On Tuesday, the report that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade triggered surprise and concern across Europe, a continent that has in the past decades consistently moved toward liberalizing abortion.
But anti-abortion lawmakers, who have long been outnumbered in Western Europe, welcomed the news as an important precedent that could help them roll back legislation in their countries as well.
Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish government, tweeted her support of abortion rights early Tuesday morning. “The right of women to decide what happens to our own bodies is a human right,” she wrote, adding: “And experience tells us that removing the legal right to abortion doesn’t stop abortions happening — it just makes them unsafe and puts the lives of women at much greater risk.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, also spoke against potential restrictions to abortion rights. “London stands with women across the United States today,” he wrote on Twitter. “Roe v Wade enshrined women’s fundamental rights over their own bodies and access to health care. That cannot and must not be undone.”
But in Spain, Lourdes Mendéz, a lawyer and lawmaker representing the far-right Vox party, cheered the news. “Will our Spanish Constitutional Court have the honesty and decency to rule that the abortion law was a mistake from the start and declare it unconstitutional?” he tweeted.
In Britain, David Kurten, the leader of the conservative Heritage Party, also deemed the leaked decision as “GOOD NEWS!” on Twitter, adding that it was “saving the lives of millions of unborn children every year in the USA.”
Understand the Challenge to Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could be the most consequential to women’s access to abortion since 1973.
While most European countries allow abortions, civil rights associations argue that effectively, many obstacles still prevent women from obtaining one safely, and the right to abortion is under threat. The leaked U.S. decision brought new attention to these claims.
In France, Julien Bargeton, a senator representing Paris, wrote on Twitter that if the Supreme Court decision was confirmed, it would be “a terrible regression for American women,” and he urged progressives around the world to mobilize.
In Ireland, where one of the world’s most restrictive abortion bans was repealed in 2018, abortion rights associations looked on in despair.
“It is heartbreaking and rage-inducing,” Abortion Rights IE, a volunteer group that supports access to abortion in Ireland, wrote on Twitter. “Here in Ireland, we know all too well the consequences of abortion being illegal.”
Some politicians, activists and academics feared that America’s decision could set a precedent for a wider regression in terms of civil rights.
“American attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion may signal a wave of moves to right wing social policy across Europe and North America,” Diane Abbott, a Labour member of Britain’s Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
“Today, the right to abortion. Tomorrow, the penalization of homosexuality and the right to marriage for all?” Nicolas Hervieu, a French law professor, wrote on Twitter, adding that the Supreme Court’s apparent intention should serve as a reminder “that no fundamental right is ever acquired.”
The German author Max Czollek, who focuses on civil liberties, pointed to a decline in freedoms across the Western world.
“Germany drops to 16th place in the international ranking for #pressfreedom22, in the USA the right to abortion is to be overturned with #RoevWade. It would be nice if there were a free western world,” he wrote on Twitter. “In particular, I see a downward right spin everywhere.”
Caspar Shaller, who writes for the German weekly Die Zeit, noted that rather than worrying about the United States, Europe, where high ranking officials have held anti abortion stances, should look to itself.
“Instead of getting performatively upset about the situation in the USA we could also deal with the topic of abortion in Germany and Europe,” he said.
Anti-abortion organizations joined in. If confirmed, the Supreme Court decision “would represent a historic step forward in the defense of the life being born and of fundamental human rights,” Jacopo Coghe, the spokesman of Italy’s pro-life movement Pro Vita & Famiglia, said in a statement.
Erika Solomon and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.