What the new global pro-choice movements can teach politics

The world is experiencing a vital moment in pro-choice politics. There has been huge progress in countries like Argentina and the Republic of Ireland contributing to historic commitments by their governments to ensuring abortion access. But this is not just an important moment in abortion rights. It is a critical juncture in feminism and politics.

Until now the public image of pro-choice politics has been heavily influenced by 1970s “women’s liberation” movements in the US and the UK (also known as Second Wave feminism).

The Second Wave model of feminist politics spoke of women’s “right to choose” (restricting this definition to people born female) to have an abortion. At its core was personal sexual freedom and individualism. This movement very much focused on the problems faced by women at an individual level.

The current global pro-choice movement’s message is much broader than earlier strands of feminism. Take Repeal, the Irish pro-choice movement which campaigned for the repeal of the 8th Amendment to Ireland’s constitution (the provision which equated the right to life of the “unborn” to the pregnant woman). This group did not just look at abortion or sexual liberation. It used abortion as a starting point for a discussion about a range of other social issues, such as migration and economic inequality.

Argentinian campaigners do not just argue for personal sexual freedom. Their campaign focuses on collectively felt, gendered, social injustices. For example, male-to-female violence (and violence against transgender people) and femicide (the killing of women). The latter concern is reflected in the Argentinian movement’s name Ni Una Menos (“not one more”).

‘Intersectional’ feminism

Ireland’s Repeal movement and Argentina’s Ní Una Menos are not just feminist campaigns, they are intersectional feminist campaigns. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at Columbia Law School, first used the term “intersectionality” in 1991. It is a theory of feminism that recognises and opposes the many different forms of oppression which individuals and communities can experience daily and simultaneously.

Intersectional feminist movements like Repeal argued that…

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