Abortion should be safe and accessible to all. This week is an opportunity for secular activists to champion just that.
Thursday, Sept. 28, is International Safe Abortion Day, otherwise known as a Day of Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. For more than 20 years, this campaign has demanded the decriminalization of abortion, ending abortion stigma and discrimination for those who have an abortion, and the provision of accessible and affordable abortion services. These demands have become crucial in the United States.
International Safe Abortion Day’s roots are in Latin America and the Caribbean. For decades, abortion activists in the region have fiercely marched and protested, destigmatizing abortion in the face of a heavily Catholic and anti-abortion populace and legal structures. In 2011, their efforts were brought to a global stage with Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights. To date, the International Safe Abortion Day initiative has reached a whopping 12.2 million people in 85 different countries.
And the collective action has been fruitful. In just the past three years, there has been increased decriminalization and expansion of abortion access in Mexico, Argentina, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, India, Ireland, Nepal, Thailand and South Korea. Colombia and Kenya’s high courts have upheld the right to an abortion. And Brazil’s Supreme Court is currently voting to determine if abortion should be decriminalized.
Meanwhile, the United States joins Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador as one of only four countries that have rolled back abortion in recent years. It has been 25 months since the United States has overturned constitutional protections for abortion rights. With abortion currently a “states’ rights” issue, the consequences have been dire.
A new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute shows that individual state laws have a national impact. When abortion is unavailable in someone’s state, people are only able to get abortion care if they travel out of state or self-manage their abortion. Clinics are experiencing a marked increase in patients who travel out of state.
Between 2020 and 2023, clinics in states where abortion remains legal had a major influx of people from surrounding states where abortion rights were eroded. Just take a look at these numbers: In Colorado, abortions increased by 89 percent and in Illinois, the number of abortions increased 69 percent. Clinics in New Mexico saw a staggering 220 percent increase in abortions and South Carolina experienced a 124 percent increase. Abortion in Washington increased by 36 percent. In comparison, the 2017–2020 increase in abortions had been 8, 25, 27, 4 and 1 percent, respectively.
When people are forced to travel lengthy distances, abortion inevitably becomes more expensive, since their pregnancies are often further along. Additionally, people miss out on wages and must find child care, hotel, transportation and lodging. People who live in states where abortion is legal experience longer waiting periods and might be compelled to travel to clinics that are further away so they can get an earlier appointment.
Others may opt to self-manage their abortion. Although self-managed abortions with abortion pills are extremely safe, the legal consequences remain unclear. Just last week, a Nebraska mom was sentenced to two years in prison for helping her teenage daughter obtain abortion pills. Her daughter had earlier been sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Beyond legal ramifications, forced pregnancy and childbirth is dangerous to one’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. Those who are denied a wanted abortion are more likely to be forced to stay in contact with abusive partners, experience poor physical health for years after the pregnancy, and suffer from anxiety and financial distress. In contrast, 99 percent of women who have an abortion do not regret it.
Although abortion is an extremely safe procedure, legality is necessary to protect the safety of individuals and communities. Bans on abortion are a violation of human rights. Nobody should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. Nobody should be denied an abortion. There is no medical basis for restricting or banning abortion.
This Sept. 28, let’s learn from activists in Latin America. In the face of a heavily Catholic culture, they have championed for abortion, reduced stigma and resisted oppression; their impact is reverberating across the globe. We secular activists have a chance to turn the tide in the United States, too.
Get involved by signing up for Freedom From Religion Foundation’s action alerts.