In March 2015, on the day after International Women’s Day, the European Parliament adopted a report calling for the right to abortion on request. This was met with uproar among Christian lobbyists and media. Does my body belong to me? Numerous newspaper headlines over the last few years have pointed to a very different narrative: «German government adopts mandatory health checks for sex workers»;
«Thailand prohibits surrogacy business»; «Increasing attacks on gays and lesbians in Kyrgyzstan»; «Texas forces majority of abortion clinics to close»; «Kenyan politicians call for homosexuals to be stoned»; «Anti-abortionists organise annual March for Life through Berlin in September».
Christa Wichterich, a sociologist and publicist, begins her analysis with similar reports. She reminds us about the ways in which women’s movements have discussed and fought for sexual and reproductive rights over recent decades, and that many such demands have since been institutionalised by the UN. An understanding of a particular society’s stance on sexual and reproductive rights also requires that we take into account its specific national, political, legal, institutional and normative context. This involves asking questions such as: Which social actors shape a society’s norms and laws? Which policies govern women’s bodies? In which social and political contexts of power – including transnational contexts – are reproductive technologies and medical issues relevant?
Wichterich does not attempt to provide all-encompassing answers to these questions. Instead, she outlines three central axes that can influence sexual and reproductive rights in different ways: social norms, values and rights; population and demographic policies; and the power of reproductive technologies and biotechnology – the «bio-economy». This focus enables her to address the interactions and dynamics of various power-regimes and provide an understanding of the different influences currently affecting sexual and reproductive rights.