12 June, 2024


The Reproductive Justice Debate: Time To End The Quagmire

By Chamindra Weerawardhana

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana

The cabinet of ministers of Sri Lanka has given the green light to allow access to terminations to birth givers in specific circumstances. This is surely an insufficient provision, as full access to reproductive justice is an inalienable right.

When it comes to the termination or the continuation of a pregnancy, it is solely up to each birth-giver to decide on what they wish to do with their bodies.

The hashtag #mybodymyrights perfectly embodies this basic reality.

Yet, in the patriarchal and gender-stratified world we live in, reproductive justice has become a topic of intense contention, of opposition, of intense debate. In the Sri Lankan case, it is the Catholic bishops who have taken up arms against official government policy, calling for a blanket ban on all terminations. This opposition is nothing new, as the Catholic church has long held a resolutely anti-choice view. 

Picture: Avantha Artigala

The most striking factor is the highly patronising nature of the statement the church has released. It is as if the bishops, a bunch of cis men with tremendous levels of cis-male privilege, assume that cis women, trans men and birth-givers of all gender identities in Sri Lanka have to follow the dictates of the Catholic church when making extremely private decisions on their bodies.

The Catholic church: enemy of gender justice

In many jurisdictions across the world, the Catholic church has a problem with uteruses. In many Latin American countries, the church, a colonial and patriarchal institution on Indigenous land, maintains a tight grip on access to terminations and to the provision of reproductive justice. This has resulted in absolute aberrations of human rights violations, flushing gender justice down the toilet.

To give but one example, it was only recently that Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, 19, from a small rural community in Cuscatlán, eastern El Salvador, was convicted on the grounds that failing to seek antenatal care amounted to murder. Her story is an extremely traumatising one, having been repeatedly raped by a gang member over several months, in a forced sexual relationship. This very Catholic country has put all the blame on Evelyn, and sentenced her to thirty years in prison.

The Catholic church is also the primary obstacle for the provision of reproductive justice in Ireland. In the Irish Republic, a termination is a criminal offence that carries a 14-year prison sentence. The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution grants unborn foetuses the same citizenship rights and legal protections as cis women, trans men and birth givers of other gender identities. The #repealthe8th campaign, which calls for the repeal of the 8th amendment and the introduction of modern reproductive justice legislation that respects bodily autonomy, is indeed the foremost gender justice struggle in present-day Ireland.

The denial of reproductive justice in Ireland (North and South), and the political establishment’s intransigence, also water down to a class issue. Wealthy people can access the treatments they require under clement conditions abroad, and it is the under-privileged who suffer from existing restrictions.

In Northern Ireland, where this writer mostly resides, the British Abortion Act, which became law back in 1967, is still not in force. Today’s campaigns for reproductive justice call for the repeal of the existing ban on access to terminations, replacing it with new legislation that gives each birth giver decision-making power over their bodies and also takes a wholesome and comprehensive approach to reproductive justice.

It is beyond belief that even today, 19th century Victorian legislation still form the basis of anti-choice legislation in Northern Ireland. Birth givers are forced to travel to Great Britain for terminations, and are charged in the region of GBP 900 for a termination. Although this policy was changed through a Westminster amendment in June 2017, reports suggest that it is not applied evenly at all times). Once again, those who cannot afford to seek services outside Northern Ireland are the worst affected.

Cases of the Catholic church leaving women to die abound across the world, and the blood-stained record of that church is beyond shameless. This impunity stretches to a range of related issues. It was just recently that the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart said he is prepared to be jailed for refusing to report sexual abuse by the clergy to the police, adding that sexual abuse was “a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” and was “of a higher order” than criminal law.

Policymaking on gender justice

On issues that are related to gender justice, state authorities should understand their primary responsibility of ensuring the fundamental rights of their citizens. This enables the state to fully deploy its law-making capacity to draft policies that improve citizens’ quality of life.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the best of signs of sensibility come from reproductive justice and gender justice activists, especially of the younger generation, who have taken to social media and active campaigning to stand against the patriarchal and misogynist dictates of religious denominations.

Above: a social media post, written by Udesh Fernando, an academic, educator, youth leader and social justice advocate, that outlines the ludicrousness of the Catholic bishops’ position on reproductive rights-related law reform proposals.

In the specific case of access to safe and legal terminations, it is up to individual birth givers to determine whether they wish to proceed with a pregnancy or seek a termination. If they choose the latter, their decision should be respected, and they should be provided with the opportunity of accessing safe and legal terminations.

