Initially I had planned to write a piece on World Youth Day, celebrated on July 15. However, the recent events in the US clearly merit some commentary.
It has taken me several days of sitting with the US Supreme Court’s devastating decision to reverse Roe v Wade before I was able to write my thoughts. The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed nearly 50 years of rights for women to choose to access abortion and to make the best decisions for their bodies and their families . The initial chilling, terrifying moments have evolved into anger and many moments of tears and despair.
Mostly white and mostly male Supreme Court Justices have reversed decades of progress for women and eliminated a basic right- a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. These Justices, most of whom have had privileged lives, ignore the reality of low income women, women of color and individuals with disabilities, who will not be able to cross state lines to get an abortion, should they choose. Over 22 States have already or likely will enact restrictions or complete bans that will criminalize abortion.
Not only is the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v Wade a setback for basic rights for women in the US, but signals a bleak future for women and other marginalized communities. In his opinion, Justice Thomas' stated that the court should “reconsider" past rulings on access to contraception and protections for same sex relationships. What does this mean? Could this be the beginning of a movement that could impact same sex marriage, inter-racial marriage and much more?
In countries where abortion is not allowed, maternal mortality rates are higher - frequently much higher. Often those statistics do not include deaths from people who seek “illegal” and unreported abortions. We know that anti-abortion legislation does little to reduce the number of abortions, but it does dramatically reduce access to safe abortions making them more dangerous and endangering the lives of women who will have no option but to seek out unsafe options.
The Supreme Court claims to be concerned about the life if the unborn foetus in striking down Roe v Wade. And yet their ruling expanding gun rights after a series of mass shootings, which included the deaths of 21 students and teachers at Uvalde Texas, states that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public - a ruling likely to lead to more people being armed and children being killed as we have seen replayed most recently on July 4 with the Chicago Highland Park shootings.
As a first-generation immigrant from India to the US, the country I chose to immigrate to, I have generally been proud of the United States record on human rights. And while we are not perfect, I have always been grateful to live in a country where we have made progress in gender equality, marriage equality, race relations and more. Today I am ashamed of my country. In striking down Roe V Wade, the Supreme Court has set back decades of human rights progress. As a result, we are closer to countries with poor human rights records like Malta, El Salvador, Honduras, Senegal, Egypt, the Philippines and Laos, where abortion is illegal - than we are to countries with progressive human rights records.
With what credibility can the US preach to other countries about their human rights records and gender equality? And the effect of the Supreme Court’s terrifying decision will have ripple effects around the world. Governments the world-over, take their cues from the US and this devastating decision will be an encouraging signal to other countries to follow suit. The US has lost its leadership position in the world as we have chosen not to care about the rights of 50% of the world’s population – women!
There are many unanswered questions and concerns including what arrangements are being made to take care of unwanted children as a result of this disastrous ruling? How is an already overburdened health care system in the US going to handle the increasing numbers of women with high-risk pregnancies? What are the legal implications of the ruling?
However, we cannot lose hope now! Too much is at stake. We must not concede defeat. Individuals and organizations have a role to play. On an individual level, I have seen social media posts where families have opened their homes to women who need to cross state lines to get abortions. We have the power to change this trajectory by writing to our elected representatives and expressing our despair; by protesting peacefully. And above all, please, please vote in the midterm elections and support candidates who stand for human rights and equality for all. The power to change the course of our country’s history is in our hands. Make sure you vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Organizations are speaking out and taking a stand. Dozens of employers have committed to helping their employees get access to reproductive care. These companies include Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp, Airbnb, Microsoft, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss, PayPal, Amazon, Reddit, the Walt Disney Company, Meta, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Condé Nast.
In my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations, I discuss the fact that organizations are inextricably linked to the broader society. Stakeholders from customers to employees are calling on them to take unequivocal stands on injustice in their communities.
An excellent example of a corporation taking such a stand is Levi Strauss. In response to the Supreme Court Ruling, Levi Strauss called on business leaders to take a stand against the ruling. “Protection of reproductive rights is a critical business issue impacting our work force, our economy and progress toward gender and racial equity,” the company said. “Given what is at stake, business leaders need to make their voices heard.”
The time is NOW for organizations to step up and take a stand. The time is NOW for individuals to step up and take action. Human Rights and Democracy are at stake!
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