Against the tide | The week

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In most countries around the world, access to abortion has been growing rapidly for decades. Here’s everything you need to know:

Where is abortion legal?

In the 49 years since the landmark Roe vs. Wade abortion cases in 1973, much of the modern world has greatly expanded access to abortion procedures. overturning Deer, the United States has become one of four countries to roll back abortion rights since 1994, joining El Salvador, Nicaragua and Poland, all strongly Roman Catholic countries. Over the same period, nearly 60 countries have liberalized their abortion laws, ranging from Ireland – which legalized abortion by public referendum in 2018 – to Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. In the few countries that have revoked the right to abortion, access has become very limited and women report being watched and patrolled if they become pregnant or miscarry. “Being pregnant means that the police can come to you at any time,” said Polish activist Marta Lempart, “and prosecutors can come and ask you questions about your pregnancy.”

When did abortion become commonplace?

Women have terminated their pregnancies using various methods since ancient times. In many societies the practice of abortion was tolerated, including by the Puritans who first colonized North America. But a backlash occurred in the English-speaking world in the 19th century, due to concerns about dangerous practices such as ingesting forms of poison and male doctors’ discomfort with the women’s rights movement. In 1869, Pope Pius IX declared that an embryo was a human being with a soul, challenging the long-held belief that a fetus was not a person until it began to move in the uterus (“acceleration”). Left-wing European political movements, such as the Republicans in Spain’s Catalonia region, attempted to legalize abortion in the 1930s, but as a result the procedure became associated with socialism and women’s equality in the states. States – a significant hurdle that has taken decades for abortion rights activists to overcome.

How do European laws compare?

The differences between US and European abortion laws are complicated, especially in practice. Last year, Chief Justice John Roberts said Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, roughly the first trimester of pregnancy, was “the norm” around the world. But while many European countries do have restrictions limiting abortions to 12 to 21 weeks, they also offer broad exceptions for reasons such as the mother’s age, health or socioeconomic status – and in practice , doctors grant them easily. Around 95% of European women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion is legal for a long list of reasons, and the Guttmacher Institute estimates that there are 73 million abortions worldwide each year. Europe is also home to far more abortion clinics than the United States, and in most countries the procedure is covered by universal health care and is free. Earlier this year, France extended the legal limit on abortion from 12 to 14 weeks, while Spain passed a law criminalizing harassment of women seeking an abortion. After the overthrow of the United States deerthe European Union parliament condemned the decision in a vote of 324 to 155 and called for reproductive freedom and “the human rights of women and girls” to be enshrined in the EU charter .

How did the United States and Europe diverge?

The United States and Europe have several factors in common, including large, socially conservative Christian populations and strong anti-abortion movements. But in many European states and other countries around the world, abortion is protected by law rather than by court order, making protections less susceptible to prosecution and the political make-up of courts. European countries, from Ireland to Germany, have passed legislation enshrining basic protections against abortion. The same goes for countries like Uruguay, South Africa and Thailand. In Mexico and Colombia, by contrast, it was the courts that struck down previous abortion bans, and national legislatures have yet to pass laws legalizing the procedure. In Canada, the Supreme Court struck down an abortion ban in 1988, but no law was passed. The court “didn’t really establish a right to abortion,” said Bernard Dickens, professor emeritus of health law and policy at the University of Toronto. “It just removed the criminal penalty.”

Will Roe’s disappearance affect other countries?

Experts doubt that deer will reverse the global trend of expanding access to abortion, but could weaken localized movements dependent on US support. In Africa, American organizations have long provided access to contraceptives and promoted the right to abortion. But when the Trump administration passed a strict “global gag rule” in 2017, cutting funding to all organizations that promote abortion, it shut down contraceptive services in Malawi, Senegal and Kenya. Now, however, many American neighbors offer their services to American women who want abortions. Canadian clinics are preparing for an influx of women crossing the border, while in Mexico, the Necesito Abortar Mexico network says it has received a wave of requests from women in the United States. “We are here, they are not alone,” said Sandra Cardona, a member of the network. “There shouldn’t be women without rights, that’s what they’re trying to do in the United States.”

Millions of illegal abortions

Last November, Xaiana, a 23-year-old student in northern Brazil, sent $285 to a drug trafficker in the country’s rural south for a pack of eight unmarked white pills of unknown origin. When she took them, they terminated her eight-week pregnancy, but she bled for weeks afterwards. “It was like a murder scene every time I took a shower,” she said. Yet she resisted going to a clinic, as abortion is illegal in Brazil, punishable by up to three years in prison. In the Philippines, home to one of the world’s strictest abortion bans, around 1.1 million abortions take place each year, many of which are administered by traditional healers or with herbal medicines sold outside churches. . It is feared that more than 2,000 women die each year as a result of dangerous procedures. “It’s always about preventable deaths and unnecessary suffering among women,” said Jihan Jacob, senior legal adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Like any other country that has restrictive laws, it doesn’t stop abortions, it just makes them unsafe.”

This article first appeared in the latest issue of The week magazine. If you want to know more, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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