Tensions and emotions are soaring high in the United States following the issuance of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion by Politico, which indicated that Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 judgment that defined abortion rights across the US, might be reversed.
If carried out, abortion may no longer be considered as a constitutionally guaranteed right in the US and every state will be able to decide whether the procedure is legitimate.
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, 1973’s landmark judgment, gave US women a complete right to an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, and restricted their rights after that. While abortion is lawful in some way or the other in every province under Roe, access to abortion has been reduced in more than a dozen countries over the years.
Texas, for instance, passed legislation in 2021 that allows citizens to sue health centers and medical practitioners who perform abortions after 6 weeks. Most abortions are prohibited after 15 weeks in Mississippi, the region at the center of the Supreme Court ruling.
The erosion of abortion rights in the United States has been replicated in several other countries around the world, where the increase in pro-life motions has happened to coincide with radical, political or societal shifts.
Abortion rights reformers in other nations have been successful in pressing for less strict legislation as part of a larger fight for equal rights.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year, approximately 73 million abortions are performed globally. This equates to approximately 39 abortions per 1000 women worldwide, a proportion that has remained roughly constant since 1990.
Notably, percentages have diverged between states with lesser and more limitations: Between 1990–94 and 2015–19, the average abortion percentage in states where abortion is apparently legal (excluding China and India) fell by 43%. In comparison, in nations with strict abortion regulations, the average abortion percentage rose by around 12%.
As countries around the world have continued to expand the reasons on which individuals can access reproductive health care, the safety standards of abortion care, as well as maternal survival, have gotten better. However, the safety of abortion methods varies greatly between states where abortion is apparently lawful and nations where abortion is strictly prohibited. Almost 90% of abortions in states with liberal abortion legislation are deemed safe, compared to only 25% in states where abortion is prohibited. As per the WHO, complications from unsafe abortions account for nearly 5–13% of maternal casualties globally, with the vast majority occurring in developing nations.
Some constituencies, however, continue to be staunchly opposed to abortion. In addition, a number of nations, especially authoritarian states, have resisted the growth of women’s and reproductive rights in recent times.
What does abortion law look like in other countries?
Even though the legal position of abortion differs widely by region, the vast number of nations allow abortion in some conditions; globally, 24 states outright prohibit abortion. Andorra and Malta are in Europe; El Salvador and Honduras are in Central America; Senegal and Egypt are in Africa; and the Philippines and Laos are in Asia. Approximately 90 million (5%) women of reproductive age come from states that outright prohibit abortion.
The procedure is unrestricted in the majority of industrialized nations. Around a 100 states have few prohibitions, typically allowing abortion only in limited cases, such as socioeconomic factors, threat to the woman’s physical or psychological health, or the existence of foetal anomalies.
However, the language of the law regarding foetal impairment exclusions is frequently ambiguous, leaving healthcare experts unsure whether certain abortions are legitimate.
Abortions are legal in over 50 nations and territories, but only when a woman’s health is at serious risk. (Some just refer to physical wellbeing; others include mental wellbeing.) Libya, Iran, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Nigeria are among them. Others make an exception for sexual assault, child abuse, or foetal abnormality.
For instance, abortion is unlawful in Brazil, except in cases of sexual assault, threat to the mother’s life, or when the foetus has anencephaly (an absent part of the brain or skull). In such circumstances, the woman must obtain permission from a doctor as well as at least 3 other medical experts.
In January 2021, Poland imposed a complete ban on abortion, permitting the process only in instances of sexual assault, child abuse, or when the mother’s life is in danger. The prohibition eliminated the exception for abortion in cases of serious and irrecoverable fetal anomalies, which accounted for 98 percent of abortions in Poland in 2019.
As per the Center for Reproductive Rights, over half of reproductive age women can securely access abortion in states ranging from Japan to India to Canada, and also at the majority of Europe and the United States.
Abortion is legal in 72 nations, including France and Germany, relating to gestational time limits, the most prevalent of which is 12 weeks.
Even in these regions of the world, there are frequent exceptions that enable abortions to be performed later.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, abortion is prohibited after 24 weeks, but if the foetus has an impairment such as Down’s Syndrome, the pregnancy can be terminated until birth.
While pro-life developments in Poland and the United States have effectively lobbied for restrictions on reproductive rights, some states are making progress toward greater liberties. Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico — traditionally conservative Catholic states in Latin America — have decriminalized abortions in the last 18 months, following a series of demonstrations and campaigning by women’s rights and pro-choice collectives. Colombia, the most recent, established the legal weeks of gestation cap at 24 weeks in February.
The worldwide abortion legislation pattern has been toward liberalization. Since 2000, 38 states’ abortion rules have changed, with all but one — Nicaragua — expanding the legal grounds over which women can obtain abortion assistance.
Argentina and Thailand have legalized abortions with specific gestational bounds since 2020; Mexico and South Korea have decriminalized abortion; and New Zealand has relaxed its abortion regulations.
The improvements have sparked other pro-choice movements in the area, dubbed the “green wave” because of the colors campaigners wear. Depending on the outcome of a vote later in the year, Chile could become the 1st Latin American state to get the right to abortion written into the constitution.
Multiple global frameworks, the UN Human Rights Committee, and regional human rights tribunals, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have recognized access to abortion as a human right. At the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, 179 authorities agreed to sign a specific plan which included a pledge to prevent unsafe abortion.
In 1967, the WHO identified unsafe abortion as a matter of public health, and in 2003 it issued technological and policy standards, including suggestions that nations pass abortion legislation to safeguard women’s health.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, resolving unintended pregnancy would minimize maternal deaths and abortions by approximately 70% in developing countries.
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