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Overruling Roe v Wade: The International Dimension

American exceptionalism can be a dreary thing, and no more so than each time a US president promotes the country’s imperial credentials and continued prowess. But in matters of literacy, shared wealth, and health care, the US has been outpaced by other states less inclined towards remorseless social Darwinism.

The overruling of Roe v Wade by the US Supreme Court in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization has created a sense that those outside the US will somehow draw inspiration from the example of the sacred foetus and the diminished autonomy of its carrier.

MSI Reproductive Choices, a group furnishing contraception and safe abortion services in 37 countries, was palpably concerned. “As a global abortion provider, we know that the impact of this decision will be also felt around the word,” warned Sarah Shaw, Global Head of Advocacy at MSI Reproductive Choices. “From the Global Gag Rule to US funded anti-choice groups who harass women outside our clinics and lobby governments to restrict access, decisions made in the US have an impact beyond their borders.”

The organisation’s Africa Director, Banchiamlak Dessalegn is also worried about the repercussions of US judicial reasoning. “Today’s decision has the potential to harm women, not just in America but around the world, and undermine the efforts of countries across Africa to recognise a woman’s right to choose.”

Beyond any discernible court legacy beyond national borders, the US role in stifling abortion arguments globally is far from negligible. Republican administrations since Ronald Reagan have made a habit of enforcing the “global gag rule”, also known as the Mexico City policy, limiting US aid regarding family planning services. Since 1973, Congress has tended to attach the ban to foreign aid spending bills where US funding will go to foreign groups that perform abortions or “motivate” individuals to seek them.

In terms of situating the shift Dobbs entails, the US finds itself keeping company with a small rear guard in the abortion wars. Since the 1990s, over 60 countries have taken the move of permitting or decriminalising abortion. A clutch of countries have bucked the trend, among them Poland, Malta, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In Europe, the US example is likely to stir an anti-abortion frontline that has all been long battered. Agenda Europe, a network of anti-abortion, pro-Christian and far-right organisations comprising activists, commentators and politicians, is one of its most active collectives. Since the early 2010s, its participants have sought to generate critical support for the standard slew of causes: pro-life, pro-family, anti-LGBT rights. Their continued work has been significant enough to catch the interest of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPFPD).

On its own website, Agenda Europe seeks to correct “egregious falsehoods” about alleged extremism and militancy, objecting to the label of “religious extremists” attributed to them by such the EPFPD. “Members of Agenda Europe promote the dignity of every human person, the importance of the family, and religious freedom, as enshrined in all major human rights treaties. As Europeans, our members share the Christian Philosophical and Intellectual foundations of our continent.”

The abortion battleground reached Europe’s centre stage in June 2021, when the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution urging EU countries to see any interference with access to contraception, fertility treatment maternity care and abortion as human rights breaches. While 378 MEPs voted in favour, 255 voted against, with the centre-right European People’s Party and the European Conservative and Reformists arguing, much along the lines used in Dobbs, that such policy should be left to individual EU states. But even in the final text, its original drafter, Croatian Socialist MEP Pedrag Fred Matić, took issue with the presence a “conscience clause” that would permit doctors to withhold abortions “on grounds of religion or conscience”.

It was with a Christian Philosophical spirit that Poland imposed a near-complete ban on abortions which took effect in 2021. The state has also, in rather creepy fashion, created a pregnancy registry which has been seen as a surveillance tool that can be used to track women should they order abortion pills or seek an abortion overseas.

For all this pessimism, the already hefty movement in favour of abortion rights is just as likely to assert itself in the wake of developments in the US. Milly Nanyombi Kaggwa, senior clinical advisor for Africa at Population Services International, points out with necessary perspective that abortion is only strictly prohibited in 5% of countries.

Groups such as MSI Reproductive Choices have also drawn a line in the sand of resistance. “To anyone who wants to deny someone’s right to make decisions about what is right for their body and their future, our message is ‘We are not going back’.” Dobbs, in short, may prove on the international stage to be more damp squib than firecracker.


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  1. wam

    We must acknowledge God’s gift of ovulation, his method of:
    delivering the life giving sperm
    his debilitating shedding of the spermless ovum.
    The former leaving the man in rapture
    Whilst the latter leaves the woman unclean, untouchable and unequal.
    We all watch women in films who are nowhere near equal and we continue to see top guns rule.
    However, hopefully, it is a peak to rally the majority of women and there are many men who support the protesters. The number of protesters must reach election winning proportions.

  2. Phil Pryor

    I re-read Roe vs. Wade testerday, and, being inexpert at law matters, but a careful enough historian, sought out views interpretations and opinions, which is all that supreme court justices offer anyway. The USA constitution is revered, I’d say too much and often wrongly. It says much of law theory and philosophy, but does not clearly mention, define, emphasise or limit as much as some must believe. No race, sex, colour, religious group or supremacist cocepts exist. It is about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness in an expanded way over a decade after the Jeffersonian declaration of 1776, was ratified n 1789 and remains as out of date as the years go by as any sensible observer might note. This current court has six catholics, two jews, one Gorsuch who is described as, possibly, a catholic or fundamentalist regressive. How does this illustrate balance, sense or fairness now? Justice Alinto has made statements that appear to be fifteenth century superstition tainted in a document already over two centuries out of date, and in the year 2022 is that wise, suitable, honest, decent? Harry Blackmun, for the decision in Roe vs, Wade, concentrated on state’s rights to establish law and also to risk its challenges, its rescinding, its viability. Freedom and privacy are the keys, and the current court has started up a mess, liable to be ongoing,about how all this applies to, say, abortion in this case, or to many other touchy areas where citizens demand privacy and resent state intrusion. So???

