The Global State of Abortion
An international round-up of recent legislative efforts
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute,1https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-worldwide# around 119 million unplanned pregnancies occurred each year between 2015 and 2019. Of those pregnancies, around 61%, or 73 million, ended in abortion.2https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-worldwide# 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.
In the fall of 2021, 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.3https://psalm139project.org/ While abortion was legalized in Great Britain in the 1967 Abortion Act,this law was not extended to Northern Ireland.4https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-abortion-act-in-the-u-k-challenged-but-upheld-by-the-high-court/ Abortions were only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life was at risk or her physical or mental health were greatly endangered.5https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-erlc-expands-pro-life-work-to-northern-ireland/ 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
In September 2021, 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.6https://apnews.com/article/health-mexico-courts-mexico-city-6de599fc7b9352608a9da86f2ccda0f6
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.7https://apnews.com/article/health-mexico-courts-mexico-city-6de599fc7b9352608a9da86f2ccda0f6 Women already cross the border to obtain the abortion pill misoprostol from Mexican pharmacies.8https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/the-abortion-pill-can-now-be-obtained-without-an-in-person-visit/ This decision could increase access to surgical abortion as well.
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.9https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/argentina-could-legaliz 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.”10https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/pope-abortion-is-white-glove-equivalent-to-nazi-crimes-20180617-p4zlxu.html 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.”11https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/in-un-message-pope-francis-decries-abortion-and-family-breakdown-91621
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.12https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/argentina-could-legalize-abortion-soon/
The decision in Argentina has set the stage for other South American nations to rethink their policies on abortion. Chile has voted to debate a bill to legalize abortion up to 14 weeks, while Honduras responded by adding their abortion ban to the country’s constitution, in effect putting a lock on the ban.13https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/28/chile-takes-first-step-towards-decriminalising-abortion; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/7/honduras-hardened-abortion-ban-these-women-remain-undeterred
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.14https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-abortion/south-korea-proposes-compromise-abortion-law-after-landmark-court-ruling-idUSKBN26S1H4
In January of 2021, 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.15https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/world/asia/thailand-abortion-rights.html 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 abnormalities.
In October of 2021, Benin’s parliament voted to further legalize abortion in the West African country where it was already permissible in cases of rape, incest, or threatened the life of the mother.16https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/21/benins-parliament-votes-to-legalise-abortion Now, abortion is legal up to 12 weeks if the pregnancy is likely to “aggravate or cause material, educational, professional or moral distress, incompatible with the woman or the unborn child’s interest.”
Minister of Health Benjamin Hounkpatin praised the measure in a statement, citing statistics that nearly 200 women die in Benin each year due to abortion complications. “This measure will be a relief for many women who face undesired pregnancies, and are forced to put their lives in danger with botched abortions,” said Hounkpatin. This new law will also give abortion access to women in neighboring West African nations where abortion is still illegal.
Countries working to reverse legalization
In October of 2020, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal decided in favor of increasing restrictions on abortion, a law which went into effect in January of 2021.17https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/europe/poland-abortion-law.html 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.
Poland’s neighbor Slovakia saw a motion to tighten abortion rules narrowly defeated in a vote of 59 to 58 in October 2020.18https://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovakia-abortions/slovak-parliament-narrowly-rejects-tightening-of-abortion-rules-idUSKBN2752MV 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.
Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization, has called 2021 the “worst legislative year ever for U.S. abortion rights.”19https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2021/07/state-policy-trends-midyear-2021-already-worst-legislative-year-ever-us-abortion In the first six 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, 2021, the Supreme Court heard a case—Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—concerning a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.20https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-supreme-court-takes-up-dobbs-v-jackson-womens-health-organization/ 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.
The Texas Heartbeat Act is also undergoing challenges in several cases. The Heartbeat Act bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. At least 10 other states have passed fetal heartbeat abortion bans, but they have all been blocked by courts. Between 85 and 90% of abortions in Texas take place after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, and in the month after the bill was enacted, abortion rates dropped by half.21https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/10/29/upshot/texas-abortion-data.html Experts expect them to continue to decline.
In October, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center regarding the ability of Kentucky’s attorney general to intervene to defend the state’s dismemberment abortion law.22https://mcusercontent.com/5491bb946fa61ebd06c22e7a5/files/0c248679-c030-63a7-8600-cf4799d88f41/Life_Litigation_Report_Oct._2021.01.pdf?mc_cid=5194c3200c&mc_eid=fb4914b0d5 Many other states have passed bills with similar intervention clauses, giving this case the potential to affect the laws in other states.
Pray and work on the behalf of the vulnerable
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 fervently. Here are some specific ways we can ask God to intervene:
Pray for women living in countries where abortion access has been granted or expanded.
Pray that the light of the gospel would break through and that they would see Jesus as their hope, rather than an abortion procedure that will end one life and devastate another. Pray for Christians in these countries to be bold in love and to come alongside those experiencing unplanned pregnancies or vulnerable to an unplanned pregnancy.
Pray for countries seeking stricter laws against abortion.
Pray that God would grant them wisdom and turn hearts toward life. Pray that many lives would be saved as a result of these laws passing. Pray for women in these countries who are fearful that their choice to terminate a pregnancy might be taken away. Pray that they would see a future and a hope in Christ and find help in his people.
Pray for the United States Supreme Court justices as they decide the Dobbs case.
Pray for wisdom and insight. Pray that the horrors of legalized abortion in America would end and that the church would rise up to care for those who find themselves in difficult situations with nowhere else to turn.
While we pray, 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 here in the U.S., 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.