According to a recently leaked Supreme Court working paper, the United States is preparing to challenge abortion rights. This bill seeks to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as “Roe vs. Wade,” which currently prevents states from banning abortion.
If this document is voted on in June or July, the repeal of Roe vs. Wade will be the culmination of a campaign carefully orchestrated over several decades by American conservatives to restrict the right to contraception and abortion.
A bad sign for Africa
It is also a bad sign for Africa. “We are unfortunately fully aware of the pernicious effects that American decisions can have on the rights of women to dispose of their bodies beyond American borders”, worries Kylie Harrison, director of communications for the NGO MSI Reproductive Choices.
This organization, present in some twenty countries, provides contraceptives and helps women to have abortions in good conditions. Kylie Harrison is not alone in thinking that this charge against abortion in the United States will encourage anti-abortion groups to expand internationally.
Republican American presidents created the global gag rule [“règle du bâillon”] and has made the gagging of international associations a specific feature of their administrations since 1984. This rule prohibits the public funding of foreign organizations that perform abortions or promote voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) abroad, even if these associations are financed by other sponsors.
Roe’s Repeal vs. Wade will not change official US foreign policy. However, it will put an end to a bill currently before Congress, which aims to permanently prevent the United States from imposing conditions, such as the gag rule, on financial aid granted to other countries. .
A disaster, as more and more African countries are facilitating access to abortion. If the continent is rather conservative on the subject, African countries have gradually relaxed restrictions on abortion over the past ten years. [Plusieurs pays], including Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have recently taken steps to ensure greater access to abortion. Benin, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and South Africa allow abortion [notamment] if the mother does not have the means to raise her child.
In most countries, abortion is legal if the pregnancy threatens the health of the pregnant woman, and in many countries it is tolerated in cases of rape or incest, according to data from the Center for Contraception and ‘abortion.
On the African continent, only 6 countries out of 54 [selon le Centre sur la contraception et l’avortement] completely prohibit abortion. While more than half of the American states will undoubtedly ban abortion once there is no more federal law to prevent them.
Encouraged by more restrictive legislation on American soil, future Republican presidents will undoubtedly tighten the gag rule even more, in order to deprive countries that want to relax abortion laws of all American financial aid.
South Africa, which has one of the most progressive abortion laws in the world, was one of the five countries most affected by Trump’s renewal of the gag rule. Trump (whose most loyal voter base consists of nationalist Christians who campaign for changes in legislation, such as the repeal of Roe vs. Wade) widened the scope of this draconian regulation, which led to a drop of almost 20% in the sums allocated to African countries by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
While previous Republican presidents have stuck to organizations directly funded by the United States, Trump’s gag rule has also gone after smaller organizations, which don’t get money from the United States but are linked to larger US federally funded agencies.
In a world where Roe vs. Wade would no longer set law, “this provision could become more or less restrictive, depending on the goodwill of the Republican Party”, says Brian Honermann, deputy director of public policy at the Foundation for AIDS Research. “It’s hard not to be pessimistic when you see the attacks on women’s rights that are taking place right now, and the people at the head of the Republican Party.”
To get ahead of the conditioning of US aid to anti-abortion measures, Honermann advises countries to protect themselves now. “Countries can strengthen and protect the rights of their citizens by taking adequate measures to uphold the right to contraception and abortion, including passing informed consent and abortion protection laws, he assures. It is very complicated for the US government to order people to proselytize for services that are against the law.”
Yet, outside the formal circuit of law and public policy, a lot can happen. In the United States as in Africa.
Roe’s end vs. Wade is thus the culmination of decades of legislative and legal maneuvers put in place by the conservatives, in particular the appointment of judges committed to their cause in the courts of justice. Similar ventures are taking place outside the borders of the United States.
Conservative wave in Africa
According to a 2020 survey published by OpenDemocracy, American conservative coalitions have already spent millions of “secret funds” to support opponents of abortion and gay rights around the world. In Africa, they spent more than 50 million dollars [47 millions d’euros] between 2009 and 2019.
Their victory on American soil should encourage them to redouble their efforts internationally. In Africa, their anti-abortion zeal is likely to be fought with less resistance than in the United States, where the grassroots movement has kept conservatives at bay since 1973. “The United States is a country where people can defend their ideas. Civil society is very active, emphasizes Boniface Ushie, researcher at the Center for Research on Demography and Health in Africa. This is not the case in African countries, where laws and regimes are often repressive.”
If US conservatives want to reverse the continent’s current trend toward easing abortion, they could worsen the problem of maternal mortality, whose rates are already worrying.
And Boniface Ushie to recall:
“It’s a fact: wherever abortion is illegal, the number of abortions does not decrease. On the other hand, abortions in disastrous sanitary conditions are increasing.”
In developing countries, according to the WHO, there are 220 deaths for every 10,000 clandestine abortions and, according to an estimate dating from 2012, 7 million women were hospitalized there because of complications related to clandestine abortion. This situation must not get worse.