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What is the state of abortion around the world?

An international round-up of recent legislative efforts regarding abortion

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September 30, 2021

According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, around 119 million unplanned pregnancies occurred each year between 2015 and 2019. Of those pregnancies, around 61%, or 73 million, ended in abortion. These numbers represent 73 million precious lives lovingly created in the image of God. The fight to save preborn lives like these and see an end to the atrocity of abortion continues around the world, even as several countries are moving to legalize abortion for the first time.

This week, three ERLC staff members traveled to Northern Ireland to deliver a life-saving ultrasound machine to one of the country’s only pregnancy resource centers, an effort made possible by the Psalm 139 Project. While abortion was legalized in Great Britain in the 1967 Abortion Act, this law was not extended to Northern Ireland. Abortions were only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life was at risk or her physical or mental health were greatly endangered. However, a vote in Parliament in October 2019 decriminalized abortion in the area for the first time. Now, ongoing disagreement has stalled the full roll-out of abortion services, but it is a matter of time before it is widely available in Northern Ireland. 

Like Northern Ireland, other countries around the world are seeing abortion legalized for the first time, even as efforts to end abortion in the United States are growing. Here is an overview of some of the countries making moves on both sides of the abortion debate:

Countries legalizing abortion

Mexico

Earlier this month, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that prosecuting a woman for abortion is unconstitutional, a decision that serves to practically legalize abortion. Ruling on a law from Coahuila, a state on the Texas border, the Court’s decision immediately affects only that state, but it establishes a legal precedent for other judges throughout the country. In light of the decision, court President Arturo Zaldívar stated, “From now on you will not be able to, without violating the court’s criteria and the constitution, charge any woman who aborts under the circumstances this court has ruled as valid.” Those circumstances are expected to include abortions carried out within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. 

This is a landmark decision for a country that is largely Catholic and has traditionally held strong opposition to abortion. While Texas has greatly tightened restrictions on abortion, this decision could open the door for women in Texas to seek legal abortions along the border shared with Mexico. Women already cross the border to obtain the abortion pill misoprostol from Mexican pharmacies. This decision could increase access to surgical abortion as well.

Argentina

Mexico follows in the footsteps of Argentina, another largely Catholic country, which passed a bill in December of 2020 to decriminalize abortion at up to 14 weeks of pregnancy for any reason. This makes Argentina the largest country in Latin America to legalize abortion. 

In 2018, Pope Francis, a native of Buenos Aires, was quoted as saying about abortion, “Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves.” In his recent comments to the U.N., Francis decried the view many hold of abortion as a solution to society’s complex problems, saying, “It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child.”

Pro-abortion sentiment had previously been on the rise in Argentina, increasing in 2019 partly due to public outrage over the case of an 11-year-old who received a Caesarean section after being raped by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner. The girl and her mother sought an abortion, but questions about guardianship rights stalled the process until she delivered a baby by C-section at 23 weeks. Abortion rights activists rallied around this situation, mobilizing to increase public demand for legalization.

South Korea

Abortion was decriminalized in January of 2021, enacting an April 2019 decision by the Constitutional Court. The decision ruled that the law holding women and medical professionals seeking or providing abortions criminally accountable was unconstitutional. Under the new law, abortion is legal on demand until 14 weeks, at which point it becomes illegal except in the case of rape, risk to the health of the mother, or if the preborn child shows signs of severe abnormalities. In such cases, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. The law also allows for use of the abortion pill mifepristone. While abortion is now legal in South Korea, there are no laws guaranteeing the right to access an abortion, but pro-choice advocates seek such protections in the country

Thailand

In January, Thailand’s Parliament voted to legalize abortion in the first trimester, with the Senate voting 166 to 7 in favor of amending a law that imposed prison terms of up to three years for those having abortions and up to five years for abortion providers. After 12 weeks of pregnancy, however, a woman having an abortion is still subject to potential fines and a shorter prison sentence. There is an allowance for abortion after 12 weeks under certain conditions that have been determined by Thailand’s Medical Council. These conditions include pregnancies that result from sexual assault or pose a threat to the mother’s health, or those in which the preborn child is known to have abnormailities.

Countries working to reverse legalization

Poland

In October of 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal decided in favor of increasing restrictions on abortion, a law which went into effect this January. Previously, abortion in Poland was legal in the case of fetal abnormalities, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. This law takes away the legal option to abort in cases of fetal abnormalities. Critics have seen the decision as a means of practically doing away with abortion in the country, since 1,074 of 1,100 abortions performed in Poland in 2020 were because of fetal abnormalities.

Slovakia

Poland’s neighbor Slovakia saw a motion to tighten abortion rules narrowly defeated in a vote of 59-58 in October 2020. While the measure would have continued to allow abortion on demand until 12 weeks, it would have required the waiting period to be 96 hours instead of the current 48-hour requirement. It would also have banned clinics from advertising their services and required women to declare their reasons for obtaining an abortion. Activists in Slovakia and Poland pushed back against the measure. Many Polish women seek abortions in Slovakia because the restrictions are much lower than at home. The proponents of the proposal, many of whom are Christians, have said they will try again to see it passed.

United States

Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization, has called 2021 the “worst legislative year ever for U.S. abortion rights.” In the first sixth months of 2021, 90 abortion restrictions were enacted in the U.S., more than in any year since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. These restrictions include near-total abortion bans, bans on abortion after six weeks, bans on abortion in cases of fetal abnormality, and others.

On December 1 of this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — concerning a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Mississippi’s law has never gone into effect due to lower courts ruling that the law violates Roe. Now, Mississippi is asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the two landmark rulings legalizing access to abortion in the U.S. 

As those who believe every human life is precious and made in the image of God, we should mourn the legalization of abortion in countries around the world and pray for the efforts of those pushing against laws protecting abortion. We should also pray for wisdom and discernment for the Supreme Court justices as they prepare to hear the upcoming Mississippi case. 

We should also continue to work in our local communities to see that abortion-vulnerable women are given the care they need. If Roe is overturned, there will be an even greater need for Christians to walk alongside women in crisis, being the hands and feet of Jesus to those whom he created and loves. As we eagerly anticipate and pray for that day, let’s labor to protect every preborn life possible and intentionally serve families so that abortion becomes unthinkable. 

Catherine Parks

Catherine Parks writes and lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollie. She's the author of Empowered and Strong, collections of biographies for middle-grade readers. You can find more of her writing at cathparks.com Read More