Worldview series examines abortion around the world

August 16, 2011

(Flickr/Elvert Barnes)

The battle over abortion has divided the United States for decades, especially since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Here in the U.S., the battle over abortion plays out in courts, classrooms, legislatures, living rooms, medical offices and houses of worship.

But how is abortion viewed and treated abroad?

To gain some insights, WBEZ's Worldview spent an entire week comparing the debate over abortion in the U.S. to other countries.

It's part of the occasional series Here, There, examining how other cultures approach universal issues. 

For the issue of abortion, Worldview explored abortion laws, practices and attitudes in four other countries: France, Mexico, Portugal and Russia.

You can listen to audio of each conversation in the series by clicking here,  but the following outline provides an overview of key points and distinctions for the nations compared:

France

• Both the U.S. and France legalized abortion in the 1970s. Both had influential feminist movements which championed greater access to abortion. But unlike the U.S., abortion in France has largely moved beyond the political realm and become an accepted medical practice.

• Abortion is legal on-request during the first trimester. After the twelfth week, a woman can have an abortion only if she’s in a “state of distress” from her pregnancy.

• For a woman to get an abortion after the 12th week, two physicians must say it's needed to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health, that it's a risk to her life, or that the child will suffer from a severe, incurable illness.

• A girl under the age of 16 can get an abortion without parental consent, but she must be accompanied by an adult of her choosing.

• The abortion rate is slightly lower in France than in the U.S., with 21.7 abortions per 100 pregnancies compared with 22.4 abortions per 100 pregnancies. France, however, has far fewer teen pregnancies.

Mexico

• In 2008, Mexico City became the first municipality in the country to legalize abortions during the first trimester. In a surprise move the Supreme Court upheld the law. In response, more conservative parts of the country tightened abortion restrictions.

• Like the U.S., abortion law varies by state. Mexico City, by far the most liberal part of the country, is not a part of any Mexican state.

• Abortion is free for women who live in Mexico City. Women from other parts of Mexico can also get an abortion within city limits, but they are required to pay a small fee.

Portugal

• Voluntary abortion was outlawed until 2007, when Portugal made voluntary abortion up to the 10th week of pregnancy legal.

• A referendum to legalize abortion was previously held in the '90s, but was ultimately defeated. In 2007, voters revisited the question. While they voted in favor of the measure, the referendum results were not legally binding due to low turnout. The government approved the law later that year.

• Doctors can refuse to perform abortions in Portugal, and they do. This has made it difficult for Portuguese women to get legal abortions. Private abortion clinics have cropped up as a result.

• After a woman sees a doctor regarding an abortion, she's required to have a three day period of reflection before she can proceed with the abortion procedure.

Russia

• Russia was the first country to legalize abortion in 1920, as part of an effort to encourage women to enter the workforce.

• Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin later outlawed abortion because of fears of declining birth rates. Following his death the Soviet Union legalized the procedure again because women were dying from complications related to unsafe abortions.

• Russia has the highest rate of abortion in the world: 53.7 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to recent United Nation statistics. But these numbers don’t begin to compare to levels experienced during the Soviet era; during the 1980s there were 200 abortions for every 100 babies born.

• Unlike the other countries examined, Russia has tended to view reproductive issues as relevant to the strength of the state. Only recently has it been cast in moral terms.

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