International Unitarian Universalism

Global Responses and Implications of the Overturning of Roe

Three identical black-and-white images side-by-side of person at protest holding sign reading "Protect Women's Rights"

By Katie Kurnick

Just days before the June 2022 G7 Summit, where world leaders meet to face the biggest challenges that exist in our world, Roe v. Wade was overturned in the United States, ending 50 years of federally protected abortion rights.

Prior to meeting for the G7 Summit, the United States’ allies voiced their concern over the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the ruling “a big step backwards” and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the ruling “a devastating setback”. French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his concern, stating that “Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. We must protect it.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted: "Women's rights are threatened. We must defend them resolutely."

While abortion is a protected right in each of these countries, the regulation of female bodies stretches beyond just U.S. borders. Globally, abortion access and reproductive rights have expanded over the last two decades, with nearly 60 countries advancing sexual and reproductive health policies. The U.S. along with El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland, are the only countries that have rolled back abortion rights since 1994. This regression of women’s reproductive rights in the United States is a violation of human rights.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee set the legal standard through a General Comment on the Right To Life that access to abortion and prevention of maternal mortality are both human rights. This standard provides the international community with the framework to hold nation-states accountable for deaths that come from women seeking unsafe abortions. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. are not treated as human rights as defined by the UN Human Rights Committee. Additionally, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The United States still has yet to ratify this Convention, which would hold the U.S. to a higher standard of respecting, fulfilling, and promoting the human rights of women and girls. With the ratification of CEDAW and adherence to its articles, the U.S. could expand rights for women to include safe and equitable access to reproductive healthcare.

This move back in time for women’s rights has dangerous implications for women in the United States, specifically for women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as effects on women globally. The U.S. Supreme Court decision could provide a precedent for repealing abortion laws, specifically in countries that have recently protected abortion. This is a particular threat in a country like Mexico, which recently decriminalized abortion. In Bangladesh, local organizations have already started to use the decision to limit access to abortion. This could also affect foreign aid funding on comprehensive sex education and gender-related public health programs.

In the Roe v. Wade 1973 ruling (PDF), the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause under the 14th Amendment protects the right to privacy, and thus protects a woman’s right to abortion. With the right to privacy at stake, additional rights are also subject to risk. Information from consumer devices and mobile apps can be used to infer pregnancy status and be used by law enforcement to track pregnancy status. This ruling could also have an immense impact on civil liberties that were previously protected under the 14th Amendment. This includes the right to use contraceptives and the right to same-sex marriage. Additionally, as many members of the LGBTQ+ community are dependent on women’s reproductive care, the overruling of Roe v. Wade could limit their access to healthcare. This includes gender-affirming healthcare and in vitro fertilization being at risk.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has massive domestic and global implications that must be taken into account when advocating for human rights for all. This is a regression for the rights of women and child-bearing individuals, and degrades human dignity and the rights of the individual.

About the Author

Katie Kurnick

Katie Kurnick (she/her/hers) is a 2022 summer intern with the UU @ UN office. She is a current Global Social Work student and Global Activities Scholar, pursuing her Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She graduated from Ohio State University in 2018 with her Bachelor of Arts in...

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