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What are the Effects of Criminalizing Abortion? Comparing the US and Abroad

On June 24th, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and along with it Planned Parenthood v. Casey on a 5-4 vote. Planned Parenthood v. Casey had essentially reaffirmed the right to abortion, however, it considered viability over the trimester framework propounded by Justice Blackmun in Roe v. Wade. Beyond stripping away women’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy, which is the chief concern here, this overturn reveals a certain American backwardness in comparison to the vast majority of other high income countries. Global politics in middle income and high income countries have generally shifted in a progressive direction with regards to reproductive rights in this decade. In the past two years, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia have legalized abortions in quick succession, and Chile seems closer now than ever to doing the same. Nearly all developed countries have legalized abortion, it is true of East Asia and of Europe with the exception of Poland, who, much like the US, has regressed in its standing on the world stage with regards to human rights.

Proponents of the overturning of Roe v. Wade seem to have celebrated with a particular belief in mind: with increased criminalization of abortion, the number of abortions will decrease. However, their belief is demonstrably false. We can take data comparing countries who criminalize abortions to those where abortions are broadly legal in order to substantiate this claim. What we see are nearly identical rates of abortion across the two categories. In a report published by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization detailing the abortion rates for nearly every country, for women aged 15-49, abortion rates stood at 36-47 per 1,000 women in countries where abortion is legal and 31-51 per 1,000 in countries where abortion is criminalized. Clearly criminalizing abortion does not decrease the rate of abortion. So ,what does criminalizing abortion do?

Without access to safe abortions, women resort to risky abortions. In effect, what criminalization of abortion does is threaten the health and safety of more people with uteruses, contributing to unnecessary maternal mortality and injury. This ruling will most impact the poorest and most marginalized, further exacerbating already untenable inequalities in this country.

To watch a world leader regress in women's rights is a stark sight to behold. What it foretells for other nations has yet to be decided. However, if current trends are any indication, the US is an outlier which has initiated a gradual backslide into a period in which women have increasingly little control over the most intimate and personal decisions regarding their own health and wellbeing.


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