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Abortion ruling will impact globally, health organizations warn as some activists emboldened

The decision “showed that these types of rights are always at risk of being steamrolled,” one Argentinian activist said.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will have lasting repercussions for women’s rights across the world, medical associations and rights providers warned, as abortion opponents appeared emboldened by the ruling.

Criminalizing abortions would not prevent them, but make them more deadly, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday. “A staggering 45% of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making this a leading cause of maternal death,” a statement by the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency read.

The World Health Organization also tweeted Friday that access to safe abortion care was “essential” and removing it would “put more women and girls at risk of illegal abortions and the consequent safety issues that would bring.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that he was “concerned and disappointed” by the ruling. He said it reduced both “women’s rights and access to health care.”

An abortion rights demonstrator protests outside the Supreme Court
Gabrielle Gregory, 17, protests outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2022 as the court rules in the Dobbs v Women's Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision. Hannah Beier for NBC News.

The move was also described as a “catastrophic blow to the lives of millions of women, girls and pregnant people,” in a statement signed by more than 100 global health organizations, including the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, the World Association of Trainees in Obstetrics & Gynecology and the British Medical Association. 

“As organizations dedicated to providing and supporting health care, we know that restrictive laws do not reduce the need for abortion care,” the statement said. “Rather, such laws increase inequities in access; nurture an environment of fear, stigmatization and criminalization; and put women, girls and pregnant people at risk.” 

MSI Reproductive Choices, a nongovernment organization providing contraception and safe abortion services in 37 countries around the world, also said in a statement that “decisions made in the U.S. have an impact far beyond their borders.” 

 The ruling has also garnered national attention in China where a hashtag  — U.S. Supreme Court cancels constitutional right to abortion  — has been viewed by over 620 million people on the microblogging platform Weibo.

“This decision is a regression in the protection of women’s rights and interests, causing an uproar around the world,” China Women’s News, a state-run newspaper, wrote in a statement on the platform. 

Abortion rights demonstrators protest outside the Supreme Court
Abortion rights demonstrators protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2022 after the court ruled in the Dobbs v Women's Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision.Hannah Beier for NBC News

Elsewhere, Dr. Zoe Greaves, the chair of the medical ethics committee at the British Medical Association, a professional body for doctors and medical students in the United Kingdom, said she was concerned that the ruling would “remove women’s access to essential medical care, a fundamental human right as stated by the U.N.”    

In Kenya, abortion rights activist Phonsina Archane said she froze for a while in a state of panic while watching the news about the ruling.  “If this is happening in America, what about me here in Africa? It’s a very, very sad day,” she told The Associated Press.  

She added that she was worried the ruling will embolden abortion opponents across Africa who have charged into reproductive health clinics or threatened attacks.

Abortion in sub-Saharan Africa is already more unsafe than in any other region of the world, and the overwhelming majority of women of child-bearing age live in countries where abortion laws are highly or moderately restricted, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research organization that supports abortion rights.

The decision was welcomed in some quarters, however. 

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life challenged the world to reflect on life issues. “The fact that a large country with a long democratic tradition has changed its position on this issue also challenges the whole world,” it said in a statement.

In El Salvador, anti-abortion campaigner Sara Larin expressed the hope that the ruling will bolster campaigns against the procedure around the globe. In the conservative country, abortions are illegal no matter the circumstance and some 180 women with obstetric emergencies have been criminally prosecuted in the last two decades.

“Campaigns promoting abortion may intensify in our countries because funding and abortion clinics in the United States are going to close as they have been doing in recent years,” she told the AP.

Meanwhile in Argentina, where a law that legalized elective abortion up to the 14th week of gestation took effect in January 2021 after years of debate, social media lit up after the ruling, which leaves it up to lawmakers in individual U.S. states to decide whether to allow or ban abortions.

“There is justice again in the world. We are going to achieve this in Argentina too,” legislator Amalia Granata tweeted.

However, Ruth Zurbriggen, an Argentinian activist and a member of the Companion Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, a group favoring abortion rights, said she was disappointed with the ruling. 

She said it “showed that these types of rights are always at risk of being steamrolled.”