“40 Days for Life” or Steps towards Limiting Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Romania

31.03.2015 / 11:23 / Gender Equality

[Article by Alexandra Columban, ACTEDO, published by ASTRA Network, a European publication for Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights]

Cluj-Napoca, Romania. For a little over a month, the 2015 European Youth Capital has witnessed an emerging discourse of hostility towards women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health. The issue at stake is, not surprisingly, abortion. A group of people, lead by a Greek Catholic couple, has joined the worldwide Christian movement of “40 Days for Life”, an international campaign against abortions, which took place from the 18th of February to the 29th of March. The supporters of the campaign gathered daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in front of the Dominic Stanca Gynecology Clinic in the center of the city, where they stood silently and prayed, holding banners containing pro-life messages such as “Every life is a gift from God”, “Women deserve more than abortions”, “A voice for the voiceless” or “Every human being has a right to life”. Similar messages were displayed on the 22nd of March, when almost 2000 people participated in the “March for Life” in the center of Cluj-Napoca. Overall, the campaign has proven to be very successful, attracting volunteers mostly with the aid of a website dedicated to the event and social media.

The movement’s clear attempt at limiting women’s sexual rights, as well as at shaming them for ending an unwanted pregnancy was met with some opposition from the general public. Although fewer in number and less organized, groups of pro-choice activists reacted by leaving the following messages on the walls of the clinic: “I respect your religion, respect my decision”, “My body, my choice!”, “Wanted children, not children of the Decree”, referring to the 770 Decree of 1966 during Ceaușescu’s totalitarian regime, which banned abortion in almost all cases, as well as contraception, leading to the death of almost 10000 women between 1965 and 1989, due to complications arising from illegal abortions. These deaths, as well as the several thousand lives lost in childbirth in communist Romania as a direct consequence of the ban on abortion (during the 1980s, Romania had by far the highest rate of maternal death in Europe, almost triple than that of the runner-up – source), seem to have left insufficient marks in the collective memory of Romanians, as a significant number of local newspapers have labeled the pro-choice protests as “vandalism”.

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While, in part, the success of the “40 Days for Life” campaign can be attributed to an excellent planning on the side of the organizers, it is undeniable that Romania is witnessing a new wave of religious conservatism, a phenomenon which does not appear to be counteracted by the efforts of secular and women’s rights activists and NGOs.