Global Perspectives On SCOTUS’s Overturning Of Roe v. Wade

On June 24th, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made a decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a law that guaranteed abortion as a constitutional right. By overturning nearly fifty years of precedent, individual states are now able to create and enact their own laws regarding abortion, birth control, and contraceptives. As such, a series of “trigger laws” were and will continue to be enacted in at least 22 states. Such laws include banning abortion in all cases, including rape or incest, with the exception of life-threatening pregnancies. Since the Supreme Court decision, there have been massive country-wide demonstrations, in various forms, protesting women’s basic rights for bodily autonomy, access to safe healthcare, and the general structure of the government that ultimately caused this issue. Although this presents as merely a domestic problem, the stripping of women’s rights also affects foreign perceptions of the US – a nation labeled as a leader for global democracy. 

The general sentiment among countries around the world is one of shame towards SCOTUS and support towards all people that will be affected by this legislation. For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted following the decision, “Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected. I wish to express my solidarity with the women whose liberties are being undermined by the Supreme Court of the United States”. In a similar tone, Borris Johnson, the British Prime Minister expressed, “I think it’s a big step backwards. I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view and that is why the UK has the laws that it does”. In addition, the US has also received criticism from international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and Human Rights Watch. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed how new legislation will contribute to the already existing institutional prejudice against minorities in a CBS interview. Specifically, she stated that, “this decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the US, in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights”. By examining the response from world leaders, it is even more clear that the consequences of the recent SCOTUS decision are both far-reaching and endless in quantity. From stripping away millions of citizens’ freedom and urging unsafe abortions to compromising its diplomatic status, the US is now facing global backlash. 

In order to understand why this global response is significant, it is critical to point out that because of the Supreme Court decision, the US is now falling behind other developed and developing nations not only in terms of health care and gender equality, but also as a democracy. To address the former issue, one must acknowledge that the global trend with respect to women’s healthcare has been toward liberalization. For instance, since 2000, 38 countries have altered their laws to allow women to receive abortions. Many of these states are Latin and Asian. Now, the US is among only one other nation– Nicaragua– where access to abortion and reproductive healthcare has decreased in the past 20 years. More specifically, by looking into the global experience of the liberalization of reproductive healthcare, one can examine the consequence of unsafe abortions caused by government bans – an issue that will now be exacerbated in the US. Because 5-13% of maternal deaths worldwide are due to complications that arise from unsafe abortions, usually performed by a non-medical professional, it can be deduced that the maternal deathrate in the US will soon increase. However, in countries where women can access safe abortions, the quality of care has improved along with the maternal survival rate. The positive correlation between maternal survival rate and access to safe abortions is an obvious example of progress in health care, yet the US is no longer an example of a nation that will benefit from liberal reproductive laws. 

Now to explain how the new US laws that became possible after the overturn of Roe v. Wade will impact the nation on the international stage, it first must be noted that US actions concurrent with democratic backsliding are now even more obvious. In other words, the Supreme Court decision in question is simply a side effect of a government structure that fails to comply with the wishes of its constituents. For instance, a Pew Research poll found that a majority of Americans (61%) believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. However, because of the nearly unchecked power of the Supreme Court, a decision was able to be made that directly opposed most Americans. By that same token, the strike down of constitutionally protected abortions has caused many people to speak out against the deep-rooted problems within the government in general. Not to mention the lack of term limits and representation in the Supreme Court, the US faces a lack of checks and balances on political power, laws that enable discrimination, and polarization that stems from the two-party system. While none of these issues are new, the overturn of Roe v. Wade has brought them to the forefront of civic outcry for political reform. 

As the US government, both federal and state, continues to make decisions that oppose the basic fundamentals of democracy, the nation falls further behind as a “leader of the free world”. This, in turn, contributes to the problem of legitimacy in not only a domestic sense, but also in a diplomatic one. The US has long utilized a foreign policy that contains aspects of idealism, which holds that its internal political ideals should be echoed in its goals for international affairs. For instance, because the US strongly believes in free and fair elections at home, it tends to endorse that same rhetoric abroad. In doing so, the US takes on a role-model position globally. However, why should a developing country respect the US’s foreign policy initiatives on lessening human rights crimes, for instance, if it cannot even protect its own citizens from violations? Additionally, because the original decision on Roe v. Wade in 1973 set an example for other countries around the world to increase access to safe abortions, one should expect that its reversal will also influence foreign governments. For instance, in a recent Aljazeera commentary, a human rights lawyer in Kenya expressed that she is concerned about Washington D.C.’s recent developments not only because they impact American women, “but also because case law in commonwealth jurisdictions such as Kenya is sometimes influenced by decisions taken in US courtrooms”.

Upon reflecting on the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, human rights activists across the world share the belief that this decision should not have happened in the first place. Based on numerous global case studies that prove the benefits of liberal reproductive health policies, in addition to the characteristics a state must obtain in order to be a prime example of a democracy, this decision opposed the majority of developed nations’ ideologies. However, while critical debate on this topic is important, it is vital to propose the next steps that foreign governments should take in line with their position on abortion access. For instance, if influential international organizations, such as the UN, put enough pressure on the Supreme Court for its disregard of the US’s obligations under international law, President Biden would ideally codify access to abortion in the constitution. Until action takes place, from within the US or internationally, the world will watch as millions of American women lose their bodily autonomy, access to birth control, and lives. 

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