37 countries have expanded abortion access since 2000. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the US is going backward, activist said

  • Rebecca Gomperts, an abortion-rights activist, said the US is now a global outlier after overturning Roe v. Wade.

  • Most countries in recent years have eased access to abortion, but the US has done the opposite.

  • Gomperts told Insider that the conservative Supreme Court is "upsetting" the social structure.

The world is on a two-decade kick of liberalizing abortion.

Since 2000, thirty-seven countries have expanded the legal grounds upon which pregnant people can access abortion, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Decriminalization, legalization, and eased access are all trending around the globe.

But the Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to overturn Roe v. Wade and kick the question of abortion rights back to the states has made the US a global outlier, as the country walks back nearly five decades of federal protections.

It's a move that Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of several international abortion-rights organizations, isn't particularly accustomed to.

"I think what is happening now in the US is the other way around, where something that was legal becomes illegal," she told Insider.

The US is going against global trends

A Dutch physician by trade, Gomperts founded Women on Waves in 1999 in an effort to prevent unsafe abortions and provide access to hundreds of thousands of women living in countries where it's illegal.

The organization's most famous campaigns — its sea voyages — employ vessels that dock in abortion-restrictive countries. People seeking to terminate their pregnancies board the ship and sail into international waters where they are then given access to the abortion pill. The one-hour trips offer a legal loophole thanks to Dutch law, which governs the ships while they remain at sea.

In subsequent years, the team has expanded outreach by implementing several additional methods to provide abortion pills in innovative ways, including the use of drones and robots. From Argentina to Ireland, and South Korea to Mexico, Gomperts has been there with her boats, robots, and drones in tow, sparking public debate and preceding monumental change. 

As states across the US started cracking down on abortion access in recent years, Gomperts said her organization looked into the possibility of bringing one of their boat campaigns to Texas. The team did a full analysis, calculating the hypothetical cost and researching which harbors would be most convenient.

But in light of the Roe reversal, Gomperts told Insider that the method no longer seems an appropriate response to what is happening in the US.

"It's a strategy to expose what impact restrictive abortions have on women. But that is usually in countries where abortion is illegal, and it's meant to catalyze change," she said. "The idea is that...it will create a public discussion, a public debate, and we want it to catalyze change so that it becomes legal."

But with the high court's recent ruling now cemented, the time for attempting to catalyze change in the US has seemingly passed, Gomperts suggested.

"That's part of our work to do that, to look at where are the opportunities where you can really intervene, where it'll make a difference. That's how we work," she said. "But I think the US is going against that trend, where most countries are legalizing abortion."

Abortion protests
Activists march along Constitution Avenue to the US Supreme Court on May 14, 2022.Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Searching for solutions in the wake of Roe's reversal

Gomperts is confident in what — or who — is to blame for America's abortion backsliding.

"How we see if from afar, from Europe, is that basically [the US] has been taken over by a bunch of non-elected, conservative, fundamentalist Christians, basically," she said. "And they are upsetting the whole social structure of the United States."

The court's ultimate ruling, though stunning, was not wholly surprising, she said. She cited years of work by anti-abortion groups who helped pave the way for the reversal. What couldn't have been expected, she said, was former President Donald Trump's opportunity to install three justices, ensuring the court's conservative bent for years to come.

But despite the disappointing decision, Gomperts isn't ready to give up, and she doesn't think others should either.

In 2018, Gomperts founded Aid Access, a nonprofit organization that provides access to medical abortion by mail in the US and around the world. The group also focuses on research and in the wake of Roe's reversal, Gomperts said Aid Access will continue to measure the impact of abortion restrictions in the US, focusing on where, when, how, and why pregnant people continue to access abortion.

"The service is tracking what's really happening on the ground, so that the anti-abortion groups cannot say that they were actually effective in reducing the abortion rates," she said. "Because of course, that's not the case. There's still abortions, but they go underground."

But Gomperts is always looking to the future. She's currently fundraising to conduct a study on the abortion pill Mifepristone and the health benefits it offers in low doses. Gomperts said if the pill can be registered as a weekly contraceptive, it could be a possible solution to Roe's reversal.

"I think it's really important to try to look for what is possible," she said. "What is still possible."

Read the original article on Business Insider