On your visit to the ancient city of Yerevan, Armenia, you can stroll along the banks of the Hrazdan River, visit the historical Yerevan Circus, and go shopping on car-free Northern Avenue. Oh, and you can get an early pregnancy medical abortion at a private clinic for about 50 bucks.
These are the details of one of many packages available through Abortourism: a faux tourism agency that specializes in European excursions for women seeking reproductive healthcare options such as contraception, the morning after pill, or an abortion. The agency is a fictional creation as part of a Hungary-based campaign to raise awareness about reproductive rights. It's not real, but it's not exactly fake, either.
In Hungary, abortion is legal, but there are many barriers. In 2000, the government introduced a law that requires women to have a doctor confirm a pregnancy prior to an abortion—usually through a transvaginal ultrasound—which many critics consider invasive and unnecessary. A similar law in North Carolina requiring women to get ultrasounds prior to abortion and have the development of the fetus described to them was found unconstitutional last year.
Hungarian laws also require a woman to see a counsellor at least twice, with a mandatory waiting period in between, before getting an abortion. The first of these sessions has a number of requirements by law to try to "keep the fetus" and talk the woman out of the abortion, a requirement the Center for Reproductive Rights has called "onerous and biased."
Funding for abortions is also restricted to cases of rape or medical complications, and while the morning-after pill is legal in Hungary, it requires a prescription.Since the morning-after pill is only effective if taken within five days of intercourse, many countries choose to dispense it over-the-counter, to prevent any delay in receiving the pill (from trying to get a doctor's appointment, then having to go to the doctor, then to the pharmacy, and then wait for the prescription to get filled). When Hungary confirmed earlier this year that the morning-after pill would stay prescription-only, many nonprofits, including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, criticized the decision for this reason.
In light of these barriers, an anonymous group of women came up with the idea for a resource for Hungarian women to show them what options they have, particularly in nearby countries, should they need to travel to access an abortion or other reproductive healthcare. But part of Hungary's abortion law states that "it is forbidden by any means to encourage or promote abortion."
Not wanting to break the law by somehow "promoting" abortion (this is part of the reason for their anonymity), the group created a fake website instead. It just happens to have actual, well-sourced information on it.
The group has also been promoting the site through a physical booth they've set up around Europe, handing out flyers, buttons, and stickers to raise awareness.
"I believe the whole point of juxtaposing abortion-on-demand to a 'crisis situation' is about the entitlement to the free reproductive labor of women," wrote one of the creators of Abortourism, who would not reveal their identities, in an email. "If choosing to terminate a pregnancy would be nothing traumatic, but straightforward and easy, certain 'truths' (that women are inherently submissive and subservient, all they want in life are babies and a husband, and working and caring for others is not commitment, sacrifice, labor, but the natural order of things) would be endangered."
But while the travel agency isn't real, the idea of travelling in order to get an abortion is no fiction. Abortion "tourism," as it's sometimes dubbed, is an all too common phenomenon where women are forced to travel—sometimes to other countries—in order to access abortion or other reproductive healthcare needs.
It happens frequently in Europe, where reproductive rights can vary dramatically between neighboring countries. In 2014, 5,521 women travelled to the United Kingdom from other countries to get access to an abortion, according to the UK Department of Health. The majority of those women, 67.7 percent, were from Ireland, where abortion is illegal except in cases where the mother's life is in immediate danger, and where women face 14 years in prison for obtaining an illegal abortion.
But abortion travel happens in North America, too. Women who live in rural communities sometimes have to travel for hundreds of miles to get access to reproductive healthcare, and in the US some women need to cross state lines, depending on local laws, to get the access they need. In Texas, for example, where abortion is illegal after 20 weeks, there is a nonprofit group dedicated specifically to helping women fund travel so they can access abortions.
Abortourism mirrors a similar faux-travel-agency project that was created in Spain last year in response to proposed changes to the law that would make abortion legal only in cases of rape or if the mother's life was in immediate danger. Those proposals were eventually scrapped, but the "travel agency" site lives on, a reminder of "a reality we need to avoid," as the site's tagline says. But that reality already exists for many women.
"Just like as Nikolas Rose talks about the biological citizen, citizenship has a biological modality, and within it the relation to new medical technologies is a defining element," the Abortourism group wrote. "You don't have to be a technological determinist at all to see how medical technology aids the making of politics."
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