“This is really bad news for the whole world,” said Natalia Broniarczyk, an abortion activist in Poland who woke up with the rest of Europe to news that the landmark Roe v. Wade case protecting abortion rights in the US may be overturned.
On Monday night Politico published what it said was a 98-page draft majority opinion from the US Supreme Court that would undo half a century of abortion rights. The leak of the draft opinion is unprecedented, and votes could still change ahead of a final ruling expected to be published this summer. But the apparent will of the highest court in the US to repeal abortion rights has prompted widespread outrage and concern across the world.
Broniarczyk, who works with Abortion Dream Team and Abortion Without Borders and who has seen the effects of Poland’s near-total abortion ban in 2020 first-hand, told VICE World News via Whatsapp: “We saw a similar situation 1.5 years ago. It was a moment of awakening for many people, who started to realise how important abortion access is – and how abortion access depends on grassroots abortion funds and feminist networks."
Mara Clarke, founder of the Abortion Support Network that works across Europe, said: “In terms of what the reverberations will be, we’re already in this odd situation. You have some parts of Europe like Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar and Isle of Man and San Marino and France that have recently liberalised abortion laws. You also have Malta with the worst law in Europe. You have Poland who took their draconian abortion law and made it more draconian in October 2020. And you have Romania and Hungary where access is getting worse and worse.
“We don’t know what will happen, but it can get even worse.”
Leader of the UK’s Women's Equality Party (WEP), Mandu Reid, said: "This is chilling news coming from the US, it is the latest disturbing attack on reproductive rights amidst a global backlash against women's equality.
“We're talking about a handful of people – mostly conservative men – making life changing decisions about women's bodily autonomy without their consent. But this applies to the UK too, where free, safe, and legal abortion still isn't a legal right and where underfunding leads to difficulties in women accessing contraception and abortions.”
WEP, along with many other women’s rights groups in the UK, successfully campaigned recently to keep telemedicine abortions available in England after they were introduced during the pandemic. But the vote was close. “It went down to the wire,” Reid said. “What is happening in the US underlines the fragility of the hard-won but incomplete abortion access we have, and must be a catalyst here in the UK for abortion rights to be urgently codified in law and health policies."
Nearly 50 countries have liberalised their abortion laws since the 1980s, but Sarah Shaw, Head of Advocacy at MSI Reproductive Choices which helps people access safe abortions around the globe, said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, “it would be the biggest setback to women’s rights in the US in a generation and deeply concerning for global reproductive rights.”
“Each year, 25 million women around the world resort to dangerous and unsafe methods. At MSI, our teams worldwide witness and deal with the terrible consequences of this every day. No one should be seeking to replicate this situation in the US. The right to choose must be protected.”
Hanneke van Halen, from Abortion Network Amsterdam, said: “The example of Roe v. Wade is a display of how fragile any kind of abortion legislation really is and how easily it can be taken away from us. In the Netherlands, for example, abortion is still in the penal code. On a daily basis we deal with the dire consequences of the violence this kind of legislation forces on to people: carrying out unwanted pregnancies or travelling across countries to get a simple medical procedure in a safe setting.”
She added: “The normalisation of patriarchal violence in a world-dominating country like the US will have impact on the reproductive rights of people everywhere.”