It is a question of bodily autonomy, which is a non-negotiable right. It is not up to the state, or a religious denomination, and definitely not up to cis-male religious leaders to determine what people do with their uteruses.

Understanding the broad scope of reproductive justice

The question of reproductive justice stretches way beyond access to terminations.

The fundamental tenets of a high-quality and modern reproductive justice policy involve an emphasis on bodily autonomy, consent, and initiative.

The issue of terminations is perhaps the most widely discussed reproductive justice concern. Other key issues of reproductive justice provision include, among many other things, the right of people to family life, the rights of single parents, the right to access quality healthcare irrespective of one’s social standing and financial means, and the right to understand and conceptualise ‘relationships’ and ‘family’ in all their forms. It is also crucial to understand and acknowledge the multiple forms of reproductive rights-related oppressions faced by specific groups. This intersectional reading of reproductive justice enables us to zoom in on issues that are otherwise subjected to erasure. People who are often pushed to the margins in a cis-heteronormative society, including Trans women, Trans men, Indigenous peoples, nonbinary people, and indeed people of colour [especially women of colour] are at the worst receiving end. In some of her writing, this writer has delved into the specific issue of the denial of reproductive rights to Trans people across the world (including in supposedly inclusive Western European contexts).

Across the global South, these challenges are worsened by further disparities in social justice provision, social standing and access to wealth, creating sharp cleavages in terms of accessing reproductive justice-related support.

These are among the preoccupations that should inform government policy on reproductive justice issues.

The Catholic church, or, for that matter, any other religious denomination, should have no influence whatsoever over government policy on reproductive justice.

*The writer is a gender justice activist and a board member of Sibéal: The Irish Feminist and Gender Studies Network.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    We get scientific evidence from one who believe world is created by God!
    Not only that, Malcom Ranjith uses Buddhism to sell his doctrine too!

    Abortion in Italy became legal in May 1978, when Italian women were allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days.

    • 3

      Chamindra Weerawardhana –

      RE: The Reproductive Justice Debate: Time To End The Quagmire

      So, you want to take on the mightily Catholic Church that has morphed into a 2 billion strong and brainwashed people, with the Pope as its head and the Cardinals and their underlings as agents?………………..Throughout history, several tried, many failed, and the most successful was by Martin Luther, who on October 31, 1517, nailed his 95 theses to the wall of the church in Witenburg, Germany. Why not celebrate the 500th anniversary with your favorite cardinal?


      Given below are some references for your edification, so that you you can “discuss'” with the Cardinal to get his “opinion” on his lifetime of “brainwashings”. Anyway, they do not look kindly upon gays and heretics, and have you heard about the Inquisition? They are “civilized” compared to the ISIS- Islamic State Agents of the Devil, Satan, who throws gays off the tallest building in town.

      Christopher Hitchens VS The Catholic Church


  • 3

    This is why sinahslee people are in decline? Why because of this freedom to control birth? That is good for people have their own say on this matter but any systamic control by government is not good idea…let people have their life and why should put your nose into personal life of people ..
    Birth control is needed in some cases..but not always

  • 4

    Why LGBTQs are interested in indisciplined women getting pregnent and killing fetuses. Why women do not think little bit about the consequences and the killing of a fetus because they wanted to be insidsciplined. Why don’t think women lower their respect and reoputation infront of men by becoming W333hores. Why western morality and ethics are defined to suit the perpetrator. Why it is one way argument. Anyway, pregnancies, fetuses and infants are not relevent to LGBTQs except HIV-AIDs and various STDs, unless of course you need employment.

  • 0


    What hell is ” birth-givers of all gender identities”?????? There is only two genders: male and female, and only females give birth. Do you know any trany who gave birth????? It’s obvious that your audience is not Sri Lankan but your European employers.

    Most pro-abortion people don’t know how an abortion is done. Abortion methods and techniques are very harmful to woman, and still very primitive as well.

    Nobody knows if the fetus should be considered as a Human being or from what stage it should be considered as a Human being. So we must stick to what we know, that is, stick to the faith an culture: be patient till getting married for hanky- panky, and have some disciplines and etiquette.

    There is no such thing as my body- my-rights. If it is so, will you break wind in public? This “right” thing has gone out of control. With “rights”, some people are being selfish and anti-social. Homos are the worst abuses of human rights, they force other people to accept their abnormal lives, and they have stared having designer babies, take the babies away from their mothers, deny them mothers’ milk (i.e: Elton, Rickey Martin, etc). In the western world some people are disgusted by breastfeeding mothers.

