In Africa, where the risk of dying from an unsafe abortion is the highest in the world, Roe v. Wade has long been an important weapon in the arsenal of those fighting to liberalize abortion laws and make the procedure safer for women and girls despite it rarely being invoked by name.
Human rights lawyer Stephanie Musho, a Kenyan, pointed to the case of Tunisia which liberalized their law limiting abortions just nine months after the Roe v. Wade ruling, allowing women to access the service on demand.
Cape Verde allowed for abortion on request prior to 12 weeks gestation which aligns with the Roe v. Wade holding of the same.
“U.S. policies on abortion,” she wrote in Al Jazeera, “whether we like it or not, significantly influence how seriously governments around the world take the issue of unsafe abortions.”
A surprising number of decisions reveal African courts referencing the Roe v. Wade ruling. In a recent decision by the High Court of Kenya in Malindi, abortion care was called a fundamental right under the Kenyan Constitution and arbitrary arrests and prosecution of patients and healthcare providers for seeking or offering such services were outlawed.
The court relied upon the principles set out in previous SCOTUS decisions including Roe v. Wade; Griswold v. Connecticut; Eisenstadt v. Baird; and Rochin v. California among others.
“Thus the move by SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade will also put the right to abortion in further jeopardy in my own country,” warned Musho.
Still, Kenya’s High Court’s ruling was greeted with applause from Evelyn Opondo, senior regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who called it “a victory for all women, girls, and healthcare providers who have been treated as criminals for seeking and providing abortion care…The Court has vindicated our position by affirming that forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or to seek out an unsafe abortion is a gross violation of her rights to privacy and bodily autonomy.”
Now, some 30 years after Roe v. Wade, the African Union has finally adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol, Musho wrote in the CommonDreams news site.
The protocol explicitly requires countries to authorize medical abortions in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, or where the continued pregnancy endangers the health of the mother—a provision that draws from the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which based its argument on access to safe abortion on Roe v. Wade.
Today, of the 55 member countries in the AU, 49 have signed the protocol and 43 have ratified it.
Since South Africa’s legalization of abortion on demand there has been a decrease in deaths from clandestine abortions (those provided outside of designated facilities), but the number of deaths following abortions are still quite high according to statistics gathered in Gauteng province—5% of maternal deaths following childbirth are abortion related, and 57% of these are related to illegal abortions.