Pro-choice advocates say the United States should lead the world in making abortion more accessible and argue against restrictions in some states that limit the procedure on demand.
Still, restrictions such as Mississippi’s ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy are more liberal than those of several Western and industrialized countries.
An internet search of abortion practices finds that France limits the procedure to 12 weeks. Germany, Switzerland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Greece have the same constraint.
Access varies among the states, but the U.S. has recognized a national right to abortion before a fetus is viable since the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Aziza Ahmed, a health and international law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said it is difficult to compare the U.S. with other countries because of various state laws.
“The United States should be a leader on abortion access. We have the resources to do so. And there is no reason that women and others who need abortion access in this country should suffer economically, physically and emotionally due to a lack of access to a basic health procedure,” Ms. Ahmed said.
The debate on restrictions heated up after Texas and Mississippi were sued for limiting the period when women can access abortion legally.
Texas enacted a law this month banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
The law doesn’t allow state officials to police abortion. Instead, it allows private citizens to sue abortion providers who perform procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The law went into effect on Sept. 1 when the Supreme Court refused an emergency request from abortion providers. Abortion providers and the Justice Department have challenged the ban in court. They say the law is unconstitutional and will open abortion providers to harassment from pro-life activists.
Mississippi enacted a law in 2018 restricting abortion after 15 weeks, citing concerns about the health of women who undergo the procedure later in their pregnancies.
Lower courts, citing Roe v. Wade, blocked that law after an abortion clinic in the state sued. The Supreme Court will consider the legality of the ban later this year.
Though pro-choice activists say the limit infringes on women’s rights, 15 weeks is lengthier than laws banning abortion in other countries.
Italy restricts abortion to the first 90 days of pregnancy. Croatia limits it to 10 weeks.
Poland and some Latin American countries do not allow abortion at all on request, but many make exceptions for rape, fetal impairment and a risk to the mother’s life.
China went in the opposite direction. It has no limit on abortion. Vietnam allows abortion on demand up to 22 weeks, and Singapore limits the procedure to 24 weeks.
Iceland allows abortion on request until 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Julie Kay, a human rights lawyer and an author of “Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now to Save Reproductive Freedom,” said calls for more abortion access have increased worldwide. In the U.S., the Women’s March is slated for Oct. 2 in several states.
Ireland had banned abortion but legalized the procedure in 2019 up until 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“There is an acknowledgment of abortion as a fundamental human right,” said Ms. Kay. “A lot of people see this as a fundamental human rights issue. … Those conversations are happening in the U.S. and certainly around kitchen tables, but they aren’t happening nearly enough in the halls of government.”
Although some European countries limit abortion to the first trimester, she said, it is available in nearby countries.
“It is a little bit of a false front because while those countries are not providing services past that first trimester, they are depending heavily on neighboring counties to provide those services,” she said, pointing to the United Kingdom’s varying limits by location.
In the U.S., Roe v. Wade essentially established abortion as a right up until viability, which was considered to be around 24 to 28 weeks in 1973.
Nowadays, a fetus can survive outside the womb even earlier. The most recent surviving preemie was born last year at 21 weeks, according to The Washington Post.
Medical experts say it is hard to set a standard because all pregnancies are different.
Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America and a pro-life advocate, said it is time for America to get on the same page as other nations.
“Developed countries have sonograms, just like we do. They are making their decisions based on science, not on antiquated Supreme Court dogma,” she said.
If states were allowed to enact their own laws rather than being caged by Roe v. Wade, Ms. Nance said, the legislation would be more appropriately aligned with science.
“It is very surprising that the United States is one of only seven countries in the world that allow abortion after 20 weeks. Other nations that are considerably more liberal than us, including most of Europe, limits abortion after the first trimester,” she said. “They have science in those countries, just like we do.”
Pro-choice advocates see it differently.
“If courts do take into account the U.S. vis-a-vis other countries, it should be because they are aiming to ensure that the United States goes above and beyond to realize the rights of people seeking abortions,” Ms. Ahmed said.
Although the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, Ms. Kay said, the global conversation about abortion rights hangs in the background.
“I think they are aware of [some] sort of global trends,” she said of the justices. “It is certainly something that I think informs in the background.”
She noted that the justices have cited international human rights cases in the past, like in the decision to decriminalize homosexuality in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.
• Alex Swoyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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