Editor's note: On June 24, it was announced that the US Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. Head here to find out ways you can help take action for abortion rights and the rights of all people globally to access sexual and reproductive health.
Abortion rights supporters around the world reacted with outrage to the leak on May 3 of a draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling which safeguarded the right to abortion across the United States.
If the court were to end protections for abortion, at least 26 US states would be certain or very likely to outlaw abortion, experts say. But as many human rights advocates and activists have highlighted, outlawing abortion does not stop abortions from happening, it just makes them more dangerous for those seeking them.
Criminalizing abortion would most affect women and girls living in poverty and that belong to marginalized groups in the US, as is already the case in other parts of the world where 25 million women every year resort to dangerous and unsafe methods.
Safe and legal access to abortion for women, girls, and non-binary people around the world is also a central part of the mission to end extreme poverty and achieve the Global Goals — women already make up the majority of the world’s poor and the repercussions of unplanned pregnancies can be dire. These include preventing women from furthering their education and careers, with knock-on effects on their income. As Melinda French Gates has written: “When women have the power to determine their future and decide when they have children, it saves lives, promotes health, expands education, and creates prosperity.”
Since the document was leaked, people across the US have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to decry the expected reversal of the landmark law.
But those shock waves did not stop at the US border. Pro-choice figures globally have warned that not only will the overturning of Roe v. Wade mean the end of abortion as a federal right in the US, it is a move that will be felt the world over as it will encourage anti-choice movements, particularly in developing countries. Activists — many of whom work in nations with restrictive abortion laws — warned that this will be a “catastrophe” for women in low- and middle-income countries and “send a really clear message” of inspiration to anti-choice groups.
Here’s how activists, allies, advocates, and people everywhere are using their voices to educate, empower, and support abortion rights as a crucial element of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Beneath The Statue of Liberty, US
On May 12, a giant green banner was draped beneath the Statue of Liberty that read Abortion = Liberty.
On May 12, a giant green banner reading “Abortion = Liberty” was draped beneath the Statue of Liberty. The anonymous group responsible for the action, made up of “individuals who believe the human right to abortion is liberty,” released a statement that read: “Our fight does not end when Roe v. Wade is decided. It continues on until everyone can have the abortions they need whenever and wherever they need them.”
Kenneth Buyinza, a Kampala-based Doctor
“I’m sure the pro-life or anti-choice movement in [Uganda] must be hoping and praying that the Roe v. Wade legislation be overturned. I’m sure if that succeeds, it will be the biggest achievement the anti-choice movement [has] registered. I’m sure they will use it significantly to counter the work and the gains we thought we had registered,” said Buyinza.
Abortion in Uganda is legal in certain circumstances but highly restricted and dogged by stigma and misinformation. A ministry of health report in 2010 revealed about 8% of the country’s maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortion.
In Chicago, US
Public artist, Jacqueline Von Edelbe, holds a sign with other abortion rights demonstrators who took to the streets on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Chicago. Demonstrators are rallying from coast to coast in the face of an anticipated Supreme Court decision that could overturn women’s right to an abortion.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Congresswoman
The New York congresswoman AOC warned: “[The court] isn’t just coming for abortion – they’re coming for the right to privacy Roe rests on, which includes gay marriage and civil rights.”
Indeed, LGBTQ+ legal experts say the draft opinion leaves critical civil rights law vulnerable, including the ruling that gave Americans the right to same-sex relationships and marriage equality.
Auriea Moore listens to speakers at a protest and rally for abortion rights, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Seattle. Demonstrators are rallying from coast to coast in the face of an anticipated Supreme Court decision that could overturn women’s right to an abortion.
Melinda French Gates, Global Advocate for Women and Girls
Philanthropist and global advocate for women and girls, Melinda French Gates, released a statement following the leak that read: “Throughout history, women have been robbed of the power to control their own lives, economic resources, and health. Restricting access to reproductive health services for women across the nation would continue that dangerous and inequitable cycle. When women have the power to determine their future and decide when they have children, it saves lives, promotes health, expands education, and creates prosperity.”
Every woman should have the right to decide whether and when to have children.— Melinda French Gates (@melindagates) May 3, 2022
This is not a decision that any government should make for a woman – it is a personal, private, and often emotional choice that women must be able to make for themselves.
In NYC, US
Sonni Mun at a protest in NYC.
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House led the outcry on the Supreme Court draft abortion ruling, calling it “an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history.”
If the report is accurate, the Supreme Court is poised to inflict the greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years – not just on women but on all Americans.— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 3, 2022
In Cincinnati, US
A young protester at a Bans off our Bodies rally in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Sarah Shaw, Head of Advocacy at MSI Reproductive Choices
Sarah Shaw revealed that another major concern for advocates is that, in countries heavily dependent on US aid for public health programs, the move could have a “chilling effect” on African governments’ commitment to abortion provision and other reproductive rights, making them “think twice about what they spend money on.”
In Washington DC, US
In San Francisco, US
An abortion-rights protester, who declined to give her name, chants while marching through San Francisco's Mission District on Saturday, May 14, 2022.
Abebe Shibru, Ethiopia Country Director for MSI Reproductive Choices
“If Roe v. Wade is reversed it would be a victory for anti-choice groups who finance the opposition in Africa and a catastrophe for us. It could influence policymakers and mean that in Africa we will keep seeing women dying. Whatever we have gained could be lost,” said Shibru.
There's no country in the world where girls and women have equal opportunities to boys and men. Find out more about ways you can take action to support women and girls here.