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Abortion Laws Vary Across the Globe

Image via Newsweek

Abortion is a contentious issue, and different countries deal with it in different ways.

It goes without saying that abortion holds the title for the most controversial issue of the day. Regardless of one’s stance as either pro-life or pro-choice, he will receive harsh criticism from the other side for an alleged human rights violations. Either he will be criticized for disregarding the interests of the mother or for the child.

Those against legal abortion are accused of infringing on a woman’s right to privacy and bodily autonomy by those in favor of it. Meanwhile according to pro-lifers, the latter category’s support for legal abortion violates the right of the unborn person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With that in mind the taboo nature of abortion makes perfect sense. Some equate it with murder, while others treat it as a morally neutral procedure that people have the right to access. American legislature currently reflects the opinion of those who are pro-choice, with every state  offering legal abortion at some stage in a pregnancy. No states other than North Dakota and Arkansas restrict abortion before five months gestation, and 9 different states plus D.C. place no specific ban on abortion at any stage during a pregnancy.

The legality of abortion around the world varies even more than within the United States. Ireland, the most conservative country in Europe in its attitudes towards the procedure, only authorizes abortion on the grounds that the mother would die should she carry the pregnancy to term. Most other European countries allow unrestricted abortion access during the first trimester, with exceptions made beyond that point in cases such as rape, incest, fetal abnormality, and life or health of the mother.

With the exception of Uruguay, South America boasts strict laws against the procedure. El Salvador has jailed women for miscarriages, and Paraguay refuses to be lenient even in cases of rape. Australia differs in their legality of abortion by state and also lacks meticulous documentation of abortion statistics. Almost every country in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia prohibits abortion unless the mother’s life or health is in jeopardy. Northern Asian countries such as China, Russia, and Mongolia offer nearly unlimited access to abortion procedures.

All of this information raises curiosity about the different cultural attitudes towards abortion across the globe. Religion may be the first deciding factor into which many look. Most likely one would expect to find that the more religious a country is, the less ambivalent they are about banning abortion, and the more secular countries favor legalization. This is true in some cases, such as in Catholic Ireland and South America and secular Paraguay, although there are exceptions. Portugal and Spain are predominately Catholic; however they have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. The same goes for most of Catholic southern and Eastern Orthodox Europe.

In the United States, The United Kingdom, Iceland, and Scandinavia, where Protestantism is the most popular denomination and where governments are becoming increasingly secular, abortion laws tend to favor the left. Catholic South America and the Muslim North Africa and Middle East on the other hand are extremely selective in deciding the grounds on which an abortion is permissible.

The general trend shows that Catholic and Muslim countries tend to not boast legal abortion. More secular countries, and even ones in which the dominate religion is another branch of Christianity or something else, tend to favor access to abortion services. On the surface it seems that being devoutly religious and pro-life complement each other. This invites the question: is religiosity necessarily correlated with pro-life attitudes?

Jonathan Reed is a student at Texas A&M and is the outreach coordinator of Pro-Life Aggies.

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