U.S. abortion battle: What is the law in other countries?

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 December 2021 18:30 GMT

Women participate in a demostration in support of Evelyn Hernandez who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a suspected abortion in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 10, 2017. Picture taken July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

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From El Salvador to the Philippines, various countries have near-total bans on abortion like the one that came into force in Texas in September

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Dec 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated support for upholding a restrictive Mississippi abortion law that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a woman's right to end a pregnancy.

Abortion rights campaigners, who say women's right to a termination is under attack unlike any time since Roe, have said a decision that upholds Mississippi's law would effectively gut the 1973 ruling, giving states free rein to curb the procedure.

Court justices also heard arguments on Nov. 1 in challenges to a law that took effect in September in Republican-led Texas, which bans abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy. They have not yet ruled in the case. 

In other parts of the world, from Malta to El Salvador, women have long been prohibited from terminating their pregnancies - even in cases of rape or incest.

IN FOCUS: Abortion curbs around the world

Reproductive rights campaigners say legislation that bans or severely restricts abortion does not stop women getting terminations, instead forcing some to get backstreet abortions that can be unsafe and sometimes deadly.

In nations where abortion is banned or allowed only to save a woman's life or preserve her physical health, only one in four abortions is safe, according to a 2014 study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, a research group.

By contrast, in countries where abortion is legal, nearly nine out of 10 abortions were found to be performed safely.

Here are some facts about five countries with strict anti-abortion laws:

EL SALVADOR

Abortion has been a crime in all cases in El Salvador since 1998, with prison sentences of up to 40 years for abortion-related offenses - making the ban one of world's strictest.

Five other Latin American countries, mostly also in socially conservative Central America, have total abortion bans, but rights activists say El Salvador stands out for its high number of convictions and harsh jail terms.

By law, medical staff have to report it to the police if they suspect a pregnant woman or girl of having induced an abortion.

Women are sometimes convicted of "aggravated homicide" and put behind bars after having miscarriages, still-births and other pregnancy complications that were wrongly labeled as abortion-related, pro-choice activists say.

At least 14 women have been sentenced to 12 years or more in prison since 2000 and nearly 150 were prosecuted for abortion crimes from 2000 to 2014, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador.

Women hold a banner during a march to mark International Safe Abortion Day in San Salvador, El Salvador, September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Jessica Orellana

HONDURAS

In neighboring Honduras, a mainly Roman Catholic nation, women who seek an abortion under any circumstances face three to six years in prison and anyone who performs the procedure can be jailed for up to 10 years.

Access to emergency contraception is also severely restricted. In 2012, the Honduran Supreme Court upheld an absolute ban on the morning-after pill.

More than 8,600 Honduran women were admitted to hospital in 2017 for complications from abortion or miscarriage, including uncontrolled bleeding, according to the latest available government figures.

Across Latin America, about 760,000 women are treated every year for complications caused by unsafe abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

MALTA

Along with the tiny European states of Andorra and Vatican City, abortion is illegal in all cases in the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, where procuring an abortion, or helping someone to do so, is punishable by up to three years in jail.

PHILIPPINES

A legacy of Spanish colonial rule, abortion in the Philippines has been prohibited for more than a century in the Roman Catholic-majority country.

The country's criminal code on abortion does not contain any exceptions, for example in cases where a pregnant woman's life is in danger, and women who undergo a termination risk being imprisoned for two to six years.

At least 1,000 women died in the Philippines because of unsafe abortions in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Laos completely bans abortion.

Across Asia, nearly 54 million unintended pregnancies occur each year, of which nearly two-thirds end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

SENEGAL

Senegal's criminal code completely prohibits ending a pregnancy, while its code of medical ethics allows an abortion if three doctors testify that the procedure is necessary to save a pregnant woman's life.

Abortion is not permitted for any reason in 10 out of 54 African countries, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Africa is the region with the world's highest number of abortion-related deaths, with at least 9% of maternal deaths (or 16,000 deaths) caused by unsafe abortions in 2014.

SOURCES: Guttmacher Institute, World Health Organization, Center for Reproductive Rights.

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