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Global implications of the Overturn of Roe v. Wade

On Friday, 24 June 2022, the conservative-led United States Supreme Court rolled back constitutional protections on abortion. Prior to this, the country had enjoyed 50 years of constitutional protections on abortion rights, as laid out in Roe v. Wade (1973).

The right to bodily autonomy, on which the right to access safe abortions is based, is a key pillar of the human rights framework, and one which is vitally important for LGBTIQ+ people in multiple contexts, who are subjected to surveillance and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

This ruling will impact most severely on those who are already discriminated against, on a variety of grounds, in their access to health care.  Translash1 reports that in a study of 1694 trans people in the US, 12% reported having been pregnant, and of these, 19% had attempted to end their pregnancy without medical supervision.  It can thus clearly be seen that access to safe and non-discriminatory abortion rights is critical to safeguard the health of trans people. 

While GIN decries the impact of this ruling on LGBTIQ+ communities and women in the United States, we are also deeply concerned about the message it will send to other states, especially those in the Global South and East, where the right to access abortion is still contested. Such a ruling has the potential to embolden conservative forces in other regions and thus threaten some of the gains that have been made in the recent past2 with regards to strengthening abortion rights and pushing for progressive reproductive healthcare.

As Chiseche Mibenge, our regional Board member for Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, notes, “Since 1984, Republican administrations have used the global gag rule to compromise safe and legal reproductive health options for communities in the Global South. This pernicious denial of US foreign aid has led to confusion and  disinformation undermining access to health care. The most recent Supreme Court decision, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, does the same. Dobbs imports the global gag rule’s patriarchal and racist ideology home to roost on poor womxn, womxn of colour, indigenous womxn, rural womxn and other stigmatised womxn and their families. These are the very same people that experience egregious and routine denial of bodily autonomy and reproductive choice and benefited least from the protections that Roe v. Wade had promised.”

Abortion rights have become a political placeholder, in mutliple contexts, including the US, for control over the bodies of those assigned female at birth. In the US, in particular, this move has been driven by the ‘religious right’, with clear moves toward limiting the sexual and reproductive health freedoms afforded to those assigned female at birth.

Abortion is Healthcare

The US has a high maternal death rate in comparison with other high income countries3, and there is a disparity in maternal mortality in the US along racial lines, with rates of mortality being almost 2.5 times higher among Black people assigned female at birth. Experts explain that this rate will increase as access to abortion is further restricted5.

Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute has found that the majority of those utilising abortion services (around 75%) are poor or low-income6. A ban on abortion is likely to do further harm to this already vulnerable group, as child wellbeing in the US already ranks among the lowest third among rich countries7.

Overturning Roe v. Wade is a threat to other established rights

The recent decision of the US Supreme Court to roll back established rights outlined in the Roe v. Wade judgement sets a dangerous precedent. As established law in the US for 50 years, Roe v. Wade set a mandate for termination of pregnancy, doing so through invocation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides a fundamental ‘right to privacy’. 

However, in the recent ruling, Justice Alito argues “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997). The right to abortion does not fall within this category. Until the latter part of the 20th century, such a right was entirely unknown in American law.”

This is concerning as the Fourteenth Amendment is the basis of Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (1954) [regarding racial segregation], and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) [regarding same-sex marriage]. The Fourteenth Amendment also provides the basis of protections regarding same-sex sexual activity, as ruled in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. 

There is concern, in terms of Alito’s argument, that repealing some of these constitutional laws may be on the cards, which would have substantial and wide-reaching consequences  for both the LGBTQ+ community, and US-American society at large, as well as knock-on effects in other contexts around the globe.

“Dobbs deepens intergenerational poverty and inequality in contravention of long standing constitutional precedent and human rights standards, but presents an opportunity for communities of faith to recall that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy  1:7) and GIN-SSOGIE and our communities will continue through faith and action to safeguard and advocate for womxn and their families to enjoy their rights and freedoms,” says Chiseche.

1 TransLash’s Trans-Affirming Guide to Roe v. Wade – TransLash
2 The end of Roe has implications for abortion rights around the globe
3 Maternal Mortality and Maternity Care in the United States Compared to 10 Other Developed Countries
4 Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020
5 The Pregnancy-Related Mortality Impact of a Total Abortion Ban in the United States: A Research Note on Increased Deaths Due to Remaining Pregnant
6 Induced Abortion in the United States
7 Misconceptions on Social Welfare Spending for Children Can Prohibit Needed Progress

Header image: Photo by Derek French from Pexels