Today’s news from America on abortion shows the far right is gaining in its battle to control women’s bodies. It should be a wake up call for anyone complacent about the threat to bodily autonomy worldwide.
In 1973 Roe vs Wade upheld a woman's freedom to have an abortion. Under the guise of constitutional debate, today’s Republican Supreme Court takes a chainsaw to decades of established caselaw stopping states which deny this right. The ruling itself will trigger an automatic ban in thirteen states — including Florida banning abortion after fifteen weeks, Oklahoma after six or Texas after any foetal heart activity is found. More will face uphill fights to protect healthcare provision from lawmakers who use it as a dog whistle issue at the ballot box.
These laws increasingly target those who help — Texas offers £10,000 for lawsuits against doctors who ‘aid’ someone having a termination. Such tactics ripple out across the world. In Poland, where abortion is now all but abolished, the activist Justyna WydrzyÅska is on trial for helping a victim of domestic abuse. Orban introduced a ban on medical abortions in Hungary, Malta still bans abortion outright even when the mother’s life is at risk. Even in war women do not get a respite — the Helms Amendment means American aid cannot assist pregnant Ukrainian victims of rape and UK aid cuts have wiped out reproductive services worldwide.
Only 5 per cent of women live in countries where abortion is illegal. Yet millions live in countries where accessing a safe procedure is impossible. This is not accidental, but the strategy of anti-choice campaigners for whom this ruling will give new energy. The WHO estimate 45 per cent of the world’s abortions are still unsafe, nearly 40,000 women die every year and millions more are treated for complications from backstreet treatment.
In total, 40 per cent of women live in countries where access is illegal or limited. This includes England, Scotland and Wales, where abortion is illegal. You are absolved from prosecution when two doctors declare it would send you mad otherwise. Only in Northern Ireland are women trusted to make that choice themselves; yet bureaucrats still frustrate this basic human right by refusing to provide the service locally.
Don’t be fooled by those claiming democratic or administrative barriers to abortion access. No one who supports overturning Roe vs Wade or restricting access to abortion can call themselves pro-life. Preventing access to abortion doesn’t prevent abortion — it just puts women’s lives at risk.