The Recent Surge in Anti-Abortion Laws: An Issue of Human Rights

Megan Cadwalladr responds to anti-abortion laws across the world, and what devastating effects they can have.

CW: Mention of r*pe

Undoubtedly, the issue of women’s reproductive rights is one that never fails to be continuously challenged globally. A woman’s right to an abortion should be recognised as a basic human right, yet this doesn’t seem to be the case in many countries. 

Last week, a draft of a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark case that has granted American women the right to an abortion, has been leaked. While this draft is not final, this certainly does signal a dramatic shift for women’s rights in the US. 

World leaders have reacted to this shocking news, with many highlighting the danger of this decision to women’s health and safety. In the words of Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, “The right of women to decide what happens to our own bodies is a human right. And experience tells us that removing the legal right to abortion doesn’t stop abortions happening – it just makes them unsafe and puts the lives of women at much greater risk”. President Biden has called on legislators to protect this right in the states, however recent events have made it clear that this will not be the case, with experts predicting that 26 states could ban abortion altogether. 

Before the Supreme Court’s decision hit the headlines, many states were already taking measures to restrict abortions. Earlier this year, Oklahoma’s governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill that would punish doctors who perform an abortion at any stage in pregnancy with up to 10 years imprisonment and up to $100,000 in fines. This is even more shocking considering that first degree rape in Oklahoma is punishable by a minimum of just 5 years. It is disturbing to imagine a world where a rapist could get someone pregnant, and receive a smaller sentence than the victim who is merely trying to make a choice about their own body. Just as disturbing is the bill proposed in Tennesse in March this year that allows private citizens to sue any abortion provider. This would allow a rapist’s friends and relatives to sue a victim for getting an abortion. 

The global public has taken to the internet in reaction to the crucial changes happening in the US. Many share concerns about the effect this could have on women’s rights across the world. It is, however, not just women in the US who have had their reproductive rights threatened recently. 

Artwork by Nancy Taylor.

Due to the horrifying events that are ongoing in Ukraine, an estimated 3 million Ukrainians have had to flee to their neighbouring country Poland. However, many Ukrainian women have experienced further turmoil due to Poland’s strict abortion laws. As of April 21st the umbrella group, Abortion Without Borders, has received at least 158 phone calls from women seeking information on how to access abortion. Urgency of the situation has worsened due to reports of sexual violence by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. While abortion in the case of rape is legal for up to 12 weeks in Poland, being granted this right is extremely difficult and rare. Ukrainian women are undoubtedly going through an extremely burdensome time by having to leave their homes, and now have to deal with fighting for their own rights at the same time.

Even in the UK there are ongoing struggles with abortion laws. Back in 2021 in Northen Ireland, the DUP moved to restrict abortion laws, only a year after they had been relaxed. A private member bill had been brought forward by Paul Givan that aimed to ban abortion in all cases besdies fatal disabilites. At its consideration stage in December 2021, members voted against the bill. Despite the proposal failing, this does highlight how abortion laws are continuousily under threat globally. 

Undoubtedly, the pro-life movements that have surged recently pose a great attack on women’s rights everywhere. The severity of the situation is something that certainly needs to be addressed, and it is necessary that the world fights back against these threats on human rights.

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