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Abortion: Woman In Trouble

Are reproductive rights in danger in the United States? Sonja Bonin compares the situation in the United States and Europe.

Her article is at the end of this email.

Woman In Trouble


Are reproductive rights in danger in the United States? Sonja Bonin compares the situation in the United States and Europe.


A friend and I went so see Vera Drake recently. In this award-winning movie, Mike Leigh portraits a backstreet abortionist in 1950 London who is prosecuted and sent to prison when a woman almost dies after an illegal abortion Vera has performed on her. After the film, following a long, awkward silence, my friend sighed: “This is what president Bush wants us to go back to.” I offered her private asylum in Europe if worst comes to worse.

         De facto, the situation is not so different here than in most European countries at the moment: While certain restrictions may apply (mandatory counseling, prescribed waiting periods, parental consent for minors), abortions within the first trimester of pregnancy are legal or not penalized in many European countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Czech and Slovak Republic, the Baltic states, all former Yugoslavian states, as well as most of Eastern and Central European former communist countries. Great Britain, Luxemburg, Finland and Iceland practice a so-called indication model, where abortion is allowed on socioeconomic grounds; whereas termination of pregnancies are legal in Israel, Northern Ireland and Spain only in case the woman’s physical or mental health are in danger. Most countries allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or severe fetal impairment.

         There are European nations, though, where extremely restrictive anti-abortion laws are in place, which tolerate termination of a pregnancy only to save the woman’s life. Such is the law in Ireland, Poland, Malta, Portugal and Liechtenstein. Russia, which has the highest abortion rate in Europe after Romania, has recently restricted the accepted reasons to seek abortion from formerly 13 (including divorce, poverty and poor housing) to only four: rape, imprisonment, death or severe disability of the husband, and a court ruling stripping the woman of her parental rights.

         Other than in Europe, the United States abortion right rests not on political compromise but on a single Supreme Court decision, which makes it a lot more vulnerable. Roe versus Wade (1973) is based on a woman’s constitutional right to privacy regarding medical matters, including family planning. Rather than legalizing abortion as such, Roe forbids states to restrict abortion, especially during the first 12 weeks. Should the controversial decision ever be revoked, legislation over abortion would fall back to the states, some of which might re-install their pre-Roe law, whereas others would have to or chose to establish new ones. A vast majority of the American people favor legal abortion at least within the first trimester. Still, if Roe was overturned, as many as 19 states would quickly ban abortion and 19 more could follow closely behind, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Which means: many Americans could be forced back into the back-alley before the end of the decade.


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