  3. Terence Mills


    Supreme Court Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said that :

    “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion,” Roe (and Casey a later case) arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives (in the respective states).”

    Alito’s central argument is that “the Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion,” and that legal abortion lacks “deep roots” in American history. And so back in 1972, he argues, the court overstepped its authority and took on a job more appropriate for elected lawmakers (i.e. the state jurisdictions).

    So the decision means that the states individually assume sole authority to allow or prohibit abortion : some states will allow the procedure and some will not, the determining factor will be the electors in each state.

    What is more ominous is that the Supreme Court could be foreshadowing action on family planning, contraception, marriage equality and LBTQ+ relationships.

    In America, getting the states to agree on uniformity is like herding cats so all the Supreme Court is doing is complicating life for women.

  4. Phil Pryor

    Terence, it was good of you to write extensively here, and what you say is about how I did imagine it. Alito may have had a touch of arrogant confidence in his primitivity of character through ingrained cultural absorption, i e, romanism of the middle ages intensity. Readers must be aware that all legalities in new opinion tend to go the the USA states and to the people in whatever way avails, whereas in Australia, novelty of law and interpretation suggest the federal level appropriates any new legality leading to executive supremacy. The current USA bench of the supreme court knew they had a good one to suit conservatism, and that many conservative states would leap at ways to coerce and oppress, despite the entire impetus of Jeffersonian will and attitude as expressed generally and rather vaguely for a very long time before, during and after the revolutionary period. Women in the USA should feel disgusted, outraged, that the personal approach to seeking life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness should be down to a bench of previously unknown and unregarded legalists, hand chosen by a political pervert in Trump’s case, unelected, having perhaps forty years of incumbency, and without hindrance from any higher appeal body or mechanism, except the often proposed rigging by inflating numbers, a la FDR. Liberty to choose is threatened in every imaginable area of future dispute, and evil, simpleminded men still dominate with loudmouthed hun outlooks. Much more action and reaction must follow…

  5. leefe

    ” … and that legal abortion lacks “deep roots” in American history.”

    In fact, abortion was legal in the US until the late 1800s. It was only when male doctors moved into what had previously been female-dominated territory (replacing midwives with gynaecologists) that there was a move to criminalise the procedure. Ditto with contraception.

    That court is loaded with people who are not only religious bigots, but deeply ignorant of actual history.
    But that was always Mitch McConnell’s purpose.

  6. Terence Mills

    abortion was legal in the US until the late 1800s


    Do you mean that abortion was not unlawful until the late 1800’s ? There is a difference.

    Do you have any historical citings on this ?

    It’s a bit like same sex marriage in Australia – it was not precluded (i.e. not unlawful) by the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) until the ever helpful Howard government made it unlawful by amending the Act in 2004. That’s what created all the problems leading to our plebiscite in 2017.

    The law is a funny thing : nothing is either legal or illegal – beyond the Ten Commandments which is Christian law – until we deem it so by authorising our elected governments to do so.


  7. Canguro

    Terence, re. ‘The law is a funny thing’, indeed! A bunch of middle-aged and older conservative jurists are given extraordinary leave to impact millions by their decisions and they do; thus throwing an already chaotic country in greater degrees of inchoate stress and distress.

    A similar bunch, years ago, either at the highest levels of jurisprudence or lower, deemed alcohol consumption to be illegal, despite it being part of humanity’s diet for millennia. Some years later, the decision was reversed. All players, on each occasion, thought they were correct, as no doubt the current crop do. Same with the ingestion of other substances; deeming cannabis, for example, a plant for Chrissakes, to be an illegal thing; with no sense of irony at the absurdity at the illegalising of a naturally occurring example of flora. Many other examples followed.

    Good ol’ American hypocrisy and zealotry along with a healthy dose of self-interest and an eye to the political advantages to be wrung played their roles as well (I’m thinking of Harry Anslinger here; his prejudices, his need for ‘gainful’ employment, his concerns about professional esteem and so on…). Nonetheless, he was enormously successful in achieving inordinately strict laws against the use of drugs for personal reasons, thus ensuring the flourishing of a deeply embedded criminal culture across the Americas.

    Fast-forward to the current times and Anslinger’s crusade, aided and abetted by Nixon & Reagan, is fast becoming a thing of the past, with legislators now deeming the use of cannabis to be legal under revisionary legal frameworks.

    So… even though the question is moot, who was right & who was wrong? Illegalising a plant is ludicrous in extremis, as is putting users in jail for twenty years for possession of a single joint, and now the law says, in effect, ‘go for it, enjoy.’

    And in its seemingly never-ending capacity to throw cats among pigeons, SCOTUS has now shackled the EPA in terms of its capacity to rein in big polluters.

    Far beyond time for another revolution I think. Bring on the tumbrils.

  8. leefe


    There’s a video by Alyssa Milano where she goes into the history of the anti-abortion movement in the US. I’ve tried adding the link but I’m appparently back on the blacklist as the site won’t let me. That”s the simpplest way to get the basics of the story. Or check Planned Parenthood’s synopsis:

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