say, 30 and married, to visit their doctor as a first step in the abortion process and for their GPs response of “Your pregnancy test was positive.” to be followed by a hearty “Congratulations!” rather than a more suited “Is this good or bad news for you?”

HS DILAZAK: I have never been in a position where I’ve needed an abortion, but we have an Abortion Act that was passed in 1967 which emphasises the well-being of the mother. For instance it states that an abortion is lawful if the continuation of the pregnancy involves greater risk to mental and physical health than if terminating the pregnancy. Also, according to the National Health Service (NHS) in England, Wales and Scotland, you would not have to wait more than 2 weeks for an appointment after seeing the doctor for an initial assessment; and will be able to have an abortion before 24 weeks from the NHS. The only exception to having an abortion after 24 weeks is if the mother’s life is at risk or if the child would be born with a severe disability. There is also the private option, but costs and methods used will vary. However, in the case of Northern Ireland, despite abortion being decriminalised in 2019, a lot of women still find it difficult accessing abortions due to the very strong Catholic and Protestant communities there, and there have been cases where they’ve flown over to England to access health services as the services in Northern Ireland could not meet the demands. There is also the point of Anti-abortionists protesting outside hospitals where women might be getting an abortion, causing intimidation that has, unfortunately, led to some clinics having to shut down. Northern Ireland has voted to pass a law that would prevent protests outside health clinics, but it might then interfere with the right to protest.

EVA ROSLIN: Before I go into the status in Canada, I want to mention that we’ve been very fortunate that the main abortion medication became available safely and in 2018, the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act. Our PM (Prime Minister) made statements assuring Canadians that he was disgusted by the Roe decision in the US and that his government would commit to making sure that Canadians continue to. Have safe access to basic abortion care. However, there is still a dangling sense of precarity of okay, we’re going to trust you on this PM, but please don’t go back on your word.

So in terms of the history, I was shocked to find out that there was a law in 1969 in which a bunch of cishet white dudes would get to decide if a woman ‘qualified’ for an abortion under the strictest terms. Abortion was only decriminalized in Canada in 1988, so women used to go to the US from Canada when they needed this and related procedures. In 90-91, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, went more in the direction of criminalization with Bill C-43 which would sentence doctors to jail if they performed abortions “where a woman’s health was not at risk.” Then there’s also the issue of getting procedures in hospitals vs. private clinics, which introduces the issue of affordability because one is covered by health care and the other is out of pocket.

I want to preface this next part of my response by acknowledging that as a white-passing woman of Middle Eastern heritage, I have experienced privilege in my daily life and continue to do so, and that this is not the case for many visible minorities in Canada and elsewhere. The veneer of safety that I and others grew up with has been pulled out from under so many of us like a rug. Black women in particular have been speaking out about these issues for years. In one of her many landmark texts, bell hooks was discussing and placing these issues in 1981 in ain’t I a woman, taken from the famous Sojourner Truth speech.

There is a very obnoxious and troubling trend of white women for the most part who only now are beginning to understand some of these inequalities and injustices but have been largely ignorant about issues because it hasn’t affected them. Forced sterilization against Black women as well as the abhorrent mistreatment of indigenous First Nations women in Canada in so many forms, which also includes forced sterilization among other unspeakable atrocities, is something I don’t have the words for. Stripping of bodily autonomy. Genital mutilation in some African nations that still takes place against girls… there needs to be more awareness of these issues, yes, but also more accountability toward taking meaningful actions to change these unacceptable things.

CAITLIN MARCEAU: In Canada, abortion is legal and offered freely through our government’s healthcare program (as well as being accessible through private clinics too). I can’t speak for how it works across the rest of the country, but in Quebec we’re able to locate abortion clinics using a government website that finds us services based on our location and how far we’re able to travel. For people less than fourteen weeks pregnant, services are readily available across the province, while people seeking an abortion after fourteen weeks generally need to go to specialized clinics for services (which aren’t as accessible outside of major cities or to people with limited access to transportation). Frustratingly, language can actually be one of the biggest barriers to abortion in Quebec, with important information and resources often being offered exclusively in French. With a push to reduce the use of English in governmental organizations, including health services, I imagine this language barrier will only become more of an obstacle in the next few years.

ASTRID ADDAMS: Abortion is legal in England for both socio-economic reasons and medical reasons. Abortion is legal and performed for any reason during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and afterwards for medical reasons such as the mother’s life being at risk. They are free of charge on the NHS (yes we are lucky enough to have a national affordable health service) but can also be provided in licenced clinics. No one has to know, not your partner or your family, even if you are under sixteen. The decision is yours alone and confidential and they are easy to access. Making an informed medical decision is a primary concern of our health service as is the mothers health. We also have access to over the counter contraceptives, free condoms from sexual health services and free easy access to medically prescribed and administered contraceptives. I mention this because I have heard that getting medical contraceptive support can be harder in the US, that has now chosen to make abortions harder as well.

What are your specific fears for the future of reproductive rights, both in America and in your own country?

