The Surprising Ways Other Countries Think About Abortion

When it comes to protecting abortion rights, America is an outlier.

BY AARON CLINE HANBURY GLOBAL / CURRENT August 12, 2015

Last week, when Elizabeth Warren opposed an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, she asked proponents of the effort, “Did you fall down and hit your head and think you woke up in the 1950s? Or the 1890s?”

She was arguing that to defund Planned Parenthood—and abortions in general—would be to regress as a society. For her, government-funded abortion equals national and societal progress.

This line of thinking is common in the U.S. Ever since Roe v. Wade, debates about abortion often morph into a battle between progress and regress.

This raises an interesting question: What do more “progressive” countries do about abortion? A couple of years ago, a writer for The Atlantic asked a similar question, and what she found is surprising. As it turns out, many of the countries we consider progressive or socially advanced are not as permissive with abortion access as the United States.

Restrictions Make Abortion in Smaller Western European Countries Complicated

For example, in Denmark, on-demand abortion is only legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Laws do provide exceptions in cases of rape and serious health threats to mother or baby.

Finland is similar, with legal abortion up to 12 weeks. A notable exception is that a mother 17 years old or younger can abort as late as 20 weeks. In all cases, women need to provide a “social reason” for the abortion. Acceptable reasons are financial poverty or, awfully, already having four kids.

Finland’s legal restrictiveness itself is not all that notable. What is, though, is the fact that a mother must receive permission from a governmental authority (even if most requests are granted). Similar requirements, such as proposed mandatory ultrasounds, in the U.S.—where the law considers abortion a part of the mother’s right—have met strong opposition.

In Germany, Most Abortions are Illegal

Germany outlaws all abortions after 12 weeks, with exceptions. And for earlier pregnancies, the mothers must wait three days and receive a counseling session before they can abort their pregnancies.

Ireland Bans Abortion in All Cases

The Irish view the life of a fetus as holding rights equal to those of the mother. The country still upholds the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861, which lawmakers actually strengthed in 1983 by constitutional ammendment. The original act banned all abortions, though later legislation established an exception in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

Israel Mostly Bans Abortion

Israel’s position is surprising mostly because of the overwhelming support for abortion among Jewish people in the United States. Yet in the state of Israel, all abortions are illegal for married women ages 17-40, with the seemingly normal exceptions. Single women are eligible for abortions, but have to get ultrasounds and receive approval from a medical expert.

In Italy, Most Doctors Refuse to Perform Abortions on Moral Grounds

Largely thanks to Vatican City and the Roman Catholic influence on the country, abortion in Italy represents more of a moral question than legal question. According to an article from last year, nine out of 10 doctors in public hospitals refuse to abort pregnancies. This is despite a 1978 law that allows mothers to abort within the first 90 days of a pregnancy. The same law gives doctors the right refuse to perform the procedure on moral grounds. Before ’78, the country was still under law from the infamous Mussolini who—despite his otherwise grotesque, well-documented human rights violations—considered abortion a “crime against the purity of the Italian race.”

Russia Restricts Abortions to the First 12 Weeks

Granted, no one thinks of Russia as progressive anymore. The once-communist stronghold limits abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and clinics must warn interested mothers about the health risks of abortion. Just a couple of months ago, Russian lawmakers moved to limit insurance payments for abortions and ban private clinics and only allow women to buy morning-after pills with a prescription.

Spain Planned to Become the Most Abortion-Restrictive Country in Europe

In December, the Spanish government made a concerted effort to enforce the “toughest abortion laws” in Europe. The proposal would have banned all abortions, with the only exception being cases of rape or “grave risk” to the mother. Even though officials ultimately abandoned the bill, its existence and the backlash from its abandonment reveal strong national sentiments against abortion in Spain.

Certainly, other parts of the world hold widely varying view on abortion. In China, abortion is cheap, government-funded and commonplace. Places like the United Kingdom (not including North Ireland) generally match current American law and practice. The interesting part, though, is that some of the countries we usually consider advanced tend to restrict abortion more than we do. In reality, it appears that a good portion of the progressive world view abortion rights almost the exact reverse way American law does.

Of course, for those who see life as connected to the image of God, nothing about abortion signals progress. And, faith aside, we’re seeing abortion-suspicions take a less partisan form in past couple of weeks.

So maybe greater access to abortion isn’t progressive to begin with. After all, few would argue that we should look to China as a model of liberty and progress.

Aaron Cline Hanbury

AARON CLINE HANBURY

Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury

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