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OPINION | How Will Overturning of Roe v Wade Impact Abortion Policies Globally?

By: Aatreyee Dasgupta and Adya Madhavan

Last Updated: July 27, 2022, 19:13 IST

New Delhi, India

A protest against the Roe Vs Wade overturning. (File Image: AFP)

A protest against the Roe Vs Wade overturning. (File Image: AFP)

Most of the articles in the western media that compiled the reactions of world leaders only seem to have collected those of leaders from developed western nations

The last decade has seen a global wave of right-wing policies and governments, and the overturning of Roe v Wade was yet another instance of the same.

The intuitive assumption was that this would give an impetus to anti-abortion policies globally, but so far, there has been no evidence to suggest the same on a large scale. The critical question raised is whether it will affect the United States soft power and its political credibility since the SCOTUS judgment is against the wishes of a majority of the voter base.

This piece makes certain assumptions on the implications of the judgment using data and analysis. Still, it is limited because it has only been a month since the overturning, and we are yet to see a potential significant global response.

During his tenure, former POTUS Donald Trump appointed three conservative judges to the US Supreme Court, making it a republican majority of 6-3. This decision had consequences beyond the tenure of the former president: the ability to pass and amend laws as per the Republican Party’s liking, as they did with Roe v Wade.

Americans have been out on the streets in protest, and a Pew Research Centre study revealed that 60% of the respondents of the representative survey disagreed with the verdict, indicating a failure of the system to act democratically.

Advocates of reproductive health across the globe are up in arms because of what this will mean for people who identify as women or are capable of conceiving.

As it is, according to a UN survey, 45% of abortions performed globally are unsafe. If there is a wave of illegalising abortions, even more, unsafe abortions will lead to higher fatality rates and health risks.

One would expect that there would be a global far-right propagated anti-SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) wave, but the reactions of major world leaders make one think that perhaps the US verdict will not be as influential as expected.

It is too soon to see whether other states will change their stance on reproductive and sexual health, but from the reactions, one can speculate that maybe the influence of the US will not have as significant a global impact as thought.

Global leaders’ reactions: Jacinda Ardern (“a loss for women everywhere”), Alexander de Croo (“concern, signal sends to the world”), Boris Johnson (“big step backwards”), Nicola Sturgeon (“darkest days for women’s history”), P Chidambaram (“If you look hard, you will find tears rolling down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty. Today is a sad and deeply disappointing day for liberty, equality, privacy and dignity — especially of women”).

If other countries wanted to criticise what is a human rights issue in the US, they have not done it yet.

The United Nations, NATO and powerful countries could potentially pressure the US, but there has been a lot of angry-Twitter criticism and no real international action. There has been no direct challenge to US power in the global arena. This leads us to conclude that Roe v Wade has considerably not adversely impacted the US’s soft power and hegemonic status.

Most of the articles in the western media that compiled the reactions of world leaders only seem to have collected those of leaders from developed western nations; there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the response from the developing countries.

The non-western perspective on SRHR, women’s rights, etc., has been undermined or looked into only to suit the western Messiah complex. So, it is expected that the implication of the SCOTUS judgment is more likely to affect the developing world more implicitly over the years, as it sets a precedent for SRHR policy in these countries than in the developed and economically stable nations. On the other hand, the message that the overturning sends out might also be a matter of concern for citizens of countries under conservative governments or religious regimes.

When a powerful western nation like the USA makes constitutional decisions influenced by religion at the cost of human rights, it legitimises such actions for other countries that hold similar values. The impact of such a ruling doesn’t just stay at the legal and policy-making level, but has a broader social effect. This could change or shape the discourse on reproductive rights and women’s rights in liberal-minded constituencies.

A visible example is a discussion on social media and comments posted by individuals from such communities. For instance, in Bangladesh, subsequent to the leaked draft opinion, groups opposed to the legalisation of abortion in the country used this to substantiate their cause and make a case against moving forward with reforms on sexual and reproductive health rights.

To make matters worse, American senators are now also pushing for anti-LGBTQ and racist legislation that could further tarnish the civil liberty protecting image that the country has always boasted. Henceforth, this will damage the authority of the USA’s opinion on human rights in the international arena and change the course of related policy.

The overturning of Roe v Wade shook the world because of what it would mean for reproductive health and women’s rights globally. While more conservative states in the US have banned or will ban abortion, it is heartening to see that large corporations and employers are taking the onus to help their employees commute to states where abortion is legal if need be.

Nevertheless, it is imperative to remember that it is still a minority of the US population that can afford ‘abortion tourism’; unsafe abortions will increase.

As for its global implications — those are yet to be seen.

However, it is clear that most of the US’s own population and leaders of developed countries do not support the verdict. It is worth noting that although other countries have spoken out against it, there has been virtually no international pressure on the US. We see it as a failure of one of the biggest democracies of the world that the Supreme Court and government’s actions do not seem to reflect the wants of their voters.​

The authors are researches at the Takshashila Institution. Views expressed are personal.

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first published:July 27, 2022, 19:05 IST
last updated:July 27, 2022, 19:13 IST