PENNY JONES: I fear that actually for America (and following in their stead, England) this could just be a stepping stone to even stricter laws, and that the oppression of bodily autonomy will grow exponentially. Many of the “rational” arguments for the overturning of Wade are around the ease of access of contraception and sexual education, and that these preventative measures should be used, rather than what the pro-life people state is an over-dependence on abortion over prevention. However there are already factions who believe that contraception is still murder and that the chemical or physical expulsion of the egg is akin to abortion. I’m sure many who are reading this will say I am overreacting, that there is no way that contraception will be made illegal in the States, but even as little as five years ago I would have said the same about abortion.

EVA ROSLIN: In terms of Canada, I said some things above but I hope that we will not see a return to forced sterilizations that are swept under the rug, particularly against disabled women, indigenous women, or anyone deemed an “undesirable.”

For the US, my fears don’t end and I have to work very hard not to lose my mind when I think of my friends and family there. I think my fear is that with this overturning of Roe, are we going to see more of the things targeting equal rights in America contested and also overturned? Things like the Loving case which focuses on anti-miscegenation laws and targets interracial unions. Things like Plessy v Ferguson, and these decisions that drill down to the most essentialized markers of identity to strip away more fundamental human rights. When we look at the Reconstruction Era and how the beginnings of reparations were begging to take place–things like the 40 Acres and a Mule agreement, but then you had then-president Andrew Johnson look at that and say “What? Black people getting land and getting more equality and voting rights? Oh no, no. That’s much too equitable. I’m getting rid of that.”

The collective disenfranchisement that has affected racialized communities in the United States, or the history of Japanese internment camps–a direct progenitor to the Anti-Asian hate and violence we have seen a surge of since the pandemic. Grave injustices.

I’m thinking of Apartheid in South Africa and the system there that made it so that mothers could not walk with their mixed-race children on the street, but also from an archival theory standpoint, I want people to look up the work of Verne Harris. After Apartheid ended, the government in South Africa ordered all of the state and national archives to just basically burn and destroy all the records that had anything to do with the previous several decades. They wanted to pretend that there weren’t these mountains of evidence that showed how they carried out Apartheid and other injustices in the country, primarily against its Black residents. Harris fought back against this, at great risk to his own safety and life, and refused to destroy the records. Himself and another small team of archivists did everything they could to salvage these documents and evidence.

And then when I look at all that 45 did and try not to become ill at revelation after revelation without any sense of accountability or justice, and in terms of documents, reports about flushing things down the toilet or otherwise trying to dispose of … these are things in the public trust. Governments have an underlying set of accountability toward citizens, which includes the making available and being transparent of documents. So this wilful disregard of, but also understand that hey, archives = evidence that could sink him, has been something that continues to distress me.

I really, truly hope that people will be able to fight this Roe overturning and that there will be a restoration of safe access to abortion and related procedures. Many women and female-identifying folks online have spoken about how it’s still so frustrating that people who abortion issues have not affected have an extremely limited view of its importance. They think primarily of one or two scenarios, and call it a day. I hope more people will try to make a concerted effort to understand there are so many complex reasons why these procedures are life-saving and necessary.

ASTRID ADDAMS: My own fear is that reproductive rights in both the US and England as well as world wide might go backwards. That the NHS will stop funding abortions, then what next? Will women’s rights to contraception go backwards? What will happen to unwanted pregnancies and the children coming from them? Parts of the UK are forced to use food banks, the US has food stamps because people cannot afford to eat on their incomes. How does adding more people into the mix not make our social problems worse?

But what I really fear, the dread that haunts me, is that history will repeat itself and avoidable suffering will be inflicted upon people. England has a rich history of suffering connected to being unable to control legally, safely and reliably when babies are born. My fear is, that we may well see the return of baby farms and actual baby murder/neglect, as well an increase in poverty and illegal abortions threatening the lives and health of women. I fear that mothers will die being forced to carry unviable and risky pregnancies. This happened in Ireland a few years back in 2012, far too recently for comfort. A dentist was refused a medically necessary termination for religious reasons and both the woman and her fetus died. This happened shamefully recently, when scientific knowledge should be put before religious beliefs. My fear is that this religious stupidity is part of the trend that has led to the overturning of Roe and could spread further like a cancer.

CAITLIN MARCEAU: Like many people, I’m worried about the influence conservative extremists have over legislature and basic human rights. An individual’s beliefs shouldn’t be able to dictate another person’s bodily autonomy, but Roe v. Wade being overturned shows the world that it can. For the last little while, we’ve watched massive groups of people deny basic science and critical thinking in service of furthering their own agendas, and I can’t help but worry that this is the first step in having abortion rights and bodily autonomy challenged on a global scale.

What are activists currently doing in your country to protect the right to abortion?

PENNY JONES: In response to the overturning of Roe vs Wade there have been numerous protests in solidarity with those over in America, however there have been far fewer in relation to our own abortion rights, mainly, I think, because in England the official response is outrage at the overturning of America’s abortion rights; so currently there is little concern for our own and our outrage is directed towards supporting those in the States.

