On Friday, June 24th, the US Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion. The Court overturned Roe v Wade, a 1973 landmark decision which ruled that the constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Now, the question of abortion legality will be decided by each state. It’s a decision that will have an impact on Americans from all walks of life.
More importantly, it will put the basis of American democracy under increasing strain. The consensus that guided the USA through its first two centuries to become the dominant world power first started fraying with Republican obstruction, led by Newt Gingrich, in the 1990s. This was exacerbated when campaign manager Karl Rove roped in the religious right to secure Dubya’s re-election in 2004. But things really started to come unglued in 2016 when Trump won with an unconventional campaign laced with venom and disinformation. And by appointing three politically right-wing judges to the US Supreme Court, he set up their momentous decision.
Supreme Court Justices, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, strongly rejected the legal arguments used by the majority to justify their decisions, and said they worry about what other rights are now under threat.
“In the first stages of pregnancy, the government could not make that choice for women. The government could not control a woman’s body or the course of a woman’s life: It could not determine what the woman’s future would be. Respecting a woman as an autonomous being, and granting her full equality, meant giving her substantial choice over this most personal and most consequential of all life decisions.”
While many celebrate this, the majority of American women are hopping mad, as they agree with that minority opinion. The consensus outside the “Pro-Life” campaigners, who wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, is that this is socially retrograde and puts America in the company of countries who have opposed social progress in other spheres. What follows is a grief survey of the USA’s global peers.
For more than sixty years Europe has led the continuing global trend towards the liberalization of abortion laws and the legalization of women’s access to safe and legal abortion. Today almost all European countries allow abortion on request or on broad social grounds and only a very small minority maintain highly restrictive laws prohibiting abortion in almost all circumstances.
“Abortion is a fundamental right of women.”— Emmnual Macron, President of the French Republic
The standard practice is to legalize abortion on request or broad social grounds, at least in the first trimester of pregnancy. Almost all countries also ensure that abortion is legal throughout pregnancy when necessary to protect a pregnant woman’s health or life.
Since 2018 several European countries have enacted important progressive reforms or taken steps to remove harmful procedural and regulatory barriers that can impede access to legal abortion. An overview is shown below (source: European Abortion Laws A Comparative Overview)
Abortion in China is legal and generally accessible. Regulations vary depending on the rules of the province or city, with some provinces prohibiting non-medical abortions after fourteen weeks of pregnancy during the second trimester. The Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to an abortion is a big topic in China, a nation signalling intent to reduce high numbers of abortion as it confronts a decline in births service, displacing one related to national college-entrance exams.
Saudi Arabia has some of the most permissive (if complicated) abortion laws in the MENA region, according to the US-based Centre for Reproductive Studies. The Saudi legal code, which is regularly criticised by human rights groups for discriminating against women in family matters, allows for abortion procedures in the interests of a mother’s physical or mental health. The Hanbali school of legal thought, predominant in Saudi Arabia, does not have a unified stance on abortion, and many opinions permit the termination of a pregnancy before 120 days. However, Islamic legal doctrine is far from united on the issue. The Hanafi and Shafii codes also tolerate abortion in certain circumstances, while the Maliki school prohibits the procedure entirely, viewing the fertilized foetus as the immediate potential of life in the hands of God.
“The overturning of Roe v Wade] is essentially state-sanctioned, state-imposed, gender-based violence to women.”—Kavita Mehra, Sakhi for South Asian Women
Abortion in Australia has been fully decriminalised in all jurisdictions, starting with Western Australia in 1998 and lastly in South Australia in 2021.
Since 1953, article 270 of the South Korean Criminal Code specifically prohibits medical practitioners, licensed doctors or other medical professionals from performing abortions, even with the pregnant woman’s request or consent. Japan’s laws on abortion are considered to be conservative.
No abortifacient has been approved in Japan. Approved doctors, however, can choose to use imported abortifacient under the same Maternal Health Protection Law. Any other person who aborts a fetus using abortifacients is considered a crime and will be punished.
Abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy, regardless of the reason, and is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the combined effects of the federal Canada Health Act and provincial health-care systems. However, access to services and resources varies by region. Abortion is available on request to any woman up to twelve weeks into a pregnancy. Expect considerable traffic of pregnant American women crossing their 5,500-mile border.
As might be expected in a Catholic country, abortion in Brazil is a crime, with penalties of 1 to 3 years of imprisonment for the pregnant woman, and 1 to 4 years of imprisonment for the doctor or any other person who performs the abortion on someone else.
But in Mexico; abortion is available in Mexico City and the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Colima, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California Sur. In border states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas, abortion is illegal. Therefore border traffic at Tijuana can be expected to grow, but other crossing points on the 2,000-mile border will be less popular
Perhaps the most damning comparison for the USA is with a country currently vilified by most of the world for its repressive, aggressive and autocratic regimes: Russia. Abortion in Russia is legal as an elective procedure up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and in special circumstances at later stages. In an effort to reduce abortion related deaths,
“The Constitution does not protect the right to abortion because it does not mention that right.”—Majority Opinion, Justice Samuel Alito.