As US Set to Restrict Abortion, Other Countries Ease Access | News on women’s rights

While the United States Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the landmark decision that gave women the constitutional right to access abortion, courts in many other parts of the world have taken the opposite direction.

In February, Colombia’s Constitutional Court legalized abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy, part of a broader trend seen in parts of heavily Catholic Latin America.

It is not yet clear what effect there will be outside the United States of the leaked draft opinion suggesting the nation’s top court could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But for activists who for years have campaigned fiercely demanding free access to abortion, often taking the United States as a model, it is a discouraging sign and a reminder that hard-won gains can be fleeting. .

“This is a terrible precedent for years to come for the region and the world,” said Colombian Catalina Martinez Coral, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which was making part of the groups that have argued the abortion case. before the Colombian high court.

The February ruling established a broad right for women to have an abortion within the 24-week period, whereas previously they could only do so in specific cases, such as if a fetus had malformations or if one pregnancy resulted from rape. Abortion is still allowed after this period in these special circumstances.

The decision fell short of the hopes of supporters of full decriminalization, but Martinez Coral said it still left Colombia with the “most progressive legal framework in Latin America”.

Similarly, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled last year that criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional. As the nation’s highest court, its ruling bars all courts from charging a woman with a felony for terminating a pregnancy.

However, laws banning abortion are still in effect in most of Mexico’s 32 states, and nongovernmental organizations that have long called for decriminalization are lobbying state legislatures to reform them. Abortion was already readily available in Mexico City and some states.

In southern Argentina, lawmakers passed a bill in late 2020 legalizing abortion up to and after the 14th week for circumstances similar to those described in the Colombia ruling. It is also widely available in Cuba and Uruguay.

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that punishing abortion is unconstitutional [File: Nick Wagner/AP]

But the expansion of access to abortion has not spread to all of Latin America, with many countries limiting it to certain circumstances – such as Brazil, the region’s most populous country, where there is no It is authorized only in case of rape, risk for the life of the woman and certified cases of anencephaly congenital malformation.

Other places have total bans with no exceptions, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Courts in the latter have sentenced women to long prison terms for aggravated homicide.

Many African countries also maintain complete bans, but in October 2021 Benin legalized abortion in most cases up to 12 weeks. This greatly increased safe access to the procedure after the Minister of Health reported that almost 200 women died each year from complications of clandestine abortions. Previously, abortion was permitted in cases of rape or incest, risk to the woman’s life or serious fetal malformation.

Most European countries have legalized abortion, including predominantly Catholic countries. Ireland did so in 2018, followed by tiny San Marino in an electoral referendum last September. It remains illegal in Andorra, Malta and Vatican City, while Poland last year tightened its abortion laws.

It has also been widely available in Israel since 1978 and relatively uncontroversial, permitted by law before the 24th week with the approval of hospital “termination committees” made up of medical professionals including at least one woman.

Abortion has been legal for up to 12 weeks in Tunisia for decades, but in Iran it has been banned since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Last year, the head of Cairo’s top Islamic leadership institution, Al- Azhar said abortion is not the solution even in cases where a child is likely to be seriously ill or disabled.

Protest against abortion
In Uruguay, abortions are legal and widely available, but Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador ban the procedure without exception. [File: Matilde Campodonico/AP]

In Japan, abortion is only allowed for economic and health reasons and requires consent from partners, making Japan one of the few countries in the world to do so. Victims of sexual violence are excluded from the obligation.

Abortion has been legal in India since 1971. Women can terminate a pregnancy for up to 20 weeks, but only on the advice of a doctor. Under changes made in 2021, a woman can also request an abortion for up to 24 weeks under certain circumstances such as rape or incest, although this requires the approval of two doctors.

China is about to limit abortions, but that’s because it has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

Last September, China’s cabinet, known as the State Council, issued new nationwide guidelines that require hospitals to “reduce non-medically necessary abortions.” In February, the Chinese Family Planning Association announced it would launch a campaign to reduce teenage abortions.

When the final decision of the United States Supreme Court is delivered, expected in late June or early July, the world will be watching.