The news from America is not unexpected, but it’s nonetheless devastating. The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade means that millions of women and people who can get pregnant will be unable to make decisions about their own bodies, lives and futures. Young women today will have less access to abortion care than their mothers and grandmothers did 50 years ago.
Those who can afford to will be forced to travel to neighbouring states to access abortion care. But it’s the poorest, most marginalised women and girls, particularly women of colour, who will be hardest hit.
The US joins a handful of countries that have imposed stricter abortion laws since 1994, along with Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador. And yet, restrictive laws don't reduce the need for abortion – they just make it unsafe and increase preventable maternal deaths and disability.
Restrictive laws also fuel stigma against people who seek, provide and support abortion care, shrouding it in secrecy and shame. However, abortion is not rare: globally, three out of ten pregnancies end in abortion. Safe abortion care is an integral part of healthcare.
And they won’t stop here. The conservative groups, Christian nationalists and populist forces in the US who pushed for this decision are likely to challenge other basic human rights such as LGBTQI+ rights, including same-sex marriage, and access to contraception.
This isn’t about ‘life’. It’s about power and control over women.
We also know that what happens in the US has a far-reaching impact globally. Eroding human rights anywhere in the world threatens all of us. The expanded Global Gag Rule severely limited access not only to abortion care but also lifesaving sexual and reproductive healthcare, including HIV services for marginalised communities. The Supreme Court ruling will have a ripple effect, sending a signal to anti-choice groups who will seek to tighten abortion laws around the world and pursue an ‘anti-gender’ ideology.
Since the decision, many posts online have shared tragic stories of women who sought an abortion after being raped or experiencing an ectopic pregnancy or sepsis, for example. The suggestion is that in these dire, extreme situations, abortion is acceptable. But what about other circumstances? Nobody should be forced to stay pregnant if they don't want to. And this kind of diffident messaging does not further our cause: it's part of the ‘safe, legal and rare’ framing that stigmatises abortion and people who have an abortion. We need to stand up for the right of all women, girls and people who can get pregnant to make decisions about their own bodies. This is about protecting bodily autonomy.
As Michelle Obama said, “This horrifying decision will have devastating consequences, and it must be a wake-up call, especially to the young people who will bear its burden.” In response, feminist grassroots movements, reproductive rights organisations and activists are joining forces to fight for reproductive justice, as the Marea Verde did in Latin America.
Together, we stand in solidarity with women in the States and globally. We must safeguard the human right to abortion and ensure that quality abortion care is accessible to everyone who needs it.