Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review
The Ruling Felt Around the World: Global Ramifications of US Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade
Skye Romo, University High School, Fresno, California, USA
A global outcry commenced on June 24th 2022, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision in which the Court ruled that state restrictions outlawing abortion are unconstitutional. An abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy, and the decision to have the procedure is generally motivated by complex and interrelated causes, some of which include health risks, limited resources, and the inability to provide care for dependents (Ireland, 2020). The court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to an abortion has triggered a series of automatic bans that have now made abortion a crime in many states across the US. Although it applies to a single country, the ruling has sent a chill across the globe, drawing a wave of overwhelmingly negative responses from world leaders — some calling this event “one of the darkest days for women's rights” — and for good reason (Jones, Z. C., 2022).
Many leaders see the US as a major influence on policy in the world, especially in the field of global health. As said by Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a report to the Associated Press, the US Supreme Court ruling “has massive impacts on people's thinking around the world”, and thus, many people are alarmed by the reversal of Roe (Jones, Z. C., 2022). This sense of alarm is justified: because the US is a powerful donor to global health affairs, Roe’s overturning could increase political pressure on countries that rely on US aid to match our current policies.
This political influence has already shown its consequences. The Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade has begun to fuel efforts to deconstruct women's reproductive rights in Latin America. In El Salvador, where abortion is banned “in all cases including where the mother's life is endangered, rape or incest”, parliament has now used the US as a justification for their stance (Grant, W., 2022). Mariana Moisa, a leading women’s rights activist in El Salvador, says that the US Supreme Court ruling will “embolden the most conservative groups in our countries who consistently deny women rights (Grant, W., 2022).” She highlights that “the denial of the human rights of women and girls being forced to bear children who are the product of abuse" already disproportionately affect the poorest in society (Grant, W., 2022).
In the coming years, both patients and physicians will face confusion and fear. With the court’s decision giving US states the power to regulate abortion, there are now 50 varying approaches, each with its own interpretation of where to draw the line between when the procedure is appropriate and when it is a crime (Cha, A. E., 2022). In a report by NPR, Dr. Nisha Verma, a member of a post-Roe task force of physicians in Georgia, wondered, “Are surgeons going to be afraid to intervene when a pregnant patient ruptures their appendix because they might inadvertently end the pregnancy?” (Cha, A. E., 2022). These are the concerns that many face in places where abortion is already illegal. Anu Kumar, president and CEO of iPAS, an international group that works to expand access to abortion worldwide, says that "in Brazil, we've seen police raids of abortion clinics, and in Nicaragua we've seen doctors stop providing lifesaving treatment because they're scared of arrest. In places like El Salvador, and in the past in Nepal and Rwanda, women have been put in jail when abortion is criminalized (Gharib, M., 2022).” The overturning of Roe v. Wade will only fuel such movements in nations both outside of the US and also within.
The effects of a shift in reproductive rights legislation will hit developing nations the hardest. Globally, of the 56 million induced abortions each year, 25 million are unsafe (WHO, 2021). Thus, women cannot afford to separate abortion from overall health care. In a British Medical Journal study from this year, in countries where abortions are restricted, 50% of unintended pregnancies still end in abortion and have higher rates of abortion-related maternal deaths (MacKenzie, E. J., 2022). The statistics show that if a person is not prepared for a pregnancy, they will go to great lengths to end it — even at the risk of their own life (MacKenzie, E. J., 2022).
In addition to increasing the rate of maternal deaths, the overturning of Roe v. Wade will also affect equitable access to safe abortion services. 75% of the people who currently get abortions are low-income or poor (Uzogwe, C. E., & LC, C. S., 2022). Because abortions are often related to a person’s economic ability to take care of a child, the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade and the ripple effect that it has on developing nations will disproportionately affect people with lower incomes. Furthermore, according to data from the CDC, Black and Latinx women are more likely to have an abortion than whites in America (CDC., 2019). The reversal of Roe will only exacerbate the severe inequities that exist in reproductive healthcare across the board.
Abortion will never be a simple issue; it remains extremely contested because one’s opinion depends on their world view, and when they believe life begins. But one thing is for certain — the overturning of Roe v Wade will have far-reaching negative effects on the future of global health and foreign aid and is a major setback in our journey toward equity in healthcare. The decision jeopardizes the health and rights of people everywhere, and thus, abortion is not an independent issue, but rather an interconnected part of women’s health, reproductive health, and public health (MacKenzie, E. J., 2022). We must advocate for women worldwide to have access to the vital reproductive healthcare resources they need to determine their future.
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Cha, A. E. (2022, June 28). Physicians face confusion and fear in post-Roe World. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/06/28/abortion-ban-roe-doctors-confusion/.
Gharib, M. (2022, June 24). Global reproductive and women's rights groups react to overturn of Roe v. Wade. NPR. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/06/24/1107370547/global-reproductive-and-womens-rights-groups-react-to-overturn-of-roe-v-wade.
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Jones, Z. C. (2022, June 24). World leaders react to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. CBS News. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/supreme-court-roe-v-wade-abortion-rights-international-response/.
MacKenzie, E. J. (2022, April 15). Stop unsafe abortions everywhere. Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://magazine.jhsph.edu/2022/stop-unsafe-abortions-everywhere.
Uzogwe, C. E., & LC, C. S. (2022, July 11). Poverty is the commonest reason for abortion: This is not a choice. The BMJ. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.bmj.com/content/367/bmj.l6424/rr.
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