'A Warning To Us All': Why Women Can't Take Abortion Rights For Granted

The US has overturned Roe vs Wade. Make no mistake: the impact will be global.
Pro-choice protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court on May 2, 2022.
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Pro-choice protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court on May 2, 2022.

The US Supreme Court has struck down Roe vs Wade – the historic case law that legalised abortion across America.

The ruling – made by the conservative majority of Supreme Court justices – marks the devastating end of constitutional protections for abortion that have been in place for nearly 50 years.

Now the law has been overturned, 26 out of 50 US states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion, according to research from the think tank the Guttmacher Institute.

It’s a shocking moment that’ll cause the biggest rollback of women’s reproductive rights in almost half a century – but we knew it was coming.

Back in May, news organisation Politico leaked a draft document that suggested the court was gearing up to strike down the landmark case.

At the time, MPs and campaigners called this “a warning to us all” – with many emphasising the need to proactively protect women’s reproductive rights in the UK, too.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, described the news coming from the US as “chilling”.

“It is an outright assault on the rights of American women, threatening to deny 50% of the population their bodily autonomy. It has ominous consequences for women everywhere and is a reflection of the global backlash against reproductive rights,” she said.

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women's Equality Party.
Kate Green via Getty Images
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women's Equality Party.

“It brings into sharp focus just how fragile the right to free, safe, and legal abortions is – and that applies to the UK too. Make no mistake, abortion access is not watertight in the UK, and has been under threat for years, as we’ve seen with recent threats to at-home abortions, the requirement for two doctors to sign off on an abortion, and the fact that it is still not a legal right.

“What is happening in America is a warning to all of us, and must be a catalyst for abortion to be codified in law and health policies here in the UK, as a matter of utmost urgency.”

“Make no mistake, abortion access is not watertight in the UK.”

- Mandu Reid, Women's Equality Party

Although abortion is legal across the UK, under a law passed in 1861, any woman who ends a pregnancy without legal authorisation from two doctors can face up to life imprisonment, which is why campaigners continue to call for abortion to be decriminalised.

And although abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland in October 2019, access to appointments remains limited.

Parts of the UK have already experienced a rise in anti-abortion activists outside clinics in recent years, with some claiming to have been directly “recruited” by American religious groups.

Elsewhere in the world, women’s reproductive rights have already been rescinded. In 2021, Poland enforced a near-total ban on abortion, having previously allowed terminations.

On social media, many people have expressed concern that the latest US developments will only embolden those who hold anti-women views. They’ve also reacted to the latest news.

Moves to eradicate women’s reproductive rights are particularly disturbing for women like Kyanne Smith, who had an abortion in April 2020 via the telemedicine home-abortion system. The 23-year-old from London said our rights must be proactively protected.

“We know that a ban on abortion doesn’t stop them from happening; it just stops safe ones,” she said. “If I hadn’t been able to legally access a pregnancy termination, I would have found a way to get one.

“Where does this leave pregnant people in the US? It leaves them with forced births, unsafe terminations or spending an insane amount of money travelling to access basic healthcare, which isn’t an option for many. If we stand by and let this happen across America, a dangerous precedent is set for the UK. Keep your awful laws off our bodies.”

Kyanne Smith
Kyanne Smith
Kyanne Smith

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service – the UK’s leading abortion provider – said she’s “appalled” by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“This is an assault on women’s human rights, their lives, and their families. Everyone at BPAS today stands in solidarity with the women of America,” she said.

“We are calling on the UK government to publicly condemn this assault on women’s human rights, and make clear on the international stage that removing women’s access to swift, safe abortion services has absolutely no place in any society that calls itself civilised in the 21st century.

“For our politicians to watch silently as women’s rights are rolled-back would be unforgivable. We urge the government to show leadership as a matter of urgency.”

Reacting to the US ruling during a press conference in Rwanda on Friday, Boris Johnson told reporters the move was a “big step backwards”, adding: “I have always believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view. That’s why the UK has the laws that it does.”

Referring to changes to the law in Northern Ireland, he added: “We recently took steps to ensure that those laws were enforced throughout the whole of the UK.”

Other British politicians have reacted in horror including the Labour Party’s shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds who said: “This is a devastating step backwards for women’s rights in the United States.

Back in May – when the proposed law change was leaked – Conservative Caroline Nokes, the chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, told HuffPost UK: “It is a deeply worrying attack on long established women’s rights which I certainly hope we see no replication of here.”

MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly named Marie Stopes), which works across 37 countries, also raised concerns that law changes in the US could impact women globally.

“If it stands, it would be the biggest setback to women’s rights in the US in a generation and deeply concerning for global reproductive rights,” the charity’s head of advocacy, Sarah Shaw, said.

“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.”

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