How The World’s Most Powerful Women Are Fighting For Women’s Reproductive Rights

Bridie Houlihan

Bridie Houlihan | Founder & CEO of Female Health Founders

Women’s reproductive rights have regressed over the past year, notably with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022. This pivotal 1973 case, which legalised abortion, was reversed by a narrow 5-4 vote. Consequently, numerous states have implemented restrictive bans, rendering abortion illegal in twelve states and significantly limited or unavailable in another dozen.

The repercussions of this decision extend beyond the borders of the United States, drawing global attention. United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, ranked 82nd on the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, highlighted in June that the repeal of Roe v. Wade positions the U.S. as an “outlier” among developed nations worldwide. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation emphasised that ensuring access to abortion is “fundamental” in achieving key sustainable development goals outlined by the United Nations. The pressing question arises: can a mere 100 individuals overcome the decisions made by a mere 5, thereby shaping the future landscape of women’s rights and the future of the femtech industry.

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This stems from remarks made by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who, during a May Senate hearing, emphasised the crucial role of Roe v. Wade and reproductive health care in enhancing labor force participation. Yellen asserted that reproductive freedom empowers women to complete their education, plan their careers, and accumulate financial resources for their families. The potential loss of Roe, she warned, would have severe economic repercussions, setting women’s progress back decades. Vice President Kamala Harris and outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have staunchly supported women’s reproductive rights, advocating for protective legislation.

Within the diverse perspectives on abortion access, reflected among both women at large and the members of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, opinions vary. Some individuals remain silent on the issue, while others, like Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, have committed to not interfering with their country’s abortion protections. Despite Meloni’s stance, the public response in Italy, marked by demonstrations in Rome and Milan with “My Body, My Choice” signs, underscores the significance of the matter.

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Numerous influential women on the list are actively leveraging their voices and platforms to champion abortion care more visibly than ever.

Reproductive health advocates and corporate social responsibility experts emphasise the enduring impact of these leaders’ continued engagement, even in the absence of Roe. Jen Stark, co-director at BSR Center for Business and Social Justice, notes that increased discourse on abortion by influential figures and companies is a positive development. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, urges individuals with influence to assess and utilise their power to effect change, emphasising the collective impact of vocal advocacy.

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The following overview explores how some of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women have taken action to safeguard access to reproductive healthcare:

  • MacKenzie Scott, made history by donating $275 million to Planned Parenthood, marking the organisation’s largest-ever gift from a single benefactor.
  • Jacinda Ardern, led the Kiwi parliament in a vote to enhance protections for abortion clinics and their surroundings, safeguarding them from intimidation or obstruction efforts. Ardern, characterised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision as “a loss for women everywhere.”
  • Xiomara Castro, achieved a historic milestone by becoming Honduras’ first female president. Despite her campaign to expand abortion access, she has encountered opposition and, as of the current update, has not achieved success in this endeavour.
  • Shonda Rhimes, a renowned TV show-runner, has consistently incorporated a straightforward approach to reproductive health in Grey’s Anatomy. The show has depicted fictional doctors engaging with various aspects of reproductive health, including abortions, prescription of abortion pills, and criticism of restrictive state laws. A particularly educational episode in October 2022 featured Grey’s doctors guiding a teenager through the process of taking mifepristone and misoprostol, the two abortion pills.