Health · June 23, 2022

Global abortion rights advocates fear their countries will be next if Roe falls

The concerns highlight not only the far-reaching reach of American health-care policies well beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but also the precarious state of abortion policies in governments around the world.

“We know the impact of this decision will have a ripple effect,” said Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, senior legal and policy adviser at the nonprofit Ipas, who attended the meetings with colleagues from around the world. “The US has outsized influence… Countries that want to liberalize their laws – it’s possible they’ll think twice after this decision.”

Although government officials declined to comment on a specific closed meeting, they said they have met regularly with abortion rights advocates – including those from other countries – since POLITICO first reported on a roe Draft opinion of the court.

At the meetings, advocates called for support for the Abortion is legal everywhere in health careVan Kampen Saravia said, adding that officials from USAID’s Office of Global Health, HHS’s Office of Global Affairs and the State Department’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration, as well as Reps, attended the talks. Jan Schakowsky (D-fig.) and Barbara Lee (D-Caliph).

The legislation would allow US foreign aid funds to be used for abortions, which are currently illegal under the Helms Amendment – although there is no clear path for passage in Congress. The group called on administration officials to be explicit about what types of abortion-related care and information are allowed in US-funded programs and to encourage more widespread abortion services, Van Kampen Saravia said.

The US abortion rights movement has motivated changing laws in other countries, activists said, and if the Supreme Court overturns roethis momentum could topple.

“The US is becoming a kind of inspiration for the conservative movements – and the conservative forces in the US have a stronghold in Latin America and around the world,” said María Antonieta Alcalde Castro, director of Ipas in Central America and Mexico. “This is very worrying for the entire region.”

Abortion rights activists have raised new funds after the court’s draft opinion was released, as well as the benefits of applying win-win strategies in the US elsewhere in the world, abortion rights advocates fear. Two global anti-abortion rights groups did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is creating a political trend that resources and political forces are following, and we’re already feeling that,” Alcalde Castro said. “The kind of rhetoric that we saw in Texas, we see, like copy-paste in Mexico, copy-paste in Nicaragua. So there is clearly a trend there.”

And the concerns extend beyond Latin America.

“My colleagues in Europe are really concerned about what’s going on in the US because, as you may know, there are attempts to backtrack, especially in Eastern European countries,” said Susan Yanow, spokeswoman for Women’s US arm Help Women, a global non-profit organization working to improve access to abortion medicine and information. “And it’s a big concern that countries with less democratic governments — and I’m going to kind of put the US in this column right now — are going backwards and the US is taking the lead.”

Activists said they had seen politicians in their countries use the risk of a US backlash to argue – often convincingly – for tightening abortion restrictions.

Still others see the decision as an opportunity to start a global conversation.

“Agenda setting works in all directions,” said Giselle Carino, director and CEO of Fos Feminista, a global feminist and abortion rights group. “The US is leading and undoubtedly setting an agenda. Like last year with Black Lives Matter, where suddenly the whole world was talking about racism, and that was just fabulous.”

Many leaders and activists still see the US as a major agenda-setter in the world – especially when it comes to global health.

The USA – no matter how roe seen by other governments – will remain a powerful donor to global health. Although formal U.S. policy has long restricted access to abortion abroad, the repeal of roe could increase political pressure to conform to current American abortion policies in countries dependent on US aid.

In countries where US aid accounts for a significant amount of health budgets, the need for stable funding may outweigh policy proposals.

“Sometimes they don’t even have to say anything,” Pansi Katenga, global development director at Ipas, told reporters at a conference on the global implications of the court decision. “People are afraid to annoy [the] UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”

US influence on abortion abroad is also more direct. For decades now and then, the so-called Mexico City Rule has prevented NGOs that accept US funds from promoting or practicing abortion as a method of family planning.

In January 2021, the Biden administration rescinded the rule.

However, other policies remain in effect. The Helms Amendment prevents foreign aid funds from being used to perform or motivate abortion, although it does not prohibit information about all pregnancy possibilities, consistent with local law.

And while campaigners said they don’t expect the court’s decision to result in immediate legislation in other countries, they do believe a ruling would be overturned roe will make their job much harder – whether by encouraging an anti-abortion movement or by being pressured to follow current US policies to keep their aid funding going.

“We really are at this crossroads where we will see the tipping over any day deer v. Wadesaid Van Kampen Saravia. “This is an issue that can no longer be ignored.”