US Supreme Court decision harms girls’ and women’s health and bodily autonomy

28 June 2022

Every girl and woman has the right to freely make decisions about her body and her life, writes Plan International CEO Stephen Omollo, in response to the decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

The decision by the US Supreme Court to roll back the constitutional right to abortion will have devastating consequences for girls and women. Abortion is a fundamental human right and lifesaving healthcare. Without access to it, an estimated 40 million girls and women could now be at risk of an unintended pregnancy or unsafe abortion, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

Every girl and woman has the right to freely make decisions about her body and life, yet once again we see patriarchal politics at play, undermining hard-won progress in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender and social justice more broadly.

Decision will increase inequality and discrimination

The impact of abortion restrictions will be hardest on those who are already marginalised – including people of colour, people living in poverty and with lower socio-economic status, adolescents and young people, LGBTIQ+ communities, immigrants and people with disabilities – exacerbating the inequality and discrimination that already exists. This retrogressive move is wholly at odds with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is rallying action towards a fairer, more equal and more sustainable world. This also does not reflect the view of a majority of Americans who support access to safe and legal abortion.

The evidence is clear – restrictive laws do not eliminate abortion – they make it unsafe. Girls and women will continue to have abortions whether they are prohibited or not, the difference is that they risk dying in the process. Globally, girls and young women account for nearly one third of unsafe abortion-related deaths.

Unsafe abortion is a preventable cause of death and ill health and a denial of fundamental human rights. Restricting legal access to safe abortion has been found to be tantamount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

Wider impacts of the US ruling

We are deeply concerned that the US ruling will also fuel others around the world who are determined to restrict the rights of girls and women.  Now more than ever, we need to stand up for these rights and redouble our efforts to ensure that every girl and woman has control over her body. We need to build on positive abortion rights developments in other parts of the world such as Argentina, Benin and Colombia, and counter the attempts of anti-gender and anti-rights groups to derail the progress we have made towards gender equality.

Girls and women must be heard front and centre as we move into this post-Roe era. Those who are denied access to safe and legal abortion will suffer severe consequences in other areas of their lives: forced to drop out of school due to caring responsibilities; shamed by society and at increased risk of violence, neglect and exclusion; under pressure to marry early; limited in their access to support services and future decent work opportunities; battling severe mental health problems and facing the loss of their dreams. We need to hear from them, act on their demands, and ensure they are meaningfully engaged in shaping the policies and strategies that seek to address their needs. 

We will continue our work with adolescents, young people and partners across the world to prevent early and unintended pregnancies, prevent and respond to sexual violence, support young parents and their children, and strengthen access to essential healthcare, including contraception and safe abortion services across both development and humanitarian settings.[i] We will also challenge the harmful social norms, attitudes and stigma which continue to impede access to safe abortion care. 

Plan International will keep promoting and affirming the rights of all girls and women to make free and informed reproductive choices. We stand in solidarity with girls and women in all their diversity – in the US, and elsewhere. Access to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental human right and should be available to all.

[i] Plan International also recognise that some adolescent girls may choose to become pregnant and it is essential that their agency is respected, in line with their evolving capacities, and that they also have access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as other means of support.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Maternal health, Sexual and reproductive health services, Teenage pregnancy