The Verdict Is In: Women Around the World Do Not Have Bodily Autonomy

March4Women March in LondonWomen Marching in Trafalgar Square, London, United Kingdom: #March4Women March

Due to recent events, your curiosity for bodily autonomy may have skyrocketed. Article after article has made the message clear: no matter where you’re from, women worldwide do not have bodily autonomy. In the United States, you may only hear about the perspectives of U.S. women, or the general belief that “women in third world countries can’t vote or get married to whom they please.” However, there is so much more than that.


To begin, there are sixteen countries where abortion is completely banned — in no instance can an individual receive or give an abortion, even to save the mother. According to Amnesty International, these include Egypt, Iraq, Laos, the Philippines, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Senegal, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. There are also the thirty six countries (including Nigeria, Brazil, Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, and Mexico) where abortion is only allowed when it is necessary to save a mother’s life. These laws have been put into effect for years, and there is a low chance that change will be made. However, Poland in 2021 banned all abortions that were given due to congenital disabilities, which was the only legal reason an abortion could be performed. Poland is now added to the 16 countries that make abortions a criminal offense. 

Now because these rules are in place in so many different countries, it is natural to wonder about the punishments lurking behind the fine print. In El Salvador, in the past 24 years, over 180 women received obstetric emergency abortions in concern for their health. Instead of the resting period they needed, they were prosecuted for aggravated homicide. In Malta, women will face up to three years in jail. In Senegal, the only way to get approval for abortion is by three doctors agreeing that it has to be to save the woman’s life. This is not attainable. Amnesty International conducted a study in 2014 that showed because of Senegal’s regulations, most women turn to clandestine or illegal abortions or even kill their infants after unavoidable birth. Doctors in the United Arab Emirates may only perform an abortion if the woman’s life is endangered. Even with this, the women may still face a year in prison and a hefty fine. It has gotten to the point that any woman that seeks medical treatment for a miscarriage runs the risk of being accused of an attempted abortion. 

Taken together, 40% of women of reproductive age live in places where abortions are illegal or heavily limited. This means 40% of women have no say in their reproductive decisions. 


Anytime a conversation about abortion arises, the disagreeing side always counters with, “Contraceptives are the only thing necessary.” Believe it or not, contraceptives aren’t accessible everywhere, contrary to what people think. Not to mention, they can be costly. 

According to European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Poland is the only European country with “exceptionally poor” contraceptive laws. Poland is the only European country where emergency contraception is not available over the counter. It must be filled as a prescription making it virtually useless. Poland also has very few gynecologists and extremely high-cost contraceptives, and they also instated a new education law that eliminates sexual education from school. The country additionally recently ended state-funded IVF treatments making the 25,000 PLN ($5,281 USD) necessary for the operation come out of pocket. 

Access to contraceptives varies depending on the country. For example, 62% of women in Haiti have no access to contraception, whereas 18 Latin countries have less than 20% of women with zero access. In 2015, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras ran out of contraceptives among clinics. 

In Latin countries, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe and illegal, and 10% of maternal deaths in 2014 were due to unsafe abortions. While this seems like an abortion issue, Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit based in the U.S, claims that the number of maternal deaths could be cut by 65%, 9,300 deaths per year to 3,300, and newborn death rates by 70% all by providing accessible contraceptives. 

Birth control for women has been proven to be an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy. However, access varies significantly depending on an individual’s location of residence. Forty-five countries have banned over-the-counter birth control. In these countries, a prescription is required, which can be difficult to obtain for countries with more complicated access to healthcare. The most notable are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, France, Japan, and the U.K. Standard birth control meets all the FDA requirements for an over-the-counter drug, yet people are concerned that it will lead to more unwanted pregnancies. Yes, you read that correctly. However, studies show that countries that have over-the-counter birth control as an option have fewer abortions and have a lower birth rate. Although there can be multiple explanations for this, it is difficult to justify why contraceptives ought to be as scarce as they are. 

Medical Procedures

Although the concept of spousal consent has been long gone in the eyes of the law, hospital policy and personal beliefs still get in the way. Women worldwide have experienced the constant “No” or “We need a spouse’s signature” when it comes to sterilization procedures. Law in the U.S. has not required spousal consent for at least a decade; however, many hospitals or clinics still ask for it because of their personal beliefs. Doctors have for long been told to separate their personal views from their work, but the moment a women’s body is in question, that ask supposedly becomes inapplicable.

Women from all across the world are galled by the inaccessibility of sterilization procedures.

“Mine straight told me it was illegal because of my age. I was 31, my husband was in treatment for thyroid cancer, and we were done having kids.”(@ErinLouis666, 2020)

“My OBGYN denied me a hysterectomy for my endometriosis on the basis I may want children, with a man, in the future. My wife was in the seat next to me. This is not unusual. This is what it’s like for women.” 

“[I] told former OBGYN (2004) I wanted mine tied asap after delivery of my last child- she refused cause I might get married again and my new husband may want children.” (@SistahSoul71, 2020).

Refusal of sterilization is not new, but it appears as if change is unlikely. A woman deserves complete control over her decisions for her own body. Her body is not an object that her husband decides on. It is not a sales pitch or the signing of a contract. It is a procedure that a woman herself has every right to make. 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of bodily autonomy issues. There is more to talk about, more to research, and more ways you can take action. You can donate to petitions, protest, and use social media. All of these are ways to make a difference, and all are ways to fight for what you believe. 

About the Author

Maya Holland
Maya Holland is a staff writer for The Acronym. They are a senior here this year, and aside from writing, they like political activism, public speaking, and finding the best quiet places across campus. If you ever need them, check out the library!

Be the first to comment on "The Verdict Is In: Women Around the World Do Not Have Bodily Autonomy"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.