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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Roe v. Wade Was Overturned: What Abortion Access and Reproductive Rights Look Like Around the World

The global landscape of reproductive rights is constantly changing. The US Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that defended a woman’s right to an abortion, marks a significant decline in access to abortion. But this is not the only case. While countries like the US, Poland and Russia are taking steps backwards, countries like Ireland, Colombia and Argentina are making progress.

Restrictions on abortion range from laws allowing abortion only to protect the life or health of the pregnant woman, to outright decriminalization of abortion. Often restrictions are built around the timing of pregnancy, for example, abortion is only allowed in the first trimester.

Some laws allow abortion for socio-economic reasons, such as in Finland. And Britain’s Abortion Act 1967 is an example of a broad interpretation of health to include well-being. Physicians may take into account the actual or reasonably foreseeable life circumstances of a pregnant woman when deciding the impact of continuing the pregnancy.

Where health is treated more restrictively, such as in Zimbabwe, Morocco or Peru, abortion may only be available if the physical health of the pregnant woman is in danger. In other regions, such as Ghana or Bolivia, mental health language is explicitly included in the legislation, which can increase access to abortion.

In some regimens, abortion may be performed later in pregnancy depending on the condition of the fetus, especially in cases of severe anomalies. This is the case in Croatia. Despite this, anti-choice sentiment in the country recently led to a woman being denied an abortion after her fetus was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor. After four refusals from Croatian hospitals, doctors advised the woman to go to neighboring Slovenia. But after media and public outrage, she was finally allowed to have an abortion in Croatia.

The most liberal abortion laws are those that completely remove abortion from criminal law. Decriminalization allows abortion without punishment and prioritizes the safety of pregnant women in health decisions.

Northern Ireland decriminalized abortion in 2019 following an international human rights inquiry into its abortion laws and Westminster’s subsequent intervention. The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 came into effect in March 2020. These rules allow abortions up to 12 weeks on request and beyond in certain circumstances due to severe fetal abnormalities and fatal fetal anomalies.

Although abortion laws in Northern Ireland have been liberalized, this does not necessarily mean that abortion is readily available.

The government has not been able to fully order services, meaning that abortions are provided on an ad hoc basis by health funds in Northern Ireland. Some women seeking abortions continue to travel to England, suggesting that political deadlock could limit access to abortions.

A Crowd Of People With Pink Signs With Slogans In Croatian Related To The Right To Abortion.
Liberal restrictions on abortion do not mean that abortion is always available, as in Croatia.
Antonio Bath / EPA-EFE

More restrictive

In some countries, abortion is banned entirely or only to save the life of a pregnant woman. Malta is the only EU country where abortion is prohibited under all circumstances. In Malta, there has recently been a movement for choice.

Draconian restrictions on abortion also affect general reproductive and maternal care, such as miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. They can delay decision-making with emergency medical care when the rights of the fetus are considered equal to those of the pregnant woman. In El Salvador, women are persecuted and imprisoned for miscarriages or attempted abortions. On charges of aggravated murder, the sentence can be up to 50 years.

In the Republic of Ireland, prior to liberalization in 2018, abortion laws affected all aspects of maternal health. The fetus was considered to have equal rights with the pregnant woman, allowing medical professionals to overrule her claims. In 2014, a brain-dead pregnant woman was kept on a life support machine for four weeks against her family’s wishes on the grounds that the fetus’s right to life could be violated.

Activist movements to liberalize abortion laws have made significant strides over the past few years, as seen in the island of Ireland, as well as in Colombia, where a constitutional court decriminalized abortion for up to 24 weeks in 2022. In Argentina, abortion is allowed on request in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy from 2020.

Outlaw

Progress on abortion rights has been cyclical, not linear. As we see in the US, the anti-abortion movements continue to resist any gains made. The regression of reproductive rights often correlates with a wider backlash against gender rights and the rise of far-right and populist political regimes.

Laws are only part of access to abortion. Conscious objections from medical professionals, anti-abortion rules, stigmatization and protests in clinics all make getting an abortion more difficult and risky.

Even in countries with less stringent laws, there are movements outside of the legal framework that help people access abortions and health care by helping with travel or financial support.

While these activist networks and organizations are often seen as band-aids that won’t be needed once restrictions are eased, the reality is that barriers to abortion continue to exist after laws change. The England-based Abortion Support Network continues to help around 60 Irish women a year, four years after the liberalization of abortion laws. These efforts are as much a part of reproductive rights as the legal framework, and their work does not end when laws change.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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