The end of the constitutional protection of the right to abortion in the US has been praised, as well as condemned, across the world. Population Matters’ landmark Welcome to Gilead report detailed how a mix of nationalism, population panic and misogyny is fuelling increasing repression of reproductive freedom in some countries. We take a look here at some recent developments.
The Roe v Wade decision is unquestionably part of a wider social agenda in the US. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the group of justices who drove and supported the judgement, has subsequently suggested that landmark high court rulings that established gay rights and contraception rights should also be reconsidered.
The politics of abortion in the US are complicated, but issues of population and race play a role. Pro-life nationalists worry that ‘America’ is no longer going to look like ‘America.’”, in some cases with an explicit belief that white women should “supply white babies.” Tucker Carlson, a right wing political commentator, has fanned the flames of the racist great replacement theory, asserting that white or “real” Americans will be replaced by immigrants. His views are no longer fringe in the US, where a poll conducted in December found almost half of Republican voters endorsing it to some extent.
A number of pro-life campaigners and organisations have also explicitly raised the issue of low fertility rates in the US as a challenge that ending abortion can help to address.
In an attempt to increase Chinese birth rates and maintain their internal labour force, China amended its Population and Family Planning Law in 2021 by permitting (and incentivising) couples to have three children.
In September 2021, the Chinese State Council issued guidelines to decrease the number of abortions performed for non-medical reasons; and, in February, China’s family planning association announced the launching of a special abortion intervention campaign to reduce unwanted pregnancies.
Opposition to China’s pronatal policies is mounting, as the Chinese Communist Party attempts to blame feminists and LGBTQI people for the declining birth rate.
Right-wing parties like Alternative für Deutschland have intimidated abortion providers, reducing accessibility to abortion services. In a positive development, however, hours before the US Supreme Court ruling was released, Germany repealed Section 219A of the German Criminal Code that prohibited doctors from advertising abortion services, effectively criminalizing efforts to publicize abortion-related information.
In May, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, was the keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference – a meeting of US conservatives – in Budapest. He openly endorses The Great Replacement Theory and is notorious for his Christian nationalism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. In February, he joined other far-right European politicians at a meeting in which their concerns about the low birth rate in Europe and opposition to immigration were affirmed.
Restrictions on family planning access in Iran are increasingly severe, and the Iranian government is explicit that increasing the national birth rate is one of the goals these policies serve. In mid-June 2022, the Iranian Health Ministry criminalized “aiding and abetting” abortions, and medical providers that act as “accessories” will be fined and permanently disbarred.
Another directive issued on the same day advised that women under the age of 35 who had not previously given birth to a child with a genetic defect should be actively discouraged from attending prenatal screenings. A further directive enabled the use of the death penalty for abortions carried out on a large scale.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, issued a near-total ban on abortion in January 2021, only allowing it in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger. In February 2022, it was ranked the worst country in Europe for policies on family planning and reproductive rights.
In March 2022, a citizen’s initiative, legislation that can be proposed by individuals or groups from outside parliament, was submitted proposing that women be allowed to obtain a state-funded abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy without justification.
Most members of the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice party’s caucus, as well as the centre-right Polish Coalition and far-right Confederation, rejected the legislation.
A growing threat
There are widespread fears that the Roe v Wade decision will embolden opponents of abortion, including politicians and governments, to propose and take more radical action to restrict reproductive freedom. In a growing number of countries, fears about the economic, religious or political consequences of lowering birth rates are among the factors used to justify restrictions on religious rights.
Population Matters is monitoring the governments, organisations and opinion-formers who are utilising these arguments, and you can find out more about the latest developments on our Gilead Watch campaign page (below).