The legal status of abortion varies worldwide. As many as 50 countries have liberated abortion laws and codified them as human rights for women and girls. In some countries, abortion only applies when the mother’s life is at risk, or the mother is the survivor of rape or incest. Countries like the United States, which had made historic progress securing abortion rights, tragically regressed in 2022. It’s understandable to wonder what this precedent could set globally.
A brief history of abortion rights in the US
In 1973, Jane Roe, a young woman from Texas who was pregnant and unmarried, challenged Texas abortion laws for herself and other vulnerable women. Texas had made abortion illegal except to save the mother’s life. A doctor joined Roe’s suit stating that the state’s abortion laws were too vague.
Texas defended the criminalisation of abortion while Roe stated that Texan abortion law invaded an individual’s right to liberty under the 14th Amendment, that Texas violated marital, familial, and sexual privacy rights codified under the Bill of Rights, the right to abortion should be absolute.
The American constitution doesn’t have a legal definition of a “person,” so Texas’ view that a person’s life should be protected from conception was thrown out. According to American law, an unborn child isn’t yet a person. The Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot regulate abortion in a pregnant woman’s first trimester. The state can regulate abortion within the second trimester. And abortion can only be conducted in the third trimester if the mother’s life is at risk.
Roe v Wade changed the way states can regulate abortion. This legalised abortions and reduced the number of abortion-related deaths from illegal abortions. It also safeguarded the health of mothers.
In June 2022, the state of Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. The right-wing skewed court voted 6-3 to overturn Roe v Wade. Many states have then proceeded to fully criminalise abortion and any medical official who provides abortion services.
Read also: Women’s Reproductive Health And Rights; Are We Heading In The Right Direction?
What do abortion rights look like around the world?
Abortion is illegal in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Suriname, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Egypt, Iraq, Laos, and the Philippines.
Exemptions to save the mother’s life
Guatemala, Venezuela, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Somalia, Uganda, South Sudan, Libya, Oman, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea only make exceptions to save the mother’s life.
In Mexico and Chile, it’s exempted in cases of rape and foetal impairment are exempted. However, in Mexico, abortion laws vary at the state level. The same applies to Panama, and parental authorisation is also required. Gabon allows abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal impairment, and additional grounds. Brazil’s abortion laws exempt abortion for cases of rape and a few additional cases. Bhutan and Mali allow it to save the mother’s life in cases of rape and incest. Sudan allows it when the mother is a survivor of rape.
Read also: The Right To Have An Abortion Is A Controversial Issue Which Ends Up With Women Carrying Out Illegal Abortions With Grave Consequences
In Yemen, spousal authorisation is required. In the United Arab Emirates, it is allowed when there is foetal impairment, but parental or spousal authorisation is required. This is also what happens in Syria. The same applies to Indonesia, but only spousal authorisation is required. Iran only allows them when there is foetal impairment. Indonesia allows it when the mother is a rape survivor, there is foetal impairment, and spousal authorisation is required.
To preserve the health of the mother
Costa Rica, Peru, Kenya, Burundi, Jordan, and Pakistan allow abortions only to preserve the mother’s health. The same is true for the Central African Republic, but the law is unclear.
Ecuador and Bolivia also allow abortion in cases of rape. In Bolivia, it’s also allowed for additional situations such as the mother’s mental health and cases of incest. In Morocco and spousal consent is required. The same is true for Saudi Arabia, which also needs parental authorisation.
Malaysia and Algeria also allow abortion in mental health cases. Poland allows it for rape, and incest, but parental authorisation is required. Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Israel allow abortions in the event of rape, incest, foetal impairment, and to preserve the mental health of the mother. Niger only allows it in foetal impairment. Additionally, Zimbabwe allows it in cases of rape, incest, and foetal impairment and only to preserve the mother’s physical health.
Broader social and economic impact
Finland allows abortions for rape, foetal impairment, and additional circumstances. In the United Kingdom, it is allowed for foetal impairment. In Ethiopia, it’s allowed in cases of rape, foetal impairment, and incest, India allows the same, but parent authorisation is required. Zambia only allows it for foetal impairment. In Japan, it’s allowed for rape, but spousal authorisation is required.
Abortion is available on request with small variations
In Russia, Mongolia, Tunisia, France, North Macedonia, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, South Africa, Mozambique, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Estonia, Ireland, Romania, Colombia, Guiana, French Guiana, Sweden, Argentina, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, and Canada, abortion is available for everyone. The United States and Australia vary their federal laws at the state level, with some prohibiting them.
Cuba, Norway, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece, Turkey, Moldova, Czech Republic, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovakia, Armenia, Croatia, Cambodia, and Georgia require parental authorisation. Turkey also requires spousal authorisation.
Poland allows it for rape and incest, but parental authorisation is required. In China and Nepal, gender-specific abortion is prohibited. Belize allows them for foetal impairment. The law is unclear for Turkmenistan.
How will the US restriction impact other countries?
The ruling by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade may embolden countries that already want to infringe on women’s and girls’ rights. But, since 1994, 59 countries have expanded the grounds for legal abortion. Only the US, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland have regressed. However, 62% of Americans think it should be legal in all or most cases.
However, American influence still has its clutches in the law and policy-making of some countries. For instance, right-wing evangelical groups have been linked to the rising spate of anti-LGBT laws in Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda. The Trump era also saw the shutdown of programs to provide accessible contraception and family planning in Uganda.
Former President Donald Trump reissued The Global Gag Rule, which prohibits US aid money from assisting any international organisations that provide abortions. However, Marie Stopes in Uganda didn’t provide abortions but lost about $6.5m of funding for refusing to sign up for the GGR. Reproductive Health Uganda also lost half a million dollars in funding. This affects women in remote areas in need of contraception. In 2021, President Joe Biden rescinded the Global Gag Rule.
American evangelicals also try to spread their influence in Latin America. Their efforts to stifle gay marriage failed in Mexico, Argentina, and Uruguay. However, they successfully blocked a 2020 bill supporting gay marriage in Peru. The lawmaker behind it urged other social conservatives to stand strong against abortion and gay marriage.
Fringe American organisations are infiltrating some regions in the Global South to prevent access to abortion. In addition, many international women’s rights organisations are worried that the overturning of Roe v Wade could be used to ban abortion in more countries legally. US Supreme Court decisions have affected legislation in international countries. The Brown v Board of Education decision that led to desegregation in schools in the US was used in rulings globally and to inform UN policy against discrimination.
Every blow to abortion access is a loss to the greater fight for access. Some observers believe that overturning Roe v Wade will embolden countries with more right-wing leadership.
The European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the UN have established abortion is a fundamental human right. It preserves the rights to life, health, non-discrimination, information, and privacy. Preventing access to it is a perversion of justice.
The Right To Have An Abortion Is A Controversial Issue Which Ends Up With Women Carrying Out Illegal Abortions With Grave Consequences
Women & Reproductive Health And Rights; Are We Heading In The Right Direction?
Health: Things That Can Stop The Pill (Contraceptive) From Working
Issues Surrounding The Increasing Rates Of Teenage Pregnancies In Kenya
5 Issues Facing Women All Around The World
Are we really rightfully empowering women?
Sauti Sol’s “Nerea” Abortion Song Opens A Can Of Worms And That’s Good!
Trust Me – When A Crush Turns Out To Be A Monster