Pro-choice advocates say the United States should lead the world in making abortion more accessible, arguing against restrictions in some states that limit the procedure on demand.
But restrictions such as Mississippi’s ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy are still more liberal than those of several Western and industrialized countries.
An internet search of abortion practices finds that France limits the procedure to 12 weeks. The same limit is imposed in Germany, Switzerland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Greece.
Access varies among the states, but the U.S. has recognized a national right to an abortion before a fetus is viable since the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Aziza Ahmed, a health and international law professor at University of California-Irvine, said that with laws being different across the country, it is difficult to compare the U.S. with other countries.
“The United States should be a leader on abortion access. We have the resources to do so. And there is no reason that women and others who need abortion access in this country should suffer economically, physically, and emotionally due to a lack of access to a basic health procedure,” Ms. Ahmed said.
The debate on restrictions comes amid red states like Texas and Mississippi being sued for limiting the period during which women can access the procedures legally.
Earlier this month, Texas enacted a law restricting abortion to when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
The law doesn’t allow state officials to police the procedure; instead, it allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who perform procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
It went into effect Sept. 1, when the Supreme Court refused to block it on an emergency request from abortion providers. They and the Justice Department have challenged the ban in court, saying it is unconstitutional and will open abortion providers to harassment from pro-life activists.
Mississippi passed a law in 2018 restricting abortion after 15 weeks, citing concerns for the health of women who undergo the procedure later during pregnancy.
Lower courts blocked that law, citing Roe v. Wade, after an abortion clinic in the state sued, and the Supreme Court is set to consider its legality of the ban later this year.
Though pro-choice activists claim the 15-week limit infringes on women’s rights, it’s still lengthier than laws banning abortion in other countries.
Italy restricts abortion to the first 90 days of pregnancy; Croatia limits it to 10 weeks.
Poland, meanwhile, does not allow abortion at all on request. The same is true for some Latin American countries.
Many of those countries, though, do allow certain exceptions for rape, fetal impairment and the life of the mother.
By contrast, China went the opposite direction. It has no limit on abortion. Vietnam allows abortion on demand up to 22 weeks, while Singapore limits it to 24 weeks.
Iceland also allows the procedure on request until 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Julie Kay, a human rights attorney and author of “Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now To Save Reproductive Freedom,” said there have been increased calls for more abortion access — not just in the U.S. like the Women’s March slated in a number of states for Oct. 2 — but also in other countries.
Ireland, for example, had banned abortion, but in 2019 the procedure became legal up until 12 weeks.
“There is an acknowledgement of abortion as a fundamental human right,” said Ms. Kay. “A lot of people see this as a fundamental human rights issue … those conversations are happening in the U.S. and certainly around kitchen tables, but they aren’t happening nearly enough in the halls of government.”
She said that while some European countries limit abortion to the first trimester, it is available in other nearby countries for women.
“It is a little bit of a false front because while those countries are not providing services past that first trimester, they are depending heavily on neighboring counties to provide those services,” she said, pointing to the United Kingdom.
The U.K. has varying limits on abortion — similar to those among the United States and their wide-ranging regulations.
Although states do vary broadly on abortion restrictions and requirements, Roe v. Wade has largely established abortion as a right up until viability, which was considered to be around 24 to 28 weeks in 1973.
Nowadays, a fetus is able to survive even earlier, with the most recent surviving preemie being born last year at 21 weeks, according to The Washington Post.
But medical experts warn it is hard to set a standard since all pregnancies are different.
Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America and a pro-life advocate, said it is time for America to get on the same page as other nations.
“Developed countries have sonograms just like we do. They are making their decisions based on science — not on antiquated Supreme Court dogma,” she said.
Ms. Nance said if states were allowed to enact their own laws rather than being caged by Roe v. Wade, the laws would have been more appropriately aligned with science.
“It is very surprising that the United States is one of only seven countries in the world that allow abortion after 20 weeks. Other nations that are considerably more liberal than us including most of Europe limits abortion after the first trimester,” she said. “They have science in those countries just like we do.”
Pro-choice advocates, though, see it quite differently.
“If court’s do take into account the US vis-a-vis other countries it should be because they are aiming to make ensure that the United States goes above and beyond to realize the rights of people seeking abortions,” said Ms Ahmed.
Ms. Kay said that although the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, the global conversation about abortion rights hangs in the background.
“I think they are aware of [some] sort of global trends,” she said of the justices. “It is certainly something that I think informs in the background.”
She also noted that the justices have cited international human rights cases in the past, like in the decision to decriminalize homosexuality in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.
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