How the fall of Roe v. Wade could impact abortion access around the world

·4 min read

Abortion rights activists say the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade will reverberate around the world, possibly restricting access to the procedure in other countries and weakening the global movement for reproductive rights.

As part of the so-called Green Wave movement that started in Argentina, majority-Catholic countries across Latin America — including Colombia and Mexico — have recently legalized abortions. Across the Atlantic, Ireland has taken the same, previously unthinkable step. And in Asia, South Korea lifted a 66-year ban on abortions last year.

Activists, however, are now concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling could fuel anti-abortion groups, reversing hard-fought gains or stifling efforts to expand abortion rights across the world.

“What happens in the US doesn’t just impact the U.S., as we have seen in almost every issue, but it impacts everyone, everywhere,” said Giselle Carino, the CEO of international reproductive rights alliance Fòs Feminista.

She added that the rollback of abortion rights as part of a wider weakening of democratic institutions in the U.S. and in increasingly authoritarian countries around the world.

As an example, Marcia Soumokil, director of abortion advocacy group Ipas Indonesia, said that she fears that the overturn of Roe v. Wade would give the Indonesian government — which already enforces restrictive abortion laws — cover by signalling that abortion access is “not human rights”.

Experts say that in many parts of the world, the U.S. is seen as an agenda-setter, with lawmakers pointing to U.S. domestic policies during their own domestic debates, ranging from reproductive rights to racism and police violence.

The U.S. has a “huge, outsized influence” on global sexual and reproductive health programs for family planning, reproductive health, and maternal and child health, Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, a senior legal and policy adviser for Ipas, added.

“The U.S. is actually the largest funder when it comes to those programs,” she added, noting that a number of restrictive abortion policies already on the books were already limiting abortion access, such as the the Global Gag Rule, which prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. funding from providing information, referrals, or services for abortion.

As domestic policy on abortion becomes more restrictive, so too might the rules around U.S. funding for women’s and family health overseas, she warned. And the striking down of Roe v. Wade, she added, gives tacit support to anti-abortion rights actors in other countries, and undercuts those defending reproductive rights.

“None of us have a crystal ball but I think it’s fair to say that in some countries that are looking to liberalize, that might be on the cusp, might think again for fear of losing their U.S. funding [by] upsetting the U.S. government,” said Van Kampen Saravia.

However, Susan Yanow, the U.S. spokeswoman for the group Women Help Women, is optimistic that the abortion rights movement, at least in South America, will not be too deeply impacted by domestic changes in the U.S.

“Things have shifted, in some ways, in terms of our position as a leader in the world. I say that because I am hoping that the changes we’ve seen in Latin America, for example, are a stronger wind than what’s going on in the United States,” she added.

However, even if the wider abortion rights movements continue to accelerate in Latin America, Yanow said that U.S. policy could still limit access to abortions outside America’s borders.

“The impact on people’s lives, regardless of what access to abortion looks like, is enormous,” she said of U.S. global health policies.

As an example, Yanow pointed to U.S.-educated doctors and nurses working in abortion care around the globe.

“The United States has been seen as a resource for training doctors and nurses to provide abortion care,” she said, adding that any changes to these programs would have a negative impact overseas.

Both Yanow and Carino said they were concerned that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a sign of weakening democracy in the U.S., which they said could ultimately have an even greater impact on U.S. standing abroad.

“It’s also important to highlight that when you have totalitarian or authoritarian governments, like the prior administration in the US, the damage they do lasts much longer than the year they may be in power,” Carino said.

These concerns were echoed by Licha Nyiendo, chief legal officer of Human Rights First, who said in May, following the leak of the Supreme Court opinion overturning of Roe v. Wade, that it would be a “step in a very dangerous direction.”

Reversing Roe, she warned, would be “a frightening signal to authoritarians around the world that they can strip long-established rights from their countries’ people.”

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