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U.S. abortion decision draws cheers, horror abroad

Demonstrators in Paris hold a U.S. flag during a rally in support of worldwide abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion on Friday. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade — and revoke the constitutional right to an abortion — triggered a mixture of condemnation and elation outside the United States as politicians and activists on both sides of the debate braced for potential ripple effects in their countries.

World leaders and abortion rights advocates described the ruling as “horrific” and “appalling.” Crowds protested in cities including London, Paris and Ottawa.

“One of the darkest days for women’s rights in my lifetime,” Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision “clearly has massive impacts on people’s thinking around the world.” He called it “big step backwards.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as “horrific.” “No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body,” he tweeted.

“Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected,” French President Emmanuel Macron said, as lawmakers in Paris proposed enshrining it in the French Constitution.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, told Reuters he was “very disappointed.” “I would have expected America to protect such rights,” he said.

The court voted 6 to 3 Friday to uphold a Mississippi law that bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Five justices voted to overturn Roe, upending nearly 50 years of legal precedent guaranteeing a right to the procedure.

In many countries, abortion is protected by law, not court decision

The decision received some prominent support outside of the country, including in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

The Vatican acknowledged the “heated debate” around the issue and said the U.S. decision would challenge “the whole world.” The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life called for “a non-ideological debate on the place that the protection of life has in a civil society.”

Some on Europe’s far right voiced approval. Beatrix von Storch, a senior member of Germany’s Alternative for Germany party, said the decision sent a signal of hope for unborn life.

“It will radiate to the entire West,” von Storch wrote.

The strong and swift global reactions reflect the influence of U.S. domestic policy over political debates abroad — and the extent to which the United States is seen as a potential harbinger of changes to come.

Is U.S. a liberal outlier on abortion, as Supreme Court opinion says?

Over the past several decades, more than 50 countries have liberalized their abortion laws, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global advocacy group that supports abortion rights. Only the United States, Poland and Nicaragua have reduced abortion access in the 21st century.

Now many U.S. states are poised to enact much more restrictive laws than those in most other developed countries. The United States is “out of step with the global community’s commitment to advance human rights,” a group of more than 100 global health-care organizations said in a statement Friday.

Countries including Argentina, Colombia, Ireland and Mexico have all moved in recent years to expand abortion access. Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion last September.

“Rarely have I been as proud to be part of the Mexican Supreme Court as I am today,” Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar tweeted on Friday, in a clear allusion to the U.S. court decision. “All rights for all people. Until equality and dignity become customary.”

On the day the Supreme Court struck down Roe, the German parliament voted to reverse a Nazi-era law that made it illegal for doctors to advertise abortion procedures.

Abortion rights advocates around the world expressed concern that the U.S. decision could fuel movements to roll back access elsewhere. Alvaro Bermejo, director general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said it would embolden “other antiabortion, anti-woman and anti-gender movements and [impact] other reproductive freedoms.”

Lawmakers in France proposed a bill Saturday to enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution. Aurore Bergé, who heads President Emmanuel Macron’s party in parliament, told the radio station France Inter that the U.S. decision demonstrated a need. She acknowledged that some fellow lawmakers are “fierce opponents” of abortion.

“Nothing is impossible, and … the rights of women are always rights that are fragile and are regularly called into question,” she said. “I think we must not take any risk on the matter and therefore secure [the right to abortion] by inscribing it in our constitution.”

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said the government would “strongly support” the bill. A coalition of leftist parties introduced a similar proposal Saturday.

Vickie Remoe, a writer from Sierra Leone, tweeted that she was “worried about the far-reaching global implications this will have on access to safe abortions across the globe but especially in Africa.”

Some saw parallels to their own domestic battles.

In Brazil, antiabortion politicians celebrated the news from the United States. Just a day earlier, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro expressed outrage that doctors performed an abortion on an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant by rape.

On Friday evening, Bolsonaro shared a photo of himself holding a baby on Twitter, captioned “May God continue to give strength and wisdom to those who protect the innocence and future of our children, in Brazil and around the world.”

Debora Diniz, a professor of the law faculty at the University of Brasília, called Friday a “day of great anguish for women, girls and all people in the United States.”

“My solidarity with all women, girls and others living in places in USA where abortion is now unsafe and criminalized,” she wrote.

Leah Hoctor, Europe program director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said ahead of the expected ruling that Poland offers “a cautionary tale for the United States.”

In 2020, a Polish court struck down one of the few remaining grounds for legal abortion — fetal abnormalities — leaving abortion nearly impossible to access through the formal health system.

Activists in Europe formed a network to send abortion pills to Polish people in need of them, and to facilitate travel to European countries with fewer restrictions for those who need surgical abortions.

But it can be difficult to travel, particularly for disadvantaged women. And the near-total ban has left women afraid to seek medical care during obstetric emergencies and doctors fearful of providing help to end a pregnancy, even when a woman’s life is at risk, Hoctor said.

Abortion Dream Team, an organization that helps Polish women access abortion, encouraged its American counterparts to keep fighting.

“When political decisions push us against the wall, we have two options: to bang our heads against the wall or to spray a number for the nearest abortion fund on this wall,” the group wrote on Facebook. “Abortion solidarity in practice — this is the only way to survive.”

Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico City, Karla Adam and Annabelle Timsit in London, James Bikales in Washington and Victoria Bisset in the United Kingdom contributed to this report.

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