The US Supreme Court voted in favor of abortion rights last week.

For the first time in almost 50 years, there are no national-level protections for women's right to choose, with abortion policy now fully delegated to individual states. Many states have put in place strict restrictions on abortion

The decision to overturn the abortion law was made by five justices who were appointed by Republican presidents.

President Joe Biden said it wascruel. There are concerns that the ruling will undermine women's health and that women in states with abortion bans will become less than citizens.

A pro-choice counter-protester holds a sign on the sidelines of the pro-life National March for Life in Ottawa, Ontario.
A pro-choice counter-protester at the pro-life National March for Life in Ottawa.
Lars Hagberg / AFP

The reaction was not restricted to people who identify as Democrats. Washington's NATO allies were particularly dismayed by the response.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement that pointed out the ways in which the right to abortion was being undermined by the Supreme Court of the US. Trudeau said the court's decision was horrible. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the ruling was a step backwards.

This is a domestic issue with little to no relevance for US foreign policy, so it might be argued that international condemnation is meaningless. The US alliance system is not based on shared values. The ability of the United States to counter regional adversaries is dependent on its material power.

The US is given a lot of latitude in how it is perceived by its allies because they are dependent on US protection. The US Conference for Catholic Bishops claims that the Dobbs ruling promotes a "culture of life."

There are at least three ways in which the Dobbs decision hurts the US's standing in the world.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14, 2022 - Pro-choice protest in London against the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade and the legal right to abortion. (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
A pro-choice protest in London in response to the US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, May 14, 2022.
Future Publishing / Contributor

It is an embarrassment. The US joins an inauspicious list of countries that have restricted abortion access in the past 30 years, including Russia and Iran.

It seems contrary to a democratic system's operating principles that the court would undermine the will of the people if a clear majority of the US public believes that abortions should be protected at the national level.

White evangelicals are the only subset of Americans that favor banning abortion. When a major policy is set that is favorable to just one religious and ethnic group, it is disconcerting for a country that is supposed to be pluralistic.

The nature of the ruling heightens this. It's one thing to think that policies should be set at the state level.

When the court rules in the same week that individual states can set any restrictions on abortion but cannot impose limited restrictions on gun ownership, it feeds a perception that the US democratic system of governance is not functioning.

Trump shakes hands of Supreme Court justices
Then-President Donald Trump speaks to Supreme Court justices after the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The ruling points to more instability in US policy.

Washington's negotiation partners can be forgiven for seeing US policy as erratic after the Trump administration reversed many Obama-era policies.

There are concerns that other domestic human-rights policies that seemed to have been "settled law" could be revised after the Supreme Court overturned a policy that had been in place for 50 years.

The US system of governance and the US government's inability to maintain a long-term commitment to its policy agenda have been underscored by this.

If the older conservative justices retire under a Democratic president and Senate, it could shift the court's balance to a liberal majority. That would make the situation worse.

Supreme Court protest
Activists in favor of expanding the Supreme Court rally outside the court on June 22, 2022.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Demand Justice

The ruling raises the question of whether this is just the beginning of a larger problem. The goal is to end as much regulation as possible at the federal level, with the exception of gun control, in order to undermine the federal government.

It would be difficult for the US to broker agreements for some of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the next century if the Supreme Court goes ahead and undermines the federal government's ability to set regulations.

Any policy adopted by the US will have global ramifications. Even though the first two decades after the Cold War have passed, the United States still enjoys the fact that it is hegemony.

Responsibilities come with hegemony. When it comes to policy, it's important to stick to established precedent. The rule of law is a key pillar of the US's democratic values. It will be even harder to do following last week.

At the University of Chicago, Paul Poast is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science.