As Commissioners charged with tracking global progress on sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice since the Nairobi Summit, we are dismayed by this most dangerous and unprecedented reversal of longstanding support for fundamental human rights. 

For the United States, on whose soil the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was conceived and drafted, to rescind an established right after a half century of constitutional protection is profoundly sad and deeply distressing. Like others around the world, we stand in solidarity with women everywhere who seek to control the most intimate and personal of decisions – that of when or if to be pregnant. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid the foundation for the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rescind protection for that right is a shattering blow to women, girls and all people who need abortion within U.S. borders. This setback only strengthens our resolve to continue fighting for all women everywhere, bolstered by the knowledge that this regression is out of step with the progress made by countries around the world – Benin, Kenya, Mexico, Argentina, Ireland and Colombia – where abortion laws have been liberalized in recent years.  

As we noted in our 2021 report No Exceptions, No Exclusions, progress on the global commitments to sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice made at the 2019 Nairobi Summit has been slower than we had hoped. Even so, this decision is still profoundly out of step with the global trend as in recent decades only four countries have moved backward – Poland, Nicaragua, El Salvador and now the United States – while many others take progressive steps to protect bodily autonomy for women, girls and everyone who needs access to comprehensive reproductive health care. 

Abolishing the right to abortion across much of the U.S. will bolster those who seek to dampen progress on sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice around the world, imposing new restrictions on rights everywhere and further impeding advancement on a range of global indicators, not least of which is global peace and security. 

Restrictions and poor access to appropriate health care mean that currently some 45% of abortions globally are unsafe. Yet we know from longstanding experience that such restrictions do nothing to prevent the recourse to abortion. All they do is increase unsafe abortion, a leading cause of maternal death. With nearly half of pregnancies not by choice, contributed to by issues like contraceptive failure, as well as rampant sexual coercion and violence, and some 60% of these unintended pregnancies ending in abortion, the US Supreme Court reversal is set to worsen this already grim reality. This will have far-reaching consequences that erode gender equality, girls’ education and women’s participation in the workforce and perpetuate intergenerational cycles of poverty. Rather than imposing restrictions we must educate and empower people, especially the most marginalized, to make affirmative decisions about sex and parenthood, and expand the choices and resources available to them.

We call on all countries to meet their human rights obligations and stand behind their commitments to respect bodily autonomy, foster the wellbeing of all, and promote and protect the rule of law to ensure a prosperous future for everyone, everywhere.