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Clara Ferreira Marques

Abortion Rights Falter as Democracy Slides

If the Supreme Court turns back the clock for women, the U.S. will join a handful of repressive autocracies that are global outliers on reproductive rights.

A setback for democracy

A setback for democracy

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion this week should ring alarm bells everywhere. That’s not simply because of the grave economic and social consequences of undoing a half-century-old constitutional right, sending abortion law back to state legislatures. It’s because the basic rights women have over their bodies do not exist in a vacuum. While reproductive restrictions are often loosened with democratization, the reverse is also true. Instead of siding with Latin American nations moving away from harsh penalties, the U.S. is about to join the likes of Poland, Russia, China, Nicaragua and Iran in going backward. That should worry us all.

Global progress on basic reproductive issues has, by and large, been steady and encouraging; as women gain economic and political power, religion eases its grip and societal attitudes mellow. Ireland cleared the path for legal abortion in 2018. Latin America, though still home to some of the world’s most restrictive bans, has taken significant strides, with Argentina permitting elective abortions in late 2020 and Mexico and Colombia decriminalizing the procedure. In Africa, Benin has just brought in a groundbreaking abortion law. Today, even if huge numbers of women still face significant hurdles, only 5% of women of reproductive age live in countries that forbid abortion without exception. Of 36 developed nations, 34 offer abortion on request or on broad social and economic grounds — only Malta and Poland fall short.