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Has the emergence of ‘right’ in international politics resulted in the increased attack on ‘abortion’ in Europe? Eminent scholar Elks observed that feminists in Europe are demanding free, safe and legal abortions for all, amid fears of clampdown from a resurgent right.

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IPRI # 128, 16 December 2020

Gender Peace and Conflict
From Poland to India: More attacks on abortion rights coincide with the emergence of right

  Pushpika Sapna Bara

In Europe, the trend to liberalise abortion is witnessing a shift.

Countries like Lithuania, Slovakia, Spain and Poland have seen proposals for near-total bans on abortion. Indirect measures have been taken to curtail abortion, like mandatory biased counselling and long waiting periods. While the state-religion nexus perpetuated through the rightward shift is associated with the increased attack on abortion, demography remains the determinant variable in this shifting trend. Consequently, in the past few years, the ‘right’ have re-emerged in the international politics. The surge in right wing nationalism in Europe, the election of Donald Trump in the US, re-election of Narendra Modi in India, the popular rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil and the continuing leadership of Putin and Netanyahu point towards a trend of strongmen politics with a right wing inclination in the international politics. Has the emergence of ‘right’ in international politics resulted in the increased attack on ‘abortion’ in Europe? Eminent scholar Elks observed that feminists in Europe are demanding free, safe and legal abortions for all, amid fears of clampdown from a resurgent right.

In Poland, protests have directly challenged the Catholic church

Poland is witnessing the largest protest since 1989 after the collapse of communism, against the recent bills on abortion. On 22 October, the constitutional tribunal stated that abortion due to foetal abnormalities was unconstitutional that has triggered the protests. However the ruling remains unread and hence unimplemented due to large scale protests. Abortion here was already restrictive. Doctors can refuse to perform abortion on religious grounds. Virtually, the only form of abortion performed here were in cases of foetal abnormalities. Hence, curtailing it implies a near total ban.

Women in Poland has challenged the Catholic church. A few women have even entered the church dressed as the protagonist of the Handmaid’s Tale, a celebrated dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. This was the first time the Catholic church, in a staunchly Catholic country was challenged. The Catholics view women solely as mothers and wives, who are tasked to bear and rear children. There exists a strong nexus between the government and the church. The Prime Minister was quoted stating, “defend Poland, defend patriotism and defend Polish churches,” in the aftermath of protests.

Data reveal that the rate of population growth in Poland is negative. It was -0.10 per cent in 2005 and by 2020 it became -0.11 per cent. Historically, it has been observed that demographic needs like negative population growth compels governments to curtail abortion rights, as had happened in the USSR.

In Russia, from ‘abortion on request’ it is curtailing abortion

In Russia, abortion has been a heated topic of debate since 2016. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, religion has played a dominant role in Russia. The orthodox Christians are the dominant religious community. Due to the strengthening state-religion nexus that was perpetuating patriarchy, the activists of the ‘Pussy Revolution’ had challenged the Church.

Soviet Union was the first nation to legalize abortion on request, as early as 1920s. However, it criminalized it and decriminalized it according to its demographic interests. The population density of Russia has always been low. From 2000 to 2010 the growth rate of population was negative. In 2005, it was -0.38 per cent and in 2020 it is 0.04 per cent. Rotman, in Foreign Policy, reported that ‘the Russian President was worried about the shrinking population.’ Putin had stated, “Demography is a vital issue. Either we’ll continue to exist, or we won’t.” Her findings reveal that ‘Pro-life’ group were ‘devout members of the influential Russian orthodox Church.’

In Slovakia, similar fear looms large amid fluctuating population growth

During the election campaigns in Slovakia, Stoksala (please mention directly what Stoksala is) reports, ‘the conservatives were looking to tighten abortion laws’. There is a total absence of progressive left wing movement in Slovakia. The recent attack on abortion has resulted in an increasing fear of total ban. Similarly, the rate of population growth in Slovakia is fluctuating. In 2005 the population growth rate was 0.09 per cent, in 2010 it was 0.00 per cent, in 2017 it was 0.11 per cent and in 2020 it is 0.5 per cent. This demographic concern is a prominent reason behind the attempt to curtail abortion laws.

In the US, attack on abortion laws have coincided with Trump’s presidency

In America we see how abortion laws were an agenda during Trump’s electoral campaign four years back. Abortion rights have been attacked during Trump’s presidency. During this pandemic, abortion facilities in many American states are suspended on the grounds that these are non-essential facilities during crisis. It is significant to note that Christianity is the dominant religion in the several states in the US and a large portion of Trump’s voters consist of staunch Christian believers. The New York Times, reported that America had been witnessing the slowest rate of population growth since 1919, in the recent years.

