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Global access to abortion still highly unequal

by James Davies


Access to abortions around the world remains highly unequal: some countries have a total ban while others permit terminations under certain conditions.

Now the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is poised to strike down the right to abortion in the United States, according to a bombshell leaked draft of a majority opinion.

Here, AFP looks at access to terminations around the world:

– Highly unequal access –

Over the past 25 years, more than 50 countries have modified legislation designed to facilitate access to pregnancy terminations, sometimes recognising its essential role in the protection of a woman’s life, her health and fundamental rights.

Abortion, nevertheless, remains illegal in some 20 countries, notably in Africa, where Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal all maintain a ban.

Terminations also remain illegal in Honduras, Nicaragua, Suriname, Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as the Philippines, Laos and Palau.

In Europe, there remain outposts which continue to uphold a total ban, in Andorra, Malta and Vatican State.

Elsewhere, El Salvador adopted in the 1990s draconian legislation which banned terminations in all circumstances even if the mother’s life were deemed at risk.

Theoretically, abortions are punishable by up to eight years in prison but some judges see any termination as an “aggravated homicide” which can bring terms of between 30 and 50 years in jail.

– Severely restricted – 

Many countries do legalise abortion, but subject to often severe restrictions – notably if the mother’s life is in danger.

Such countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Libya, Myanmar, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela and Yemen.

Access to abortion is very limited in Brazil, only for where there has been a rape or again, if the mother’s life is under threat.

Chile in 2017 ended almost 30 years of a blanket ban and now allows interventions for rape, or if the life of the mother or baby is at risk.

Chilean lawmakers approved a proposal last September to decriminalise abortions up to 14 weeks after conception though the senate still has to debate and vote on the matter.

In traditionally staunchly Catholic Poland, the constitutional court in October 2020 sparked protests after ruling against abortion in cases where the foetus is malformed. 

Abortion in Poland is only permitted in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

– Recently accorded right – 

Women in Europe, North America and Oceania typically benefit from the world’s most liberal legislation – the right often having been acquired only recently.

The European microstate of San Marino gave approval by referendum last September.

Argentina’s parliament passed a law authorising abortion up to the 14th week in December 2020. Previously, it was only legal in case of rape or a mother’s life being under threat.

New Zealand only decriminalised in 2020. While most Australian federal states had legalised by 2018, New South Wales took a year longer and South Australia took until 2021.

South Korea ordered an end to a ban in 2019 judged unconstitutional and a softening of highly restrictive legislation.

In traditionally Catholic Ireland abortion became legal in 2018 after much debate and following a referendum that overturned a constitutional ban.

The following year saw liberalisation in Northern Ireland, which had been the sole part of the United Kingdom still holding out.

Britain had legalised with a 1967 act of parliament — the Soviet Union having been first off the mark globally with legalisation in 1920.

Abortion in the United States was authorised following the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling which guaranteed the constitutional right to termination if a foetus was not viable. The issue has been repeatedly the subject of heated debate, however. 

Texas adopted highly restrictive legislation in September banning abortion as soon as a heartbeat is detected, so from around six weeks into a pregnancy without exception made either for cases of incest or rape.

US President Joe Biden’s administration promptly demanded that the ruling be blocked.

Mexico’s supreme court last September declared a ban unconstitutional, paving the way for legalisation in the nation’s 32 federal states.

Currently, terminations in Mexico are only legal for up to 12 weeks in Mexico City, the southern states of Oaxaca and Veracruz and Hidalgo in the east.

(AFP)



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