The US Supreme Court overturning of Roe v Wade has sent shockwaves across the globe.
The landmark 1973 decision had established the right to access abortion.
Closer to home, it was as a jarring reminder that the hard-fought victory of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution must not be taken for granted.
For many other women – myself included – the decision reopened painful wounds concerning the devastating effects of restrictive rights on women’s bodily autonomy.
During the Trump administration, a seismic shift in democracy occurred in America. The perception of the US as an exemplar and protector of human rights has been undermined.
The unravelling of 50 years of reproductive rights was presaged on May 2, 2022, with the leaked opinion by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Roe v Wade.
Protests broke out across the US and in front of the Supreme Court.
That court then confirmed the authenticity of the leaked opinion but reassured the public it was not the final draft.
The leak was, in my opinion, quite deliberate, with the intention of assessing reaction to the decision.
Emboldened by the relatively restrained response, half a century of access to abortion rights was overturned. The fear is that other issues associated with civil rights will inevitably face the same fate.
Anger and disappointment erupted in waves across social media, including from former president Barack Obama.
The painful realisation dawned on people that while US women would certainly suffer from the ruling, women from marginalised sectors would, as always, be affected most.
It might be useful to look at how American women coped with abortions before Roe v Wade.
Middle-class white women organised to help fellow white women access abortion. They formed secret societies such as the Jane Collective, helping women attain abortions from trained providers.
At the same time, black and native women also had largely unsafe
My interest in social justice and legal systems worldwide has revealed that Thurgood Marshall, the first US black Supreme Court justice, was very sympathetic to abortion rights.
He was aware numerous impoverished black women had died or been seriously harmed at the hands of inept illegal abortion providers.
Unlike white women, black women were largely invisible to mainstream groups organising around abortion access and rights. This is because black women didn’t have financial resources and social connections to access safe services.
There was also the stigma around abortion in the black community at the time, which still persists.
It acts as a catalyst for unsafe backdoor abortions. In recent years, black, Latina and marginalised women have united to give a voice to the struggle for reproductive freedom.
Despite the gains made since the legalisation of abortion across the world, access to it or to reproduction services is not available for many minoritised women.
Focusing on the US again, under the Trump administration there has been a particularly ferocious effort to deny women their basic rights and limit access to abortion, and other reproductive health services.
The implications the Roe v Wade ruling has for reproductive health centres in African countries that are reliant on USAID funding are also of concern.
The last time funding was cut, the ability to access safe contraception and abortion services for many Africans also ended. I am reminded of the saying that: When America sneezes, the whole world gets a cold.
As a nation we are not strangers to the devastating effect a blanket ban on abortion has on women.
Before the 2018 referendum which resulted in the repealing of the ban on abortion in Ireland, Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old girl, died in 1984, having given birth at a grotto, while in 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist of Indian origin, died from sepsis after her request for an abortion was denied on legal grounds.
And in 2014, we had the case of Ms Y, a young woman who travelled pregnant to Ireland seeking asylum after brutal persecution, rape, violence, and psychological trauma in her country of origin.
Ms Y was denied access to an abortion, forced to carry the pregnancy, and give birth.
Although we ultimately successfully repealed the ban on abortion, access to services remains complicated, with women still having to travel outside Ireland.
Doctors in certain towns are also reluctant to offer the service and safe zones outside hospitals still lack legislative footing.
Overturning Roe V Wade, and outlawing abortions, will never make them go away.
Tragically, it makes them more dangerous, especially for the poor and minoritised who are already dying at three to four times the rate of white women due to pregnancy-related issues and discrimination.
This decision also affects the right to privacy, especially in healthcare but has the potential to reverse other hard-fought civil rights like marriage equality.
Shirley Chisholm the first African-
American woman elected to Congress, in her book Unbought and Unbossed, was totally clear about what banning abortion leads to: “No matter what men think, abortion is a fact of life. Women have always had them and they always will.
“Are they going to have good ones or bad ones?
“Will the good ones be reserved for the rich, while the poor women go to quacks?”
What America is showing the world is that progress is fragile.
Since women carry the biological burden of reproduction, this fight over bodily autonomy will never go away.
Thinking that the constitutional right to access abortion was settled in law was a mistake.
The fight must go on because #WomensRightsAreHumanRights!