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Women’s rights shattered as US Supreme Court overturns right to abortion

Today, the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade – the 50 year-old ruling which made access to abortion a constitutional right in the United States. By a margin of six to three, the Supreme Court judges removed this right, instead allowing individual states to regulate abortion access. 26 states are expected to shortly ban abortion. Humanists UK has long campaigned in favour of abortion rights in the UK. Today it has condemned the ruling which will lead to a return to American women dying due to the lack of abortion provision.

Thirteen states already have anti-choice laws on the statute books that will immediately ban access to abortion and it is expected that another 13 will introduce new restrictions or total bans as a result of this ruling. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion care in the US, has estimated that this ruling will result in loss of abortion care to 36 million women.

Humanists UK’s Senior Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, 

‘This is an incredibly sad day not just for US women, who have lost the most important safeguard of their right to bodily autonomy and to determine their own healthcare needs. It is also sad for all women, as this judgment is likely to galvanise anti-choice activists in many countries and strengthen calls for further restrictions.

‘It is a huge step back for women’s rights. It shouldn’t need stating, but it does: women deserve the rights of ownership of their own bodies, and to determine what health care they receive at all times. Such rights should not cease nor be lessened because a woman is pregnant.

‘The evidence is indisputable that restricting abortion access does not stop women from seeking abortions. It merely makes them unsafe. The World Health Organisation estimates that each year, between 5–13% of maternal deaths worldwide can be attributed to unsafe abortions. Until now very few of these women were American women. This is now likely to change.

‘In the face of such a disaster, we must not give up. On the contrary, we must redouble our efforts to fight for women’s rights. For us, that means starting with Northern Ireland.’

Just yesterday, the UK Parliament passed regulations enabling the UK Government to bring about abortion access in Northern Ireland, which the Northern Ireland Health Minister had been blocking.

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about this judgment.

Read more about our work on work on abortion.

We campaign in favour of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, in particular with respect to abortion. Our position on abortion is ‘pro-choice’ and we believe that contraception and high-quality, comprehensive relationships and sex education should be widely and freely available.

We have worked through the UK Parliament and by intervening in all recent legal cases to extend abortion access in Northern Ireland, including intervening in the Supreme Court case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2018 surrounding abortion in cases of sexual crime and foetal abnormality, the High Court cases brought by Sarah Ewart and by a mother facing prosecution in Northern Ireland for procuring abortion pills for her underage daughter in 2019. We campaigned in favour of the Northern Ireland (Executive) Formation Act 2019 which made provision for legal abortions.

We have campaigned for abortion to be removed from criminal law in the rest of the UK, assisting in drafting and supporting private members’ bills brought by Diana Johnson MP on this issue. We also support other measures to improve access to abortion, such as home-use of abortion pills and buffer zones around abortion clinics to allow women to access medical services without being harassed or intimidated.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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