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How are abortion rights tied to climate justice?

The United States Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling that safeguarded the right to have an abortion. This now leaves a greater number of people exposed and vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Known commonly as Roe v Wade, overturning such now leaves the legality of abortion up to the states to decide. As a result, up to half of all US states will likely ban abortion in the coming weeks. Such a decision runs contrary to the gradually increasing number of countries that have loosened restrictions.

Over the past several decades, nearly 50 countries have liberalised their abortion laws. Even so, 41% of women continue to live under restrictive laws that result in a lack of access to safe, affordable, timely and respectful abortion care.

As such laws are linked to more unsafe abortions and are harmful to the health of the affected, it is becoming increasingly important to draw the links between climate change and reproductive rights. Being deeply intertwined, the former tends to exacerbate the economic and health impacts of limiting access to the latter.

Climate change threatens the health of pregnant persons

Leading to more severe and frequent extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flooding, climate change is disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable populations, including pregnant folks, developing fetuses, and newborns.

According to the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, “Many reproductive health and birth defects are linked to extreme heat, increased ozone and PM2.5 emissions, and wildfire smoke.”

Rising temperatures increase the presence of tiny pollution particles in the mother’s lungs, leading to pulmonary issues. Extreme heat can shift circulation away from the placenta, an organ necessary for the fetus to receive nutrients and oxygen.

Credit: AOGS

Extreme weather events can also induce stress above the levels a person would typically experience during pregnancy.

In one study, researchers found consistent evidence of “a significant association of air pollutant and heat exposure with birth outcomes” across all US geographic regions. The same study of over 32 million US births also found that people with asthma and minority groups, especially black mothers, were at highest risk.

When the people who give birth are at greater risk due to the climate crisis, why should they not have bodily autonomy and at least the option to limit their vulnerability in a warming world?

Two sides of the same coin

According to the World Health Organisation, inaccessibility of quality abortion care risks violating numerous human rights of women and girls. Among these rights is the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to benefit from scientific progress and its realisation.

Many have called for policies that treat the climate crisis as a human rights issue. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined increased access to reproductive health and family planning services as critical to climate change resilience.

The intersectionality of climate change, however, is not always reflected in climate policies. To bridge these gaps, groups such as Women Deliver, a gender equality advocacy group, have called for gender-responsive climate action.

This refers to the “Recognition of gender differences in adaptation needs and capacities; gender-equitable participation and influence in adaptation decision-making processes; and gender-equitable access to finance and other benefits resulting from investments in adaptation.”

Since the ruling, the US Supreme Court has eliminated the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority in setting broad regulations to address greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It has been met with continued public unrest.

Paired, these rulings threaten effective climate action in the second highest emitting country in the world, strip millions of people of their reproductive rights, and increase the vulnerability of many to the effects of climate change.

The six justices who ruled in favor of such follow similar ideological lines, standing firmly against the progress necessary to push human rights and climate justice to the forefront of policy making.

In an interview with Atmos, gynecologist and climate advocate Bruce Bekkar admitted, “Our fight is one and the same. Our ideological opponents are, too.”