Rolling Back Abortion Rights in the U.S. Will Send Shockwaves Around the World

Members of feminist collectives march in Mexico City, on Sep. 28, 2021, the Global Day of Action in support of legal, free and safe abortion in Mexico and Latin America. (Gerardo Vieyra / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

If the leaked draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade is indeed the final ruling, the consequences will be severe not just for women in the United States, but for women around the world.

At MSI Reproductive Choices, we think this news should be deeply concerning to women everywhere. As one of the world’s leading providers of abortion care, we’re alarmed by the draft ruling because we see every day how restrictive laws harm women—and because we’ve seen how anti-choice policies in the United States tend to embolden the opposition around the world, limiting women’s right to choose.

An Emboldened Global Opposition

We fear that the impacts of this decision—if it stands—would go far beyond the boundaries of individual conservative states like Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma, where laws have been passed recently restricting access. Overturning Roe v. Wade would embolden the anti-abortion opposition around the world, threatening choice for women in countries beyond the United States. 

We’ve seen how U.S. policies directly impact women’s access to abortion in other countries. In 2017, when President Trump passed the expanded global gag rule, MSI forfeited $120 million in U.S. government funding rather than stop providing abortions. The chilling effects of the global gag rule influenced the entire sector, with organizations who didn’t work in abortion afraid to partner with those that did.

A decision to reverse Roe v. Wade would also further embolden well-funded, far-reaching anti-choice networks which already extend into Africa, Asia and Latin America. Open Democracy estimated last year that right-wing Christian organizations in the U.S. spend on average $280 million every year attacking abortion and LGBTQIA rights globally.

Wherever we work, harassment and intimidation of our providers and clients is common. Online attacks that shut down our Facebook or WhatsApp pages are on the rise. Our providers even face threats to their personal safety: Some members of our teams have received death threats just for visibly advocating for the right to choose.

Right-wing Christian organizations in the U.S. spend $280 million every year attacking abortion and LGBTQIA rights globally.

Araceli Lopez Nava, Latin America regional managing director for MSI Reproductive Choices, has seen how U.S. opposition has impacts beyond U.S. borders.

“It has been a long fight for our right to choose, but just as my home country of Mexico celebrates a turning point in abortion rights, it is devastating to see our neighbors in the U.S. poised to take a huge step backwards,” she said. “When the U.S. Supreme Court first legalized abortion in 1973, the country was one of the leaders on reproductive rights. Today, it is moving against the ‘Green Wave’ sweeping Latin America, and the once-unthinkable prospect of U.S. women crossing the border to access safe, legal reproductive healthcare in Mexico, could soon become a reality.

“We stand ready to support,” Nava continued. “Women have always sought out abortions, and they will continue to do so, whether they are legal or not. What changes is that women suffer. Forced to resort to desperate measures, they are injured, jailed, tens of thousands even die. Since abortion was legalized in Mexico City in 2007, there have been zero abortion-related deaths and an 80 percent reduction in emergency cases.  Abortion is healthcare and we will continue to fight for access to safe, legal care everywhere.”

We know that this news will only embolden the networks of anti-choice activists that work to undermine our ability to care for women in need. With anti-choice groups in the US buoyed by this potential victory in the Supreme Court, organizations funding the global fight against abortion rights will redouble their efforts, with potentially deadly consequences.

The Life-Threatening Impact of Abortion Restrictions

We know that restricting abortion does not reduce its prevalence. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has increased by 14 percent over the last 30 years. Clearly, women will continue to seek to end unintended pregnancies—but restrictive laws will force many to turn to dangerous methods, risking their health and lives.

Research from Duke University estimated that if Roe were overturned, the United States would see a 21 percent increase in maternal deaths overall and 31 percent for women of color. That echoes what we see in countries with restrictive abortion laws, where unsafe abortion remains a major cause of pregnancy-related death.

However, we’ve also seen the reverse. In countries where we work that have liberalized their abortion laws, such as Nepal, Cambodia, and Ethiopia, more women have been able to access safe care and deaths from unsafe abortion have dropped. Access to safe abortion is lifesaving.

We Must Defend Choice in the U.S. and Worldwide

Along with dangerous health consequences, restricting access to safe abortion strips women of their right to self-determination. It is distressing to think that the United States, once a global leader in women’s rights, could erase 50 years of progress in a single moment.

While the news from the U.S. is a devastating set-back for abortion activists the world over, it must be a rallying call reminding us that we cannot take our hard-fought rights for granted. We stand in solidarity with the millions of women in the U.S. who could see their reproductive rights cruelly stripped away, and with the many more across the globe who may see their national abortion laws tighten as a result.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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Amanda Seller is the president of MSI United States.