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Some countries have taken unprecedented steps to expand access to abortion in recent years, but international rights groups have long warned that overturning Roe v. Wadecould weaken abortion rights around the world, potentially leading some nations to adopt new restrictive laws.

As NPR's Ayana Archie and Joe Hernandez report:

Many countries are expanding abortion access

Ireland legalized abortion in 2019, Argentina legalized it in 2020, New Zealand decriminalized abortion in 2020 and Mexico's Supreme Court voted to decriminalize it last year. In February, Colombia's highest court legalized abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Global Justice Center said in a joint brief that 60% of women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is available.

"Only 26 countries, representing 5% of women of reproductive age, ban or prohibit abortion altogether," they wrote.

The brief adds that 34 of the 36 countries that the United Nations classifies as "economically developed" — including the U.S. — make abortions accessible. Poland and Malta were the lone exceptions.

The groups also note that the U.S. has signed several international treaties (including the U.N.'s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that include the right to nondiscrimination; the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to privacy; and the right to life.

By restricting access to abortions, the organizations argue, people will be forced to seek out unsafe and unsanitary procedures — therefore jeopardizing their right to life.

But those looking to crack down on abortion could use the U.S. as an example

Human rights advocates say the reversal of Roe not only would damage the perception of the U.S. on the world stage, but also could lead some countries to adopt more restrictive laws of their own.

Licha Nyiendo, chief legal officer of the group Human Rights First, wrote in a statement after the draft opinion leak that such a move constituted a "step in a very dangerous direction for everyone in the United States and a frightening signal to authoritarians around the world that they can strip long-established rights from their countries' people."

Tarah Demant, Amnesty International's interim national director for programs, advocacy and government affairs, told NPR that other countries could point to the U.S. to legitimize their own restrictive policies.

Take Poland for example, she said: The country has faced criticism from the European Union for severely limiting abortion, but soon could argue that the bloc's close ally has done nearly the same thing.

"You're looking at an emboldened anti-rights movement," Demant said.

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