29 June 2022, The Tablet

United States should have learned from Europe


The rest of the world is inclined to feel a little bemused by the furore in the United States over abortion, but it should not be. Fundamental issues of principle are at stake which have universal application. The US, in turn, could do worse than to look elsewhere for insights that could light the way to a compromise solution. With the overturning by the Supreme Court of the Roe versus Wade judgment, made by the same court in 1973, conservative states are moving to impose prohibitions on legal abortion; liberal states are likely to loosen restrictions. It has triggered an almighty row, which could have a decisive impact on the outcome of forthcoming elections, including the presidential race in 2024.

Many are alarmed and dismayed by the removal of what they had come to think was almost a definition of American womanhood. They believed that women had the “right to choose”, guaranteed by the US Constitution, whether to remain pregnant or to terminate their pregnancy. Yet this is not a right that is universally recognised. Elsewhere, access to abortion is more often seen as a concession, in the name of compassion, to relieve women in stressful circumstances. Across the continent of Europe, for instance, with exceptions such as Poland and Malta, abortion has been legalised up to about the twelfth week of pregnancy. The consensus is remarkable: from Belgium to Slovakia, 14 countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks, and most of the others allow it from 10 to 15. Most jurisdictions also allow rare exceptions to the rule.

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