Today is International Safe Abortion Day. Today, and every day, women and girls in countries where access to abortion is heavily restricted, or banned, risk their lives trying to end unwanted pregnancies. But the fight around the world for access to safe and legal abortion is escalating.
The day has particular significance this year for the United States, as the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh’s record raises concerns that he could be a deciding vote in dismantling a right to abortion in the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision. US President Donald Trump has already dealt a devastating blow to women and girls around the world through his orders prohibiting US-funded healthcare providers from helping their patients make decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy or from even advocating for laws on abortion that could save women’s lives.
Some women who don’t have access to safe abortion suffer serious complications from clandestine procedures, like “Melina,” whom I met in the Dominican Republic. She used home remedies to try to end an unwanted pregnancy clandestinely, causing intense pain and a serious infection. Some die from botched abortions, like Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho, a mother of three in her early 30s in Brazil, who died after a back-alley provider inserted a castor plant stalk into her uterus.
Some women and girls in Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries find themselves questioned, detained, arrested, or even sentenced to lengthy prison terms under laws that treat abortion as a crime. Some, like a 10-year-old rape survivor in Paraguay, who was denied permission to have an abortion, are forced into motherhood against their wishes.
Brave activists and faith leaders in Brazil and Honduras – and Canada, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Poland, South Korea, and many more – advocate for reproductive rights, even as they face death threats and worse. Women use social media platforms to share information about safer ways to end a pregnancy when abortion is illegal, or heavily restricted. We wear green handkerchiefs in solidarity with the Argentine movement for abortion rights. We celebrate progress in Chile, and a historic vote in Ireland.
As long as women are denied reproductive choice, we will never have equality – and as long as abortion continues to be criminalized, and women are punished or lose their lives, we will continue this fight.