US abortion politics impact women worldwide

Each year, 25 million women around the world resort to dangerous and unsafe abortion methods. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US could further restrict access to safe methods and drive that number even higher.  

They have a saying in other countries: “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.” The saying is usually used when talking about economics, but it applies to abortion rights too. The US politics around women’s reproductive healthcare and access to abortion services are watched with keen interested by anti-abortion activities everywhere.    

Once a world-leader in women’s reproductive rights, the US is poised to join only a few countries that have taken steps to limit access in recent years. If the decision leaked from the Supreme Court stands, the impact will be felt worldwide.  

We’ve seen it first-hand at MSI. Anti-abortion activism rose to a new high during the Trump administration with US-linked groups lobbying for restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and rights across Africa and Asia. Online attacks shut down our Facebook and WhatsApp pages, making it difficult for women to communicate with us and get the healthcare they need. Our providers face regular threats to their personal safety and we’re seeing US-style opposition tactics in many countries, such as “crisis pregnancy” centers set up to prevent people from getting unbiased medically based advice.

A 28-year-old woman recovers after having an abortion at the MSI clinic in Jaipur, India.

Open Democracy estimates that US right-wing organizations spend an average of $280 million every year attacking abortions and LGBTQIA rights globally. When they hear that the US is about to remove the Constitutional protections of abortion established under Roe v. Wade, they are emboldened.     

Esi Asare Prah, MSI’s Advocacy Manager for Ghana commented:  

“It is frustrating for people like us working in reproductive choice in contexts like Ghana, because what happens in the US affects us. It gives power to the opposition and the tools to advance their efforts. It means those who have been on the fence in the past could be easily swayed to become part of the opposition. Trump has gone and the Gag Rule has been repealed. We were hopeful we could finally breathe and there was going to be progress.” 

With misinformation and trickery, abortion opposition persuades people and policymakers to deny women the very fundamental right of control over their bodies. Forcing women to carry a pregnancy they do not want in places where pregnancy is often deadly and give birth to a child they did not plan when they haven’t the resources to provide proper care. It doesn’t matter to the opposition that there’s no evidence that banning abortion reduces the demand for abortion. It doesn’t matter that when access to legal, safe abortion is restricted, women will choose unsafe options, risking their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy.  

When abortion rights are under threat, we feel it around the world.

The truth about abortion 

First and foremost, abortion is common. Globally, about 1 in 4 pregnancies end in abortion. It’s also declining, in large part due to the availability of modern contraception.    

Along with being common, abortion is also safe. In fact, it’s safer for women than pregnancy. Yet, thanks to the work of anti-abortion forces, misinformation around the safety of abortion is prevalent. Abortion continues to be heavily restricted worldwide, with dozens of unnecessary requirements imposed on providers, making it more difficult for providers and women. These requirements don’t improve the quality of care, they just increase the burden, especially for women with limited resources. Restrictive laws push women to travel long distances at increased expense, forcing them to take time off from work and find childcare. Many of these restrictions are designed to make it so difficult that women find themselves past the cut-off dates for legal abortion.  

There is reason for hope though. Advances in abortion by medication mean that women can safely self-manage an abortion with guidance via telephone or internet. Finding a clinic to provide an early abortion isn’t always necessary. Throughout the Covid pandemic, countries legalized the use of abortion pills outside of healthcare facilities with telephone consultations. The data from these real-world experiences and from extensive research show that abortion at home is safe and that many women weren’t just satisfied with the experience, they preferred it. 

What you can do to help 

Know the facts.  Misinformation is the anti-abortionist’s primary tool. When you come across inaccurate information, counter it with facts. 

Participate in the discussion. For too long, the stigma around abortion has kept women quiet, despite how common it is.   

Support organizations that advocate for abortion, support women seeking abortion or provide abortion services. Women with the least resources are the hardest hit by these laws. They need your help.   

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