In 1970, a woman formally known as Norma McCorvey filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Dallas County, Henry Wade, on behalf of all women in the United States wishing to terminate a pregnancy, but were unable to do so with the enactment of various laws allowing the use of abortion only in cases to save the mother’s life. Norma along with millions of other women had instead been forced to revert to “back-alley” or self-induced abortions, with the possibility of legal, medically performed abortions in other countries a distant hope due to the attachment of expensive price tags. Although unbeknownst to her at the time, Norma’s advocacy for herself and other women would result in one of the most monumental US Supreme Court Cases of all time, a ruling that would guarantee a women’s right to an abortion on the basis of the 14th amendment, and become more commonly recognized as the case of Roe v. Wade.
The landmark case of Roe v. Wade not only protected a woman’s legal right to a safe abortion as of January 22, 1973, but also indirectly fortified the sexual and reproductive rights of women and adolescents alike. In addition to the surge in abortion clinics around the country, women’s rights activists capitalized on this opportunity globally, utilizing the decision of Roe v. Wade as justification for family planning, contraceptive use, and increased investments in sexual and reproductive medicine.
However, these growing initiatives came to a sudden halt on June 24, 2022, with the US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson, a decision that overturned the previous 50-year precedent of Roe v Wade and restricts a women’s constitutional right to an abortion. The United States now joins only three other countries, Poland, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, as nations that have ruled in favor of prohibiting previously legal access to abortion. With the jurisdiction regarding access to abortion in the hands of individual states, nine states have already completely prohibited the use of abortion, some even in the case of rape or incest, with more than a dozen more expected to prohibit or heavily restrict abortion in the coming weeks.
Although the new precedent established by Dobbs v. Jackson most directly affects the citizens of the United States, the resulting consequences of such a controversial decision can be felt globally, extending far beyond the people and boundaries of the 50 states. Situated at the crossroads of the US sphere of international influence and the current formation of a distinct and increasing sense of national identity, Uganda exists as a country that is particularly vulnerable to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The current laws governing abortion within Uganda, outlined within the Ugandan Constitution, state that abortion is illegal, unless determined by a medical professional to be necessary in saving the life of the respective mother. Furthermore, the Ugandan Ministry of Health’s 2006 National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights outlines additional instances in which an abortion may be legal, including rape, incest, or if the mother has a pre-existing medical condition such as HIV. However, the interpretation and even awareness of the existence of this addendum in the cases of abortion is disputed within the medical community in Uganda. As a result, practitioners often opt to avoid abortion all together over fear of malpractice or loss of their medical license. With the recent criminalization of abortion within the US, even enforcing jail time of upwards of ten years for physicians who perform abortions, foreign doctors may be even more deterred to perform them, forcing an increasing number of women to turn towards expensive options abroad or detrimental, self-induced abortions that pose risks of injury, infection, and death.
In addition to sentiments of criminalization regarding abortion, the stipulations of aid from the US given to Uganda may be impacted in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Although the Global Gag Rule, a regulation prohibiting the use of any US federal aid given to a non-governmental organization to fund topics relating to abortion and sexual and reproductive health rights, was repealed by the Biden administration in 2021, many stipulations regarding abortion and sexual and reproductive health rights are still placed on US federal aid. In the year 2020, Uganda received approximately 800 million dollars in US federal aid, putting Uganda at the mercy of US sentiments toward abortion when it comes to receiving aid. As US attitude toward abortion shifts with the ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson, even more provisions restricting access to sexual and reproductive services may be placed on US foreign aid, consequently making abortions less common and harder to access in Uganda as aid is accepted.
The effects of Dobbs v. Jackson are already being felt in Malawi, Uganda’s neighbor to the South, as legislation that allows for the use of safe abortion in the case of rape, incest, or maternal diagnosis of HIV is receiving increased resistance since the ruling. Anti-abortion activists are becoming more emboldened with the new US precedent as a source of powerful justification, and have even stalled the passage of this bill. Just as abortion advocates have built their successful argument for abortion access, family planning, and contraceptive services on the back of the original Roe v. Wade decision, anti-abortion activists are using Dobbs v. Jackson as fuel in their fight against abortion, making the future of abortion as well as related sexual and reproductive health services in Malawi, Uganda, and the rest of the world uncertain.
Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and CRR, Facing Uganda’s Law on Abortion: Experiences from Women & Service Providers, Kampala, Uganda: CEHURD, 2016.
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History.com Editors. (2018, March 27). Roe v. Wade. History.com. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/roe-v-wade
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