August 10, 2022

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News of abortion laws potentially being overturned in America should be “a warning to us...

News of abortion laws potentially being overturned in America should be “a warning to us all”, according to politicians and campaigners in the UK, who stress the disturbing situation in the US could have knock-on global effects.

In the US, a leaked draft document appears to suggest the majority of US Supreme Court justices support overturning Roe v Wade – the historic case law that legalised abortion.

According to the news organisation Politico, which published the leaked document, the draft opinion shows the court voted to strike down the landmark case. However, it is unclear if the draft represents the court’s final decision.

If the law is overturned, 26 out of 50 US states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion, according to research from the think tank the Guttmacher Institute.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, described the news coming from the US as “chilling”.

“It is an outright assault on the rights of American women, threatening to deny fifty percent of the population their bodily autonomy. It has ominous consequences for women everywhere and is a reflection of the global backlash against reproductive rights,” she says.

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women's Equality Party.

Kate Green via Getty Images

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

“What is happening in America is a warning to all of us, and must be a catalyst for abortion to be codified in law and health policies here in the UK, as a matter of utmost urgency.”

“Make no mistake, abortion access is not watertight in the UK.”

– Mandu Reid, Women’s Equality Party

Although abortion is legal across the UK, under a law passed in 1861, any woman who ends a pregnancy without legal authorisation from two doctors can face up to life imprisonment, which is why campaigners continue to call for abortion to be decriminalised.

And although abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland in October 2019, access to appointments remains limited.

Parts of the UK have already experienced a rise in anti-abortion activists outside clinics in recent years, with some claiming to have been directly “recruited” by American religious groups.

Elsewhere in the world, women’s reproductive rights have already been rescinded. In 2021, Poland enforced a near-total ban on abortion, having previously allowed terminations.

On social media, many people have expressed concern that the latest US developments will only embolden those who hold anti-women views.

Moves to eradicate women’s reproductive rights are particularly disturbing for women like Kyanne Smith, who had an abortion in April 2020 via the telemedicine home-abortion system. The 23-year-old from London says our rights must be proactively protected.

“Where does this leave pregnant people in the US? It leaves them with forced births, unsafe terminations or spending an insane amount of money travelling to access basic healthcare, which isn’t an option for many. If we stand by and let this happen across America, a dangerous precedent is set for the UK. Keep your awful laws off our bodies.”

Kyanne Smith

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) – one of the largest abortion providers in the UK – echoes these concerns.

“It sends a dangerous message internationally,” she says of the leaked document. “In many other countries, women are still fighting for safe, legal abortion care. If the US were to revoke the constitutional right to abortion, this will ultimately hamper progress in other nations.”

BPAS has launched a petition addressed to Liz Truss in her role as foreign secretary, calling on the government to “clearly condemn” the Roe vs Wade draft opinion as a breach of human rights.

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said on Tuesday that the decision was “a matter for the US courts”, but added: “The UK fully supports women’s reproductive rights globally and including the right to access safe and legal abortion.”

Conservative Caroline Nokes, the chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, told HuffPost: “It is a deeply worrying attack on long established women’s rights which I certainly hope we see no replication of here.”

“If it stands it would be the biggest setback to women’s rights in the US in a generation and deeply concerning for global reproductive rights,” the charity’s head of advocacy, Sarah Shaw, says.

“Each year, 25 million women around the world resort to dangerous and unsafe methods. At MSI, our teams worldwide witness and deal with the terrible consequences of this every day. No one should be seeking to replicate this situation in the US. The right to choose must be protected.”