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The US Is Falling Behind Other Democracies When It Comes to Abortion

Centering on the Human Rights of Pregnant People Is Key

Activists celebrate the decriminalization of abortion, outside the Constitutional Court in Bogota, Colombia on February 21, 2022.  © 2022 Chepa Beltran / VWPics via AP Images

People in the US are awaiting a Supreme Court opinion that may redefine abortion rights in the country. They do so with a legitimate fear that the court may overturn Roe v. Wade, dismantling the half-century framework that has allowed millions of women to access legal abortion care. 

The concern is justified. The erosion of reproductive rights in the US has been happening for several years, with states creating obstacles for healthcare professionals and clinics providing abortion services, while also imposing burdens on those seeking abortions, which delays and impedes them from exercising their human right to access an abortion. 

At the same time, countries around the world are moving in the opposite direction, not only decriminalizing abortion but also increasingly guaranteeing and expanding access to safe abortions. This is happening in countries with developed and developing economies, with varying levels of diversity in religious beliefs, and in different regions of the world. South Africa, Ireland, the UK, Mexico, Colombia, South Korea, and Nepal are only some of the countries that have in the past decades recognized the right of women to terminate their pregnancies. 

These very diverse countries have one thing in common: They have put the human rights of pregnant women at the center of their analysis.  

An approach centered on the lives of those who experience pregnancy is the result of social movements around the world consistently fighting for human rights. It is also the result of an increased understanding that reproductive rights are human rights. Bans on abortion violate, among others, the rights to be free from violence, to privacy, to family, to health, and even the right to life.

The good news is that countries around the world have steadily been adopting a human rights approach to abortion. The bad news is that the United States is at risk of becoming an outlier by restricting abortion rights and ignoring the experience of people who become pregnant. This trajectory places the United States closer to countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Poland, and further away from governments that value each individual and their human rights. 

In the coming weeks, Human Rights Watch will publish a series of dispatches on the situation in other countries, highlighting how the human rights approach, centered on pregnant people, is the right approach.

The US may be able to learn a thing or two from other countries. 

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