The removal of Roe v. Wade would make the United States an outlier in the West

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Such a decision would represent a radical reversal of decades of precedent that would isolate the United States from most developed nations when it comes to reproductive rights.

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Official opinion would reverberate around the world. This would firmly buck a global trend toward freer access to abortion and place the United States in a very small club of countries that have moved to restrict access in recent years.

Several states have already reduced the availability of the procedure; if entire swathes of the United States are allowed to end it altogether, the country would become home to some of the strictest abortion laws in the Western world.

Here’s how the United States would compare to the rest of the world on the issue of abortion.

Some US allies have better access to abortion

Currently, the United States is one of 56 countries where abortion is legal at the request of a woman, with no requirement for justification, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

This is usually in the company of other Western nations, as few developed countries ban or heavily restrict access to abortion. Of the 36 countries that the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs defines as developed economies, all but two – Poland and Malta – allow abortions on demand or for general health and socioeconomic reasons, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which campaigns for better access to abortion and monitors laws around the world.

But the end of federal abortion protections would see parts of the United States join that list. It would also push against a global wave that has seen many countries, including those on the doorstep of the United States, liberalize abortion laws in recent years.

Last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, in a decision impacting the legal status of abortion nationwide.

“Never again will a woman or a person with the capacity to bear a child be criminally prosecuted,” Judge Luis Maria Aguilar said after the ruling. “Today, the threat of imprisonment and the stigma attached to people who freely decide to terminate their pregnancy are banished.”

The United States’ northern neighbor, Canada, is one of the few countries that allows abortion at any time during pregnancy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized moves by US states to make abortions harder to access.

Abortions are available in hospitals and private clinics; in most cases, the procedure is covered by provincial government health insurance plans, which means they are essentially free. But the absence of a national abortion law in Canada has left access to services across the country uneven.

Most countries in the European Union – including those in the G7 – allow abortion with gestational limits, the most common being 12 weeks, according to watchdog charities including the CRR. Exceptions after this period are generally allowed on certain grounds, for example if the pregnancy or childbirth poses a risk to the health of the mother.

Opposition to the procedure is generally less widespread in these countries than in the United States.

And above all, it is rare to find developed countries where abortions are not performed in extreme cases, such as when the woman has been the victim of rape or incest. Some state laws, such as the Mississippi law that the Supreme Court took up and on which this decision was based last year, prohibit abortions after 15 weeks even in these cases.

Anti-abortion protests occasionally take place in countries like the UK, where some councils have responded by reducing protesters’ ability to interact with people entering clinics.

EU activists have also called for an easing of restrictions in their country; in Germany, for example, abortion is permitted up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but those wishing the procedure are required to attend a mandatory counseling session, which is followed by a mandatory waiting period of three days. Doctors have also been prosecuted there for sharing details of the abortion services they offer, as any “advertising” of abortions is prohibited.

Japan, alongside countries such as Finland and India, provides for abortion in cases of rape or risk to the woman’s health, but also for broader socio-economic reasons.

In developed countries where abortion is legal, none have set a gestation limit as early as six weeks — as did a Texas law that the Supreme Court reviewed last year — according to the CRR. The court left that law in effect in December, but the judges added that abortion providers have the right to challenge the law in federal court.

Among comparable democracies in the United States, Australian laws are among the most similar. As in the United States, access to abortion varies in each Australian state and territory – and until recently some areas criminalized the procedure.

But while some US states have gradually restricted their abortion laws, Australia has taken the opposite direction. Since 2018, the procedure has been decriminalized in Queensland and New South Wales; both states allow access to abortion up to 22 weeks. South Australia became the latest state to decriminalize abortion this year.

US states could join a group of regions making access to abortion more difficult

The final opinion in the Supreme Court case is not expected to be released until late June. Votes and language may change before reviews are officially posted.

But if the court follows through on its decision to repeal Roe v. Wade, several US states should quickly restrict or ban abortion. It would impact the lives and health care of millions of people and raise a myriad of concerns that are most commonly reported in developing countries.

In countries where abortion is restricted or illegal, evidence suggests that the number of procedures is not decreasing – instead, women are resorting to unsafe, so-called ‘clandestine’ abortions, according to the WHO. These dangerous procedures are rare in the Western world, but a reversal of Roe v. Wade might make them more common in the United States.

Nearly half of abortions worldwide are unsafe and 97% of unsafe abortions take place in developing countries, according to the WHO.

Protesters in Warsaw mark the first anniversary of a ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court which imposed a near total ban on abortion, and to commemorate the death of a young pregnant Polish woman who was denied the procedure.

But the United States is not the only country where the right to abortion is under threat; in other, more socially conservative pockets of the world, populist and authoritarian governments have also taken steps to restrict access to the procedure.

Among the most notable in this regard is Poland, where a ban on abortions due to fetal malformations went into effect last year, ending nearly all abortions in the country. Abortion is now only allowed in Poland in cases of rape or incest or when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.

The Polish government has made abortion a corner issue since coming to power in 2015, appealing to social conservatives in the predominantly Catholic nation but sparking massive protests in the country’s most liberal cities.

Slovakia has attempted to follow Poland’s example, but the country’s parliament has rejected several bills proposing restrictions on reproductive rights over the past two years.

And other European countries like Italy have seen extensive use of the “conscience clause” or “conscientious objections”, which allow providers to refuse to offer terminations due to moral objections, according to reports. watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Pregnant woman's death sparks debate over Poland's abortion ban

In Central and South America, abortion laws are generally strict. In Brazil, for example, the procedure is illegal except in certain circumstances, such as fetal malformations or if the abortion is the result of rape, according to HRW. Women and girls who terminate their pregnancies in other circumstances can face up to three years behind bars, according to HRW.

In Nicaragua and El Salvador, abortion is completely illegal in all circumstances and prison sentences in the latter country can be up to 40 years. “Such laws actually amount to torture, discrimination and the denial of some of the most basic human rights to life and dignity,” human rights group Amnesty International said last year. about El Salvador. In recent years, some decisions have been overturned there, with several women released from prison after serving part of their long sentences.

But other South American states have decided to allow abortion. Argentina passed a law allowing the procedure in December, while in Chile, where abortion was completely banned until 2017, a debate is ongoing over decriminalization.

Editor’s note: A version of this story was already released in December.


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