However, there have been an increase across the country of pro-life protests, and what used to be a small minority focused around known abortion clinics is now growing. The protests are now occurring more and more often and the protestors are becoming more vocal and emboldened, not only are these protests centred around abortion clinics now, but there are ever increasing incidences of them in other public spaces. Where these protestors are trying to build support for their cause.

HS DILAZAK: There have been pro-choice protests led by the group Abortion Rights going on outside the American embassy in solidarity with women across the Atlantic. There have also been protests in other parts of London and Edinburgh, and some government officials like Nicola Sturgeon have come out to publicly condemn the overturning, stating also, that it is a dangerous move as it will embolden other countries across the world to follow suit.

EVA ROSLIN: So, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) is a pro-choice group that are committed to fighting for equal and fair access to abortion rights. They have been active in trying to work with groups in the US in ensuring that if anyone in one of the states that has lost their access to this care can receive it if they arrange to come to a clinic in Canada. There are multiple people who have spoken out and said they will help anyone who needs this care. It is heartening to see a rallying around this issue and solidarity.

However, there are very strong anti-abortion groups in the nation, many of whom give talks at schools and spread vile misinformation to young girls and female-identifying folks about the ‘dangers’ of the Pill and who weaponize religion as a way of making people afraid, and not knowing their rights. There are mailouts from religious organizations that demand funding in order to further their horrendous agendas and use rhetoric about “well, if you were a true Christian, you would do this, otherwise you are going to Hell!” I truly hope that more organizations will step forward and work together and fight this.

ASTRID ADDAMS: I must admit, I was the most nervous about answering this question. Simply because I didn’t know what activists would be doing in England to protect our rights to an abortion. I mean, we have that right and we do not seem to suffer the same intense fanatical pro life movement that has cursed the US for so long. At least that’s what I believed anyway, it was a shock to discover that here in England, women have been harassed whilst going to abortion providers. Luckily it seems that activists have been doing far more than had filtered through my self imposed partial news blackout (I find a lot of the news too depressing and avoid it, after all there are a million issues in the world, most of which you feel powerless to help with. Why spend your limited down time learning about what often feels like you can do nothing about? I’m sure lots of people limit their news intake for the same reasons.) There have been protests against the over turning of Roe Vs Wade here, there has also been the Back Off campaign, which campaigns to create buffer zones around abortion clinics where British women have been harassed by pro life campaigners. Also Abortion Rights pro choice national UK campaign campaigns for paid abortion leave and campaigns for abortion rights within the UK.

CAITLIN MARCEAU: Across the country, abortion activists are pushing for better education, access, and funding for services. Although abortion is covered through healthcare, activists are pushing to make transportation and access more equitable for individuals in remote locations. There’s also a strong push to educate the public on safe sex and pregnancy, as well as to help end the stigma surrounding abortion.

And finally, I want to share this devastating and affecting piece from author Theresa Derwin.

My corrupt body
Theresa Derwin
God, is it only Monday?

It feels as though I’ve already lived a thousand lives this week.
I’m tired.
Incredibly worn out by the Dystopian world I find myself in?
Or would that be Dickensian? The lines are so blurred now.
But I’m one of the lucky ones.
I never wanted children.
It just wasn’t for me.
And I live in England, not an autocratic faux-democracy called the United States of America.
If these states are united, surely everyone is content. Everyone is equal.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
My womb was too corrupt to carry and bring children to term, riddled with endometriosis; a disease that medical men denied exhausted.
For three years back in 2007 on onwards, I was treated by a female gynaecologist.
She did everything she could to help me, including a very horrible session of laser treatment, I like to call “a scrape and polish”.
As always, humour helped me to cope.
My hysterectomy – the last resort – was booked in for April on 2009 I think; it’s all a bit hazy.
My pre-appointment was accidentally booked in on the February before with the male gynaecologist.
Screaming in agony, depressed beyond words, my body shook as he decided to instead trial me on another tablet for six months.
Children are sacred –
He said
I needed time to think about it
He said
I should just try one more thing. You know, in case I wanted children.
He said.

“Where’s Mrs …..,” I said, asking for my gynaecologist.
“At Heartless Hospital, she can’t do anything else.”
His secretary came in to escort me out to a private room whilst I bawled.

But I’m one of the lucky ones.
“I want a second opinion,” I said.
I took away his choice, just as he tried to take mine.

One phone call and my hysterectomy date was confirmed.

It was removed, with severe complications.
All of my organs including bowels, bladder, womb, falopian tubes were engulfed in endometriosis.
That was what she told me.
“Doubtful you’d have ever carried to term. I’m very sorry. There are indications …”
“It’s okay.”

And it was, for me.
I fought, I spoke out.

Now I speak out for my sister’s, brothers, trans friends, non-binary friends – these ‘others’ not recognised by many.

I speak out for you all.

Fuck this shit.
We fight and we will win.

Tremendous thanks to this week’s incredible interviewees and our featured poet!

Happy reading, and happy fighting back against fascism!