The US Supreme Court verdict banning abortion will not only hurt women and transgender individuals in the US but will also have global repercussions as it reverses decades of progress made towards gender equality and bodily autonomy of women, gender rights organisations have said.
Helen Clark, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) Board Chair and former prime minister of New Zealand, said the decision in the Roe vs Wade case instantly makes the procedure illegal in at least 22 states of the US and women and girls are now law-breakers if they seek an abortion in these states.
PMNCH, the world’s largest alliance for woman and child health and rights, with over 1,250 partner organisations across its 10 constituencies and its secretariat hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a statement following the US Supreme Court decision to overturn its historic 1973 ruling on abortion rights.
“With one misguided decision, the US Supreme Court has today ended almost 50 years of abortion rights protection for women and girls in the US, and made the prospects of an unprecedented global rollback of sexual and reproductive rights all the more likely going forward,” Clark said.
Clark said criminalising abortion doesn’t remove abortion practices — it just removes access to safe abortions, leaving many vulnerable and plunging sexual and reproductive health and rights for American women and girls into turmoil.
“Women in poor and marginalized communities will bear the brunt of the repeal, and there is a definite racial dimension to this. We already know that black women at all educational levels in the US are most likely to suffer from restrictive abortion policies associated with decreased access to abortion care and increased risk of unintended teen births,” she said.
Clark said adolescents are particularly at risk.
“By virtue of their age, they may struggle to pay for safe care or have to travel long distances, which could dangerously delay access to abortion. Some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15-19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems,” she said.
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said women all over the world should be concerned as the Roe vs Wade decision will hurt women and transgender individuals globally.
“This is a major setback for the movement to protect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights,” said Muttreja.
She said the decision’s implication that reproductive rights are not a part of fundamental rights could lead to similar interpretations in different countries.
“Such a legal regime could lead to more unsafe and unregulated abortions worldwide which are not only a cause of severe health conditions for women but can also prove fatal,” she added.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, 45 per cent of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making them a leading cause of maternal death.
“Almost all unsafe abortions currently occur in developing countries,” it said.
As the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency and the custodian of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the foundation says it advocates for the right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.
“The UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 3 related to maternal health, to which all UN Member States have committed, are at risk of not being met if unsafe abortions continue,” it said in a statement.
There is evidence to suggest that restrictive abortion laws can be counterproductive and result in an increase in the absolute number of abortions taking place, Muttreja said.
The abortion rate dropped by 43 per cent in the decades between 1990-1995 and 2015-2019 in settings where abortion is broadly legal, excluding China and India, according to a study published in The Lancet.
“In contrast, the abortion rate increased by about 12% in countries that highly restrict access to abortion”, the study found.
“This is a full attack on women’s rights over their own bodies, and women all over the world should be concerned,” Muttreja said.
In a historic ruling on June 24, the US Supreme Court decided by six votes to three to overturn the 50-year-old Roe v Wade judgement that guaranteed access to abortion across the country.
The decision means that all questions of legality and access to abortion will now go to America’s individual states, some of whom immediately put abortion bans into place.