International abortion: 3 things you need to know

January 13, 2016

In January, we remember the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and we pause to hold high the value of human life. In just a week and a half, the ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first annual Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. Tickets are still available, and if you can’t make it to Washington, there are options to live-stream the event.

But as we rightly focus on U.S. law, U.S. policy, and working to overturn Roe, we should also pause to consider the global unborn. Here are three things you need to know about abortion worldwide.

1. More than 40 million abortions are performed worldwide each year.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, 43.8 million abortions were performed worldwide. This is an increase of 2.2 million abortions per year since 2003. Of this worldwide number, 1.21 million were performed in the United States.

To put this in perspective, about 59 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade in 1973. In other words, every two years, the number of worldwide abortions exceeds U.S. abortions since Roe v. Wade.

Staggeringly, 30 percent of all pregnancies in Europe end in abortion. The rate in Eastern Europe is even higher. Eighty-six percent of abortions are performed in the developing world.

2. International legal scholars agree that there is no international right to abortion.

Although it is common to hear or read that there is a “right to abortion” under international law, no such treaty exists. In 2011, an international group of elected officials, policymakers, and legal experts gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica, to produce an authoritative, legally reasoned statement that there is no international right to abortion. The proceeds of the gathering is called the San Jose Articles, an excellent resource on international law and abortion.

The occasion for the San Jose Articles was movement in the international community, particularly within the UN, to pressure governments to legalize abortion based on international legal obligations. For instance, Article 6 states:

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) and other treaty monitoring bodies have directed governments to change their laws on abortion.  These bodies have explicitly or implicitly interpreted the treaties to which they are subject as including a right to abortion.

Treaty monitoring bodies have no authority, either under the treaties that created them or under general international law, to interpret these treaties in ways that create new state obligations or that alter the substance of the treaties.

Accordingly, any such body that interprets a treaty to include a right to abortion acts beyond its authority and contrary to its mandate. Such ultra vires acts do not create any legal obligations for states parties to the treaty, nor should states accept them as contributing to the formation of new customary international law.

3. Abortion providers are seeking to legalize abortion worldwide.

Abortion providers and abortions rights activists are working to make abortion on demand legal worldwide. Consider the revelations that came from the Planned Parenthood videos: Planned Parenthood operates like a business (“just a matter of line items”), and businesses seek to increase revenues and develop new revenue streams.

Cigarette companies have dramatically decreased their investment in the American cigarette market. Indoor smoking bans, restrictions on marketing, mandatory labeling requirements, and dramatic losses in American lawsuits have decreased the profit margins for selling cigarettes in the United States. So what have cigarette companies done? They moved overseas. Transnational cigarette companies are now focusing their efforts on developing the cigarette markets in China, Russia, India, and Indonesia.

Likewise, abortion providers are now focused on legalizing abortion in developing “markets” in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The Center for Reproductive Rights is actively engaged in global advocacy to legalize abortion. Planned Parenthood also has a global advocacy organization.


Legal reform to ensure that U.S. law respects and upholds the sanctity of human life is critical. But let us not forget that we have tens of millions of unborn neighbors worldwide whose lives will be cut short.

And if we ignore the global aspect of this situation, the problem will only grow worse; we can be sure that pro-abortion advocates are doing their best worldwide to improve and develop their markets.

At the same time, the pro-life community should recognize that women’s health issues are a significant concern in the developing world. And so let us invest in and stand with women’s health programs across the world that hold high the dignity of human life.

Travis Wussow

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The … Read More