Of the 195 countries in the world, three have tightened abortion laws in the past three decades: Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Poland, abortion is now only allowed in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s health is threatened. In El Salvador and Nicaragua, abortion is illegal in all circumstances. And in the coming months, the number of regressors is likely to rise to four, due to the imminent decision the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will make on abortion rights this coming June.
While abortion laws are still stringent in many other countries, only those aforementioned three have given their citizens such a fleeting hint of freedom over their bodies only to take it away again. The worldwide trend has mainly been heading towards greater abortion access—not the reverse. So why do countries backtrack?
The answer is simple: conservative backlash by the men primarily in power.
In 2019, women accounted for less than 7% of the world’s leaders and just 24% of lawmakers. When considering that half of the world is female, these statistics are staggering. It is a perfect picture of the sexism still so inherent in society.
The impact of male-dominated governments is clearly illustrated in the U.S., where only nine of the 50 state governors are currently women. In the past year multiple states have undermined abortion laws. Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas banned abortions after the point where health professionals can detect a fetal heartbeat in an ultrasound—usually just after six weeks of pregnancy. Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio and Oklahoma restricted access to abortion care, requiring medicines to be provided solely in person. Arkansas banned abortion in all instances except when the mother’s life is endangered, though it is currently not being enforced due to the current SCOTUS precedent of Roe v. Wade. And on top of all these restrictions, Oklahoma and Texas enacted trigger bans, which would ban abortion if SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade. Even the U.S. Supreme Court is dominated by men, where only three of the nine justices are female.
It is no coincidence that all of the states that have placed restrictions on abortions have male governors. Men are primarily deciding to restrict abortion, whether it be the male-dominated groups like the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland and U.S. state governors, or individual men like President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Despite being physically incapable of becoming pregnant themselves, these men are unable to cope with the implications of legal abortion. They cannot fathom the idea of allowing women freedom over their own bodies and independence from men.
Rescinding reproductive rights is absurd. After all, the many lives saved and bettered due to legal abortion is an indisputable fact. Since abortion was legalized in the U.S., deaths and health complications from abortions in women have decreased, women have had higher levels of education and lower levels of poverty, and states have been able to spend more money per child on services such as foster care and education. And more importantly, every human being has the fundamental right to live their life freely, make their own decisions and treat their body as they choose. No individual should be able to control someone else’s personal choices in a matter this important.
Nevertheless, because of the narrow-minded, self-proclaimed “pro-life” men in power, women continue to face restrictions on abortion. And women will continue to face restrictions until they are the ones leading the world, giving others the power to choose. Women need to form at least half of the world’s leaders, lawmakers, governors and judges in order to truly expand and enshrine reproductive and women’s rights.
At the current rate, women will be unable to bridge the gender divide in world leadership for another 130 years. Thus, women’s participation in government needs to be significantly encouraged by institutions, such as schools and grassroots organizations, so that fair laws are permanently made for women and by women.
Until then, the future looks dire for women’s reproductive rights.