If anyone thinks it is pointless to dedicate international weeks and days to this subject, they are wrong. Let us tell you why.
Women’s health is still being undermined in several circumstances, ranging from the opposition to the right to abortion to the refusal of selling the morning after pill, even here in the western world, in the 21st century.
In Italy, law no. 194, concerning the voluntary termination of pregnancy, was proclaimed on 22 May 1978, following years of heated debates and battles. Nonetheless, 42 years after the acknowledgment of such right, the debate is still very much alive. This is proven by the constant attacks on this law – and on the right it safeguards – fostered by pro-life movements and by politicians holding some of the Republic’s highest offices (such as League senator Simone Pillon), by the regularly-held Family Day events and by the novel Coronavirus emergency, which has further hindered access to pregnancy termination services for many women.
Indeed, COVID-19 has forced the healthcare system to reorganise its services, delaying the provision of some of them. Abortion should not be included among such services, for it cannot be postponed. Yet many women’s requests to access such service were rejected, especially in the most epidemic-ridden regions, where many hospital wards devised to provide voluntary pregnancy termination services were shut down and where the (few) anaesthetists who were not conscientious objectors were moved to intensive care units.
However, opposition to legal abortion is not the only case where women’s health is either under siege, not duly addressed or limited, in terms of self-determination. There are pharmacists who refuse to sell the morning-after pill – despite it no longer needs a prescription – and Italy is still one of the very few European countries where sex education in school is not mandatory (actually, it very seldom appears in the school curriculum).
But what if it were miscarriage, rather than voluntary termination of pregnancy? In this case too, women’s health takes the back seat. For example, in such cases it is not possible to go on maternity leave. “If there is no baby, there is no reason for maternity leave”, says the protagonist of the short film 19 Weeks, produced by Zoe Saldaña and released a few days ago, which shows us how our society recognises pain only if it is visible and tangible. The film surely offers food for thought when it comes to miscarriages, which are still taboo.
What we need is a Women’s Health Week, for it can help us shed light on an often overlooked issue, which fiercely comes into the spotlight only when crime news report a particularly disquieting case or when anti-abortion associations signal the alarm, trying to convince us that women’s health does not go with self-determination.