What does the overturning of Roe V Wade mean for global abortion politics? 

The Supreme Court decision to remove the constitutional right to abortion will have a catastrophic impact on millions of people in the US. Increased legal restrictions to abortion will inevitably hit low income families, Black women, disabled people and LGBT+ communities the hardest. Reproductive rights activists have already been rallying, not just to fight back against legal restrictions, but to ensure safe abortion care remains available for as many people as possible.

The US ruling has already impacted the global conversation on abortion.

Some SAAF grantee partners are already telling us they are concerned this will embolden anti-abortion actions in their own countries:

“It is a pity that an advanced country like the US has decided to legitimize the disempowerment of women and girls. The action by the US Supreme Court will prompt some countries in different parts of the world that look up to the US as a shining example and bastion of democracy to do the same.” 

CSJ News, Malawi
However, this regressive move on reproductive rights is out of step with the rest of the world.

In recent years we’ve seen a number of impressive advocacy wins by abortion rights campaigners. The ‘green wave’ of Latin America has seen improvements to laws in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. Other countries like Thailand, Benin, and more recently, Germany and the Netherlands, have also seen legal and policy improvements to abortion. In fact, over the past 25 years only three other countries have rolled back abortion rights, where nearly 60 have liberalised. 

Some countries are even reacting to the US ruling by enacting positive amendments to their own abortion laws.

For example, France is proposing enshrining the right to abortion in their constitution, and Israel has already eased restrictions to abortion access in response. The shocking removal of abortion rights in the US has prompted organisations across Europe to speak out in favour of safe access. We hope to see more countries take this opportunity to stand up for safe, legal access to abortion and push for not just liberalisation, but decriminalisation.

Abortion bans don’t stop abortions.

As Guttmacher points out: “abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is restricted and those where the procedure is broadly legal”. In countries where abortion is severely restricted by the law, yes, some people will be forced to continue pregnancies they don’t want, others are able to find ways to end their pregnancies. 

Hopefully, they can access medications like Mifepristone and Misoprostol which the WHO recommends can be self-administered safely without the need for the direct supervision of a health care provider. Unfortunately, where these pills are not available, affordable or otherwise accessible, people are forced to undertake less safe methods to end pregnancies, which can lead to serious complications, and even death.

Abortion researcher Dr Rishita Nandagiri points out how vital community provision of such medications will be globally:

“Apart from the concerns around a ratcheting up of global anti-abortion activity, abortion and reproductive justice groups will be under even more pressure to strategise how abortion pills will continue to be produced and distributed… Related but key is the need for greater care with digital tools and data linking – given the global architecture of surveillance and increasing fears around tracking, feminist groups need to ensure safeguarding measures are robust.”

What we know is that activists around the world have been fighting and circumnavigating dangerous anti-abortion laws for decades.

SAAF grantee partners like Mama Network have been working to ensure women and others who can get pregnant have access to life-saving information about medical abortion. They train and support grassroots feminist organisations across Sub Saharan Africa to set up helplines and distribute information and support to those seeking abortions. Socorristas En Red have made sure that people in Argentina can access safe abortion care, despite legal restrictions and COVID lockdowns.

We are proud to work with fierce advocates who do not give up. Who continue to fight for what is right, and to defy the repression of their bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom. We stand in solidarity with women, trans and non-binary people in the US fighting this fight, and hope to see more countries recognise the need to loudly claim our right to safe abortions.

By Laura Hurley, SAAF Communications Lead

Image: SAAF grantee partner Tamtang Group

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