  • 0

    TG people like yourself are now discriminated against in the USA. Australia is having a non-binding referendum on Gay marriage. Trump has banned TGs from serving in the military and there are some valid reasons for it: Combat preparedness and ability to be deployed. If these TGs who were getting tax payer funded treatment for their conversions and hormone therapy at government expense it they cannot be deployed at a moment’s notice. On the other hand, Trump did this to appease his base and christian voters. Christians hate Gays and TGs in the USA. This was a sweet candy toss to appease his base. But as you can see you shout Madam but in SL the US Embassy which was strutting around with the LGBTQI community and posing for photos have now disappeared. Gay pride month was NOT even discussed on their social media in Colombo. They also stopped doing Ramadan parties in the Embassy. For a long time the small LGBTQI militant community went around being ‘in your face’ in a society that does not have much PDA outside the clubs in Colombo or at Dutch Hospital where Queers gather on most Fridays and Saturdays. Socially the conservative christians are fighting back and now they have political backing. I feel sad but that is the new reality. As for abortion, same will happen. It is indeed a woman’s right but christians bully everyone and buddhists lack intelligence to have a debate.

    As one says “Cataract is the third leading cause of blindness, but Religion and Politics remains the first 2”.

    But reality is prevention is better than cure. Active and aggressive birth control measures including Condoms and birth control pills should be available to all. That way unwanted pregnancies can be reduced. Also if someone is a victim of rape, incest they should have a right to terminate a foetus. That is reality of modern life. Also too many poor people and teens are becoming pregnant.

  • 1

    Screw the Catholic church and their diktats. Even Ireland is now debating whether to allow abortions. But I am not sure if you are in N.Ireland or Republic. So you should campaign there too. This absurd hypocrisy by a bunch of boy buggering rapists who have systematically abused boys across the world sit in judgement of a woman or a girl wanting a right to choose what she wants to do? Hell Buddhism does NOT judge their actions and there was time condoms and birth control was actively encouraged by socialist government in Ceylon. Time to tell the Catholic church they are only a small group in a multi religious nation. Christians hate Gays, TGs and they are trying to control a majority buddhist and hindu nation.

  • 1

    You chose to live in Ireland(N. Ireland perhaps). This was your active choice and you are not coming back.

    Abortion in Ireland is illegal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother. It is prohibited by both the constitutional protection of the right to life of the unborn and by legislation.

    What are your arguments for legalizing abortion in Ireland? Are you on the forefront of that movement?

    • 0

      You people are stupid. Decide things as it suits the humans and not because you are from that group or this group. Even for LGBTQs, elen Degenrous has given up on her LEsbian behaviour and she has become a Straight female. So, it is possible that others also canchange it thry want. Think about women suing abortion as a tool engage to have multiple boy friends, husbands and how that indiscipline kill fetuses and ready to be born infants who cannot talk. So, don not be selfish. LGBTQ is just like another phenomenon of FEMISNIM. Now, inthe west, women are tried of beinf Feminsit and stay poor. So, some have become submissive simply because they want to live a life. Women can not be both w#hors and have goodmarraiges and ask boy friends to treat them likw princesses. W3hores are W3hores after some time in the marraige. Then think about the of fetuses they kill. Abortion is needed in some serious cases. Otherwose it is bad. We buddhists know how it affects the next life of thre mother. She simply becomes Sterile and no children.

  • 0

    TGs cannot bear children. Even after surgery where their penis is removed in the case of a Man wanting to be a woman or like the Chaz Bono, Cher’s daughter who was a lesbian woman wanting to be a man neither can get pregnant if she had her womb removed and a rudimentary non erectile penis was made for her; in Chaz’s case, they had enough money. But now pretending to be a man she likes women whereas earlier she was a manly woman who liked women. She probably has to use a dildo or a strap on because her rudimentary penis cannot work to penetrate. Besides lesbians love to eat pussy more than penetration.

    But in Chaminda’s case, I am not sure if he has had surgery to remove the penis . In that case the sex is all anal sex and that can lead to HIV not babies. TGs seem not be confused whether they are Gay or want to be the opposite gender to be with men. For example Chaz was a lesbian but wanted to be a man but still eat pussy and be a lesbian. Not sure what Chaminda’;s sexual preferences are whether he wants to be a woman to eat fellow women’s pussy like some VVIP’s “Wives” in Ceylon or whether she will get a vagina and be a woman engineered by medical means. Not sure but it is confusing. At least Gay and Lesbian people are just that not wanting to transform. Is there psychiatric causes of this?

    • 0

      Scientists have to see whether their oitiutary and hormonal glands were shut during their growth. Study those. Why don’t you think about hormonal disorders.

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