As the United States awaits confirmation of a historic repeal of abortion rights, it is worth reflecting on the many ways that abortion rights in the US, Canada, and around the world intersect with the climate crisis.
Setting the Context
In a leaked draft opinion earlier this Spring, it was revealed that the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to end the constitutional right to abortion, set by the precedent of Roe v. Wade later this summer. In the new Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state of Mississipi is appealing a lower court ruling that struck down the state’s law banning abortion after fifteen weeks as unconstitutional. This case marks the first time that the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.
Roe v. Wade was a landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion across the United States, first announced on January 22nd, 1973. It recognized that the decision whether to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion belongs to the individual, not the government, based on both the ninth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Now, the state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court not only to uphold its abortion ban, but to overrule Roe v. Wade, and find that there is no constitutional right to abortion.
This is a precedent-setting attack on women’s reproductive freedom, and reverberates around the world as many women fight to secure a similar right to govern their own bodies.
Connections to the Climate Crisis
At the root of the climate crisis is a combination of historical injustices, including colonization, capitalism, racism, land theft, slavery, misogyny, patriarchy, and more.
It is the continued legacy of these ills; from boil water advisories on First Nations reserves, to unchecked police brutality and mass shootings, to speculative housing markets that make shelter increasingly inaccessible, to voter suppression in the US, and the shortcomings of promised electoral reform in Canada, to patriarchal control over women’s bodies, that has made it so hard to make the necessary changes science continues to warn us are required to get ourselves out of this mess.
We can already see how the persistence of these injustices is holding our society back from acting on the climate crisis with the urgency required.
Therefore, tackling the climate crisis will only be possible through a combination of important approaches including Climate Action, Climate Justice, and Reproductive Justice.
Climate Action, according to the UNDP, means “stepped-up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-induced impacts” (UNDP).
Climate Justice recognizes that “fixing the climate is only possible if we also fix all of the other inequalities that exist because not only does climate reinforce all those things, it also amplifies them – and it’s an expression of those things” (Asad Rehman).
The right to an abortion is one expression of Reproductive Justice, defined as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong).
We Cannot Have Reproductive Justice Without Climate Justice
As the effects of climate change worsen, so does the ability for women to parent their children in “safe and sustainable communities” (SisterSong).
We cannot hope to raise children safely in a world with an unstable climate, unpredictable weather events, limited access to clean drinking water, famine-induced food shortages, and increasingly unsafe and inaccessible housing, all caused and exacerbated by the changing climate.
What’s more, pregnancy and birth-giving are endangered by pollution and climate change. Environmental factors like exposure to fuel residues, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, intense car traffic, and burning fuels have been found to have a direct link to foetal malformations, pre-term births, and miscarriages.
These risks are higher still for Black and other people of colour thanks in no small part to Environmental Racism. Marginalized communities overwhelmingly and disproportionately tend to be left to carry the burden of environmental hazards and pollution. Addressing environmental racism is thus another important factor in achieving reproductive and climate justice.
Attacks on Reproductive and Climate Justice are Not Isolated
In recent research led by the organization Earth Uprising, who compared fossil fuel lobby dollars to American politicians’ voting record, it was found that overwhelmingly, the politicians who have received at least $500,000 from oil and gas corporations over their tenures tend to vote anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Do fossil fuel companies have a vested interest in blocking abortion rights? No, not really.
But what this does mean is that there is a link between our continued fossil fuel emissions and concerted efforts to roll-back the right to an abortion anytime, anywhere, and for any reason.
In the words of Earth Uprising founder, Alexandria Villasenor, this means that “a clean energy economy that takes purchasing power away from fossil fuels can lead to more reproductive justice and protections” (Alexandria Villasenor).
Abortion Rights Around the World
Much of the discourse today centers the United States of America, where certain interests have been working diligently for decades to pack the Supreme Court with anti-abortion justices, in an effort to roll back the Roe v. Wade precedent, all while abortion still has not been enshrined as a constitutional right. This can have cascading effects on other landmark rights extensions from the last few decades, and the irony has not been lost on many that the same politicians who are pushing to ban abortions have also recently voted against funding that would ease the current US baby formula shortage.
In Canada, we should be wary of any presumption that our right to abortions is better protected. In fact, abortion is not a protected right in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What we have instead is precedent-setting access to abortions, that aren’t even that accessible.
For many seeking abortions across this country, they have to travel long journeys to find clinics that would provide them. In addition to the individual turmoil and discomfort this causes, another effect of this lack of access is increased individual emissions! When folks have to travel across state and provincial lines, for those who can even afford to, they inevitably increase demand for high-emission long-distance travel.
And around the rest of the world, there’s also lots to do, from the rise of anti-abortion governments in Europe, to the example of El Salvador, where women are routinely sentenced to decades in prison for miscarriages, because all kinds of abortion, voluntary or not, are criminalized.
Like so many of the other topical issues of the day, abortion rights and climate action are interconnected, and so are their solutions.
The fight for reproductive freedom is intrinsically linked to the fight for a livable future. Reproductive justice empowers birth-givers to show up in the world in their most authentic ways, and play their desired role in building resilient climate futures. It is no coincidence that across 130 countries, women in government positions were more likely to sign on to international treaties to reduce global warming than men.
Protecting the sanctity of human life requires us all to do our part to make human life possible, from cutting back on emissions and pollution, switching our energy grids from fossil fuels to renewable sources, and defending the rights of all of us to have a voice in the determination of that future.
So the next time you talk about climate or abortion rights, add the other one to the conversation!