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One year has passed since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, a legal precedent which underlied the right to abortion in the country. As it stands today, abortion is protected by state statutes, constitutions or laws in less than half of the United States.
The past fifty years have been characterized by a global trend toward the liberalization of abortion, but this seismic shift in commitment to bodily autonomy and reproductive choice has caused progress to recede. The United States stands among only a handful of countries who have regressed on abortion rights, including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Iran and Poland.
An International Effort to Undermine Human Rights
Paired with emerging trends of global opposition to gender equitable policy, the effects of this ruling have extended far beyond the legal boundaries of the United States – with profound implications for the health, rights and well-being of marginalized women around the world.
Across the African continent, U.S. international assistance to health financing is critical to withstand anti-choice investment aimed at contesting comprehensive sexuality education, contraception, abortion and LGBTQI+ rights. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the ruling is likely to have increased maternal morbidity and mortality where safe and legal abortions were previously limited.
In the European region, the United Kingdom’s government has removed commitments to women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health; Polish women have been charged for facilitating access to self-managed medical abortion where it is legal; and amid the Russian occupation of Ukraine, refugees in the European Union have been neglected and are unable to access adequate reproductive care in Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
As authoritarianism continues to rise, the decision to repeal Roe has further empowered a growing global cultural war by emboldening the regressive policies on access to reproductive health care supported by the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment. It has exacerbated the fragility of civil rights, extending to gender-affirming care and same-sex marriage, while current efforts are doubling down to deepen existing divisions in these areas. These tensions – authoritarianism, regressive policies and cultural conflicts – are deeply embedded in the socio-political polarization taking hold across the globe.
The Cycle of Inequity in Opposition
Across the border, the Mexican Supreme Court is faced with the same concerns for equitable accessibility as Roe – following the decriminalization of abortion nearly five decades later. The vulnerability of poor, young, rural, migrant, Indigenous or racialized women, girls and other gestating persons is experienced across all regions of the world. Conflict worsens the situation, and regressive policies create barriers that hinder access, quality and accountability of care.
The Resilience of the Green Wave Movement
Amid these dire circumstances, the resilience of the green wave movement, a grouping of abortion-rights groups throughout the Americas, has transcended borders, galvanized efforts, and strengthened solidarity among communities to resist attempts to undermine fundamental human rights.
Over the past year, India’s Supreme Court and Colombia’s Constitutional Court have liberalized and decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation, while Sierra Leone’s cabinet shared unanimous support for the adoption of the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act – a law which would overturn colonial era criminalization laws. These developments serve as a reminder that despite the crisis of opposition to sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice are attainable.
The impact of this ruling has ignited a renewed sense of urgency to safeguard and to protect fundamental human rights, and recognition that progress requires ongoing vigilance. Women, girls and gender-diverse people at the forefront of the green wave movement have mobilized once again to protect hard-won gains and resist efforts to reverse or erode them.
As we reflect on a year since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it is critical that we commit to the monitoring and evaluation of data around abortion, as it is instrumental in ensuring accountability to underserved communities. By investing in data assessment, we can unlock insights on regressive policies and help shape evidence-based interventions that bridge reproductive, racial, economic and gender equity.