What the UK can learn from the overturning of Roe v Wade

News of the US Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v Wade on 24 June shocked people across the globe. The idea that a country which labels itself as the "land of the free" would then actively restrict the rights of a person over their own body should seem impossible. But, with the state of America and the wider world at the moment, this decision is almost expected.

Photographer: Raquel Natalicchio/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Alannah Ross, 36, set up her online-based pregnancy loss aftercare company, Seek, after suffering alone through both psychological and physiological issues following her abortion in the UK. She has expressed the wave of emotion she felt after hearing the news of the Supreme Court's decision.

"Complete and utter disgust, shock, fear and rage. Just going through all of these complex emotions all at once," she says.

"Now it's just feeling activated to support the best way I can and collaborate with other institutions, especially in the US to figure out a solution whereby we can raise awareness and best support these people that are stuck in states where they have no access to health care."

The decision to overturn the case of Roe v Wade, which ruled it unconstitutional for states to impose unduly restrictive regulations over abortions, means that the Supreme Court has now opened up the floodgates for the state legislature to criminalise the procedure across the United States. With 13 states holding trigger laws allowing immediate bans within 30 days, the effects of the decision were felt immediately across the country, and reactions on both sides of the Atlantic have echoed Ross' feelings of rage and upset.

From mainstream media and high-profile figures to social media channels and regular people, the world has erupted in a collective sense of disgust at the news of the Supreme Court's decision.

Interstate travel is not prohibited at the moment which means people can travel to a state in which the procedure remains legally accessible. However, according to a leading sexual and reproductive health research and policy organisation, the Guttmacher Institute, the impact of abortion restrictions falls disproportionately on already marginalised populations. For many the ability to travel and access fair and unbiased healthcare is restricted, leaving them with little to no safe option in reaction to an unwanted pregnancy.

Hearing the news of this decision has also brought up a question for some in the United Kingdom about their own rights to abortion and the accessibility level of the procedure within the country, along with a criticism of the level of restriction on who exactly is eligible to undergo it within UK law.

The simple answer is that abortions are legal in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) and are freely accessible through the National Health Service and other licensed clinics. Although people technically have free access to abortions the criteria which they must meet is not as straightforward as you may think.

Under the Abortion Act 1967 abortions are legally allowed up to 24 weeks into a person's pregnancy provided that the pregnancy carries greater risk than the procedure itself to the "physical or mental health of the pregnant [person] or any existing children of [their] family". A fact which is determined after an examination of a person's circumstances is undergone and the need for an abortion has been authorised by two doctors.

Photographer: FRCPhoto/Shutterstock

Abortion Rights, the UK's pro-choice campaign, is pushing for abortion rights to be improved within the UK, calling for a modern abortion law which reflects the public opinion that a person has the right to make their own abortion decision, rather than having to "persuade two doctors to agree to [their] decision on the basis of restrictive legal criteria".

Born in Scotland but living in London at the time of her abortion, Ross says, "it does not make sense that we leave it up to someone else, especially to a man, to decide what we do with our bodies. I think that's almost mirroring in a similar way what's happened in the US. Losing our own self-autonomy over our own bodies, it shouldn't be up to external government structures or a doctor, it's just not what should happen".

Whilst the threat of Parliament reducing abortion rights within the UK is not imminent, Abortion Rights has also put emphasis on the momentum that the Supreme Court's decision could have for anti-abortion organisations in other countries.

"This is a hugely significant setback for abortion rights. Not just in the US, but it will embolden anti-abortion activists here and in Poland, Malta and other places where the struggle for access is already desperate," says Kerry Abel, Chair of Abortion Rights.

With more than 15 anti-abortion organisations within the UK, the news that anti-abortion supporters have succeeded in changing the law in America will no doubt bolster their own campaigns. This puts further emphasis on the need to fight to keep what rights are already in place alongside the need to extend the accessibility of the procedure and improve the lack of guidance for aftercare within the UK.

Ross is hoping to work with the NHS in the future to help them build on their aftercare offerings and improve the support given to a person who has undergone an abortion. She founded Seek with the goal to provide women with a platform to access aftercare resources for both abortions and miscarriages.

Offering access to experts through their eight-week plans to guide a person through five pillars of recovery, which include physical, mental, emotional, sexual and social guidance, Seek helps those who have suffered a pregnancy loss to understand their body and mind's reaction and how they can support themselves from home.


For those wanting to do more to support abortion rights campaigns in both the United States and the UK please consider keeping up with petitions and resources which can help. Don't forget to continue to raise awareness of the situation on both sides of the Atlantic and educate yourself on the laws and campaigns in place to improve abortion rights and fight the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

Although non-citizens cannot vote in the US donating to organisations which protect abortion access can help the fight against the Supreme COurt's decision:

Planned Parenthood

Abortion Funds

National Black Women's Reproductive Agenda

There is also currently a petition from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service to call for Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to send a "clear signal that the UK does not support the removal of a woman's right to access abortion care, and to commit to protecting UK funding for reproductive health and rights programmes globally".

Follow Abortion Rights UK to keep up-to-date with demonstrations in the UK to show solidarity with the US and fight for abortion rights within UK law also.