In India, it is an anomaly

India too witnessed a rightward shift in politics. However, there has been no attack on abortion rights. In fact the MTP Act of 1971 was amended in 2020 with the claimed aim to liberalize it. Nonetheless, the changes made were not sufficient. Unlike the countries in the Europe and the US, the dominant religion in India has been Hinduism which does not categorically state that ‘abortion is killing and therefore a sin’, like Christianity. According to the Census Bureau data in 2020, India is the second most populous country. The population growth rate is also high. Hence, curtailing abortion rights is against its demographic interests.

Religion-State nexus, demographic interest are prime reasons behind attack

The European countries are tilting towards right wing politics. The same phenomena can be observed in the US, South America and South Asian countries like India. Attack on abortion rights have increased with the emergence of the right wing. Religion and demographic interests are important factors contributing to the curtailment of the abortion laws. The case of India makes it evident that emergence/re-emergence of right wing is not the sole variable behind curtailing abortion rights. While the state (right wing)-religion nexus makes the process more convenient, demographic interests is also an important determinant variable.

A way forward would be more women leaders at the grassroot

Regime change from right to left, progressive or liberal politics is required to break the state-religion nexus. Larger participation of women in international politics is essential to voice issues pertaining to women and to curtail anti-women laws and policies. The process of abortion at local levels should be eased. More female representation at local levels is required. Hence, it is important to push for policy level changes like reservation for women in legislatures and other local level bodies. There is an urgent need to focus on education, especially women’s education. ‘Gender’ should be included as a compulsory topic in the education system.


Pushpika Sapna Bara is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is currently working on the politics of abortion and the sexual and reproductive health of women. She has worked on the issues pertaining to the adivasi women of India as well. Her research areas include international politics and gender. She has worked with the National Alliance of Women and is currently associated with Indigenous Women of India Network. She is also the editor of  ‘Feminism from the Margins’ section at DeCenter Magazine.

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February 2020 | IPRI # 32
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Seven Days of Peace in Afghanistan, Violence in Delhi, Setback to Peace Talks on Libya and the Ceasefire in Gaza

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Conflict Weekly 05
February 2020 | IPRI # 31
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Afghan Election Results, US-Taliban Deal, Hafiz Saeed Conviction, Quetta Suicide Attack, Assam Accord, Mexico Femicide and the Climate Change impact on Bird Species

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Conflict Weekly 04
February 2020 | IPRI # 30
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Sri Lanka drops Tamil anthem, Assam looks for a new census for the indigenous Muslim population, Bangladesh faces a Rohingya boat tragedy and Israel witnesses resurgence of violence post-Trump deal

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Conflict Weekly 03
February 2020 | IPRI # 29
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Continuing Violence in Afghanistan, Bodo Peace Accord in Northeast India, Attack on the anti-CAA protesters in Delhi, and Trump's Middle East Peace Plan

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Conflict Weekly 02
January 2020 | IPRI # 28
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Bangladesh and ICJ's Rohingya Verdict, Taliban and Afghan Peace, Surrenders in India's Northeast, New government in Lebanon and the Berlin summit on Libya

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Conflict Weekly 01
January 2020 | IPRI # 27
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Nile River Agreement, Tehran Protests, Syrians meet in Berlin, Honduran Caravans in Mexico, Taliban's ceasefire offer, Quetta Suicide attack, Supreme court verdict on J&K and the Brus Agreement in Tripura

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Myanmar
October 2019 | IPRI # 26
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Will prosecuting Suu Kyi resolve the Rohingya problem?

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Climate Change
October 2019 | IPRI # 25
IPRI Comments

Lakshman Chakravarthy N & Rashmi Ramesh

Four Actors, No Action

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From Okjökull to OK:
September 2019 | IPRI # 24
IPRI Comments

Rashmi Ramesh

Death of a Glacier in Iceland

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The Hong Kong Protests:
August 2019 | IPRI # 23
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudan

Re-defining mass mobilization

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The Hong Kong Protest:
August 2019 | IPRI # 22
IPRI Comments

Parikshith Pradeep

Who Wants What?

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Africa
December 2020 | IPRI # 6
IPRI Briefs

Apoorva Sudhakar

Ballots and Bloodshed: Trends of electoral violence in Africa

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Myanmar
March 2019 | IPRI # 5
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

The Other Conflict in Rakhine State

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West Asia
February 2019 | IPRI # 4
IPRI Comments

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Yemen: Will Sa'nna fall?

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China and Islam
February 2019 | IPRI # 3
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudhan

Sinicizing the Minorities

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Terrorism
January 2019 | IPRI # 2
IPRI Comments

Sourina Bej

Maghreb: What makes al Shahab Resilient?

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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