• Human Rights Research Center

Global Abortion Rights and Losing Our Right to Choose

July 5, 2022

[Image Credit: Gwen Schroeder, ACLU]

The World After Roe v. Wade


With the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24th in the United States, other governments are thinking about abortion rights in their countries. Several countries have outright bans, such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, while others are progressing in the right to choose. Over the last four years, Ireland, San Marino, Argentina, and Colombia, all heavily Catholic nations, have all expanded abortion access and eased restrictions on gestation (the time spent carrying a fetus in the womb) periods.


While the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided to overturn Roe v. Wade, there is no nationwide ban on the procedure, although this elicits considerable concern for future SCOTUS rulings on other human rights issues in the country. There are several states that will keep abortion legal, but many will become like El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua in outlawing the practice. In fact, there are many reports that physicians in states like Texas have refused to treat women experiencing miscarriages because if there is still a fetal heartbeat and their treatment could be classified as an abortion.


As many states push bans on abortion, neighboring states are preparing for an influx of what is being called ‘abortion refugees’. Santa Cruz in California is already seeing increased patient numbers from out-of-state. After the leaked draft of the court ruling, seven states began passing measures to protect those seeking abortions. Massachusetts passed a law ensuring that the state would not cooperate with other states’ investigations into abortions, and other states are likely to follow suit in a non-extradition attitude towards abortions.


There has been an outpouring of support from employers and neighboring countries committing to help people in needing or wanting an abortion as well. Companies like Airbnb, Netflix, Walt Disney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Patagonia are offering to cover travel and related expenses for employees seeking abortion access. Canada is committing to allow Americans across the border to seek abortions, with Trudeau referring to the repeal of Roe v. Wade as “horrific”.


For those states passing more restrictive laws after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, medical providers now have to consult lawyers before performing a lifesaving procedure. What is legal? Will they be arrested for helping a woman with a ruptured ectopic, or will the woman die? These questions lead to a bigger one: Why does a fetus have more rights than the person carrying it? While philosophical and religious debates are abound, in March, 2022, the acting director of the UN health agency for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research stated that “being able to obtain a safe abortion is a crucial part of healthcare”.


Personal Reflections


In this section, personal stories and opinions are shared.


The Story of Marie* (United States)

*Pseudonym


Marie was 16 years old when she found out she was pregnant. She approached me, frightened and crying, telling me she needed an abortion. I felt frightened for her, but didn’t understand. Is her boyfriend the father? Did she talk to him first? Why does she want an abortion? Will her parents consent to the abortion? Where will she get the procedure done, since it is illegal where we live?


Marie’s father had raped her. I was horrified, angry, and sad. How could he do this to her? Once she told me this, the other questions disappeared from my mind and instead focused on, “How will I get away from school to take her to get an abortion?” Nothing would stop me, though. I told Marie that I would take her to the neighboring state where abortion is legal without parental consent, and I skipped school for the first time in my life (Yes, I was one of those perfect attendance people).


I remember driving Marie the hour and a half to the clinic where they offered abortion services. She was shaking and felt sick to her stomach, and I did the best I could to comfort her as a fellow 16-year-old experiencing this for the first time. After the procedure, I was allowed in to see her. She was in a hospital gown in bed wearing what looked like an adult diaper. Her face was pale and she held a weak smile for me. I cried as I hugged her. We drove back later in silence, knowing that our parents would be furious for skipping school. I also felt fear for allowing Marie back to that house where her rapist lived. A story for another time.


Looking back at this experience as an adult, I see the trauma Marie experienced, the difficult decision she had to make, and the hurdles she had to get through to access the medical care she needed. No one should be denied the medical care they need. I also think to myself, “I can’t believe I ever thought of those questions before.” Would it matter had Marie not been raped? She should still have access to the same care. Why should she need to get consent from her partner or parent? It’s HER body.


The overturning of Roe v. Wade takes me back to that moment when Marie told me she needed an abortion. To even think that the government can mandate what a person can and cannot do with their body is horrifying. For all the Maries and others out there that want and need an abortion, I support you. No matter why you decide to have an abortion, I support you. It is your body, your choice.


The Story of Isra* (Thailand)

*Pseudonym


I met Isra in 2013 in Phuket, Thailand. I had been staying on the island for two weeks by the time I actually had spoken with her, but I always passed her and another girl outside of a massage parlor, both urging people to come in for massages. Unfortunately, many massage parlors in Thailand are known for using “staff” through sex trafficking and I wondered if that applied here. I approached her to engage in normal conversation which soon led to her confirming my fears: she was trafficked from a village in rural Esaan (northeastern Thailand).


Isra told me of her experience being tricked into having a better job in the city, only to find out she was now owned by someone. Baring her heart and soul, she then told me that she was forced to have an abortion. One of her “clients” had gotten her pregnant and the man in charge took her to get an abortion against her will. Isra had no choice in the matter. She told me it was probably for the best, but she often thinks about what the child might have become.


It never occurred to me that someone forced into sex trafficking and impregnated would want to continue with the pregnancy. While I would have never thought to carry a fetus to term if I were in that situation, Isra’s story reminded me that all people should have the right to choose, that their bodies are their own.


Despite the grave circumstances under which I met Isra, I am happy to say that she and all others employed at that parlor were rescued by a local nonprofit organization that worked with law enforcement. Isra can now make her own reproductive choices, and all choices in her life.


An American Woman’s Thoughts


Gender inequality is not unique to the United States. Billions of women worldwide experience a hard-fought struggle in gaining equal rights to the male gender, whether that be equal pay or opportunity. A country like the U.S. is considered a first world nation that provides liberties to all, a country that proudly proclaims its slogan as “Land of the Free”. However, as a woman in this country, it has become clear that certain freedoms only apply to certain people.


I am grateful to have been born in a country where I can have freedoms that other people do not have in their country. Yet I see where my country is lacking in progressing basic human rights. The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court put a pit in my stomach. I felt physically ill and overwhelmed by emotion. My country just determined that I no longer have rights to my own body or access to the medical care needed to make my choice for my body. While I’ve never had to make the choice personally, I think about the impact this Supreme Court decision has on my future and for others like me. Abortion is a human right. A human has the right to decide what to do with their body.


The Supreme Court and other international governments view abortion as murder. For example, a judge in Brazil urged a 10-year-old rape victim to go through with her pregnancy, telling her that she would be murdering a child. In El Salvador, women are imprisoned for having a miscarriage. Despite these views and laws, abortion undeniably is a healthcare matter. Poland’s near-total abortion ban created a black market for abortion pills and moved all abortion services underground. The restrictive laws now in place in many U.S. states have changed what is considered a medical necessity for abortion, such as an ectopic pregnancy which requires medical or surgical termination. Women unable to access the medical services they need will turn to dangerous methods, increasing risks to the health and life of a woman.


I end here with this, the feelings I wrote down the moment Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022:


I am heartbroken. For all women and people with uteruses, including myself, that have lost rights to their own bodies. I mourn that loss.


I am worried. What does this mean for future generations? Will my nieces be denied the reproductive health care they require? Which rights will be taken next?


I am outraged. At the audacity of the Supreme Court to think they know what’s best for a person who needs or wants an abortion. It is the person’s body, NOT the Supreme Court’s.


This is a human right. The right to choose is a human right. This CANNOT be how things continue. I am mad as hell and will stand up to fight these oppressive and archaic policies.


Bans Off Our Bodies.


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Helpful Resources


Are you or someone you know in need of an abortion in the United States? Below are some useful resources in accessing the medical care you require and learning abortion laws.


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