Breaking Barriers with Optimism: Global Perspectives on Reproductive Rights

By Isabella A. Lee Oyarce MIA ’24
Posted Nov 13 2023


On October 27, the Institute of Global Politics (IGP) hosted a policy roundtable entitled “Reproductive Rights in the United States and Around the World.” The discussion featured Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights; Yasmine Ergas, senior lecturer in the discipline of international and public affairs and the director of SIPA’s Gender and Public Policy specialization; and Ting Ting Cheng, director of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Project at Columbia Law School.

Open to Columbia SIPA, Law School, and College students, the roundtable revolved around both domestic and international barriers to advancing reproductive rights, as well as areas of hope for the future. All three panelists drew from their personal experiences to discuss the historical context leading to the current status of reproductive rights in the United States and around the world. They analyzed the negative global impact of the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the varying status of constitutional rights for women worldwide, and the importance of prioritizing gender issues both domestically and internationally.

At the end of the panel, students raised questions about the lack of access to reproductive rights for migrant women, the capability of international law for advancing reproductive rights, and the dialectical relationship between social movements and policy making. 



“What are the most significant issues affecting women around the world?”

The primary challenge in policymaking is that women are often treated as a homogenous group, despite facing diverse issues such as limited access to education, wage disparities, a lack of care infrastructure, and high rates of both child marriage and maternal mortality. Violence against women is also the most widespread human rights violation in the world. The reality is that these issues happen against women of all backgrounds and economic statuses, and therefore should be prioritized.

– President Michelle Bachelet

“Why do you think reproductive rights in the United States have been moving toward greater restriction while the global trend is toward liberalization?”

The most interesting trend is that the restriction of abortion access via legislation and jurisprudence is paradoxical to favorable public opinion here in the United States. It expands the issue dynamic to include political institutions and the accessibility of political participation. However, the United States is not unique, and the reason reproductive rights remain a wedge issue in most countries today is there is a lack of consensus on the definition of life, and whether this can be classified as a habeas corpus definition for women. It is a question of whether women have the right to be authoritative over their bodies and the right to be safe in their person.

– Director Yasmine Ergas

“Can you explain how the effort around the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has interacted with the availability of abortion and reproductive justice in the United States?”

In the United States, we are currently in a challenging position regarding the foundation of our Constitution, as it leaves out many minorities in its text. Throughout history, procedural rights have often been directly linked to restricting civil rights, as demonstrated in the Dobbs decision. The ERA would introduce specific language into the Constitution, guaranteeing equal rights for women, which would have a ripple effect on the Supreme Court's decisions. The Constitution cannot currently recognize and address discrimination differences between various groups. The adoption of the ERA can unite a spectrum of rights, with reproductive rights playing a central role, while also addressing other rights that protect against gender discrimination.

– Director Ting Ting Cheng