Worldwide trend towards liberalization of abortion laws

The September issue of the journal International Family Planning Perspectives carries an encouraging summary of worldwide trends in abortion legislation (here, and see news article on Medical News Today.)  This is a regular report, compiled once a decade.

The news is almost universally good. 

Since 1998, 20 countries have made substantial changes in their abortion laws… Sixteen countries added indications that moved them from one of our categories to another, or recognized rape, incest or fetal impairment as grounds for legal abortion. In contrast, only two added restrictions that moved them from one category to another. In two countries where abortion laws are made at the state level, significant liberalizations occurred in several states. Other countries…maintained existing indications for abortion but adopted changes affecting access to the procedure.

This is a review of legislation only–in practice the social conditions, availability of abortion facilities, and the opinion of the prevailing government, may also have a key effect on the practical availability of safe abortion.  However viewed as an indication of the responses of legislators to the needs of women, this is promising.

14 Responses

  1. Tony. I would like to hear why you feel abortion is such a key issue across the world. I understand that you feel it is an important issue for women’s rights in general. But the number of women that this becomes an issue for across the world is really only a fraction of the total number of women. So why so much of an emphasis on it? Why does it dominate your posting so much? I don’t ask this in a snide or bitter manner. I truly am seeking to understand. Thanks and sorry to lose contact for a bit. Sometimes life bites a bit.

  2. Approximately one woman in three has an abortion, so it’s an issue that is likely to affect many women.

    The importance of safe, free abortion to women is its power to liberate women from slavery.

  3. How does it liberate women from slavery? What slavery?

  4. It liberates women from the slavery of childbearing and enforced poverty.

  5. But hasn’t evolution selected women for childbearing? Isn’t that part of what they are to provide for the species? Of course, they should have a choice as to whether or not they want to bear children. And, of course, sometimes that choice is not given them which I agree is terribly unjust. And I would even support a choice for women who have been forced to bear children. But that doesn’t seem to me to extrapolate to the entirety of women being in slavery. And for those who are not forced, what of the responsibility to prevent childbearing on the front end?

  6. Evolution isn’t in charge of the human race, it’s just a blind process that produced us.

    The reason I call it slavery is because that is what it amounts to, worldwide. In societies that don’t have safe, legal abortion a woman has no effective alternative to childbearing should she become pregnant.

    Contraception–which I take to be the meaning of your phrase “on the front end”–is not completely effective. When it fails, a woman either has the choice to terminate the pregnancy or she is, again, a slave.

  7. You’re right. Evolution isn’t in charge of the human race. But we can’t deny what it produced. If women don’t bear children, then we don’t move on. So I feel “slavery” is a bit strong to describe the entirety of women. Your point is well taken though when it applies to much of the world, and I don’t deny that there is a good argument in support of safe abortions. I am even willing to consider that it may be better for the common good to provide safe, clean abortions rather than unsterile abortions in a back ally.

    You are correct in my comment about contraception and point out that it is not completely effective. What would you say about the abortions that are not completely effective either?

  8. Well you present childbirth as an obligation of women to the human race. If true, that would be de facto slavery. In reality no woman owes any such obligation.

    It would certainly be in the interests of any society to provide women with a strong enough incentive to bear enough children to secure the stability of the society. But much of the world, I think you recognize, is only just emerging from the long period during which women had no choice.

  9. I don’t mean to present it as an obligation and stated previously “…they should have a choice as to whether or not they want to bear children.” But there is no denying the fact, as you seem to acknowledge, that if women do not do this, then we cease to exist, until science eventually discovers a way to do it outside the womb. Maybe that is the ultimate answer for women although it will create a whole different set of ethical issues for many.

  10. In the long run, it’s feasible that the human race could become very scarce if women became adverse to bearing children, but that’s not a serious issue.

    Many women do freely choose to bear and raise children, and I don’t think it’s because they feel that they owe a duty to the human race.

  11. How about the fact that about 800,000 women a year die because of the effects of unwanted fertility: mostly illegal abortion or death in childbirth. If they were able to choose legal abortion or to space their children out as they wanted, they would still be alive. It’s a huge public health issue.

    And if they have health care and can space their children out, more born children are likely to survive into adulthood.

  12. Freestyle, it’s not just an issue for a fraction of women. It’s an issue for children left motherless, fathers left without wifes, parents whose children die before them, and so on. Or perhaps you think families aren’t devastated and perhaps broken up when mothers die?

  13. Monado. I am mostly playing the devil’s advocate here to try and understand the staunchly pro-choice. I completely understand your points and have argued them myself in other places. To this point in my life I have been staunchly pro-life, but I confess, mostly without seriously considering it. So that is from where I come. I am very willing to consider that having legal abortion may actually save lives in the end. That being said, I think abortion is a tragic thing which demands that we do a lot of hard work on the prevention end. Sorry if I offended you.

  14. Yes, one distinguishing factor about the US (which has a teen fertility rate several times higher than many European countries) is that risky sex is relatively common in teens. According to the Guttmacher Institute 20% of American teens used no contraceptive method at last intercourse. This compares, for instance, to 5% in the UK where contraceptive advice and condoms and other contraceptives are universally available free of charge and the right to privacy is guaranteed to all teens who can understand the issue well enough to make their own decisions.

    Reducing the teen fertility rate is a good way to reduce the headline abortion rate. Teach the kids to use contraception and don’t stand in their way if they choose to use it.

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