The Logical Indian Crew

As France Moves To Make Abortion A Constitutional Right, Here's Looking Back At Global Laws Governing Pregnancy Termination

In many countries, women continue to have limited autonomy on decisions relating to their reproductive health. Here are some of the countries that evolved into legalising abortions and some others that continue to ban and restrict abortions.

Abortion continues to be a highly debated topic within legislative and public circles worldwide. The process is either banned entirely or permitted with certain restrictions in a few places. On the larger space, it continues to be isolated from being identified as a constitutional right for women.

Even within the largest democracies of the world, women's rights are being discussed around a table dominated by male representatives who have often strongly voiced against legalising abortions.

However, a positive change within this trend is to be looked forward to with the French lawmakers in the lower house of the parliament adopting a bill to enshrine abortion rights in the country's constitution on December 1. While it would mark the first step in a lengthy and uncertain legislative battle, it would initiate a dialogue that would hopefully ripple across other nations.

Uncertain Future Despite Popular Support

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a key 1975 law but has not yet found mention within the constitution as a guaranteed right. The reform bill raised this concern and suggested introducing abortion as a constitutionally given right. It was passed with 337 votes in favour and 32 against out of the 557-member assembly in the lower house. Once approved by a majority in the National Assembly, it would be taken ahead for approval from the upper house, the Senate, and finally reflect in a nationwide referendum.

The left-wing coalition, who were behind the proposal, argued that ensuring abortion as a constitutionally enshrined right would protect and guarantee the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy. Many supporters of the initiative, including French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, also referred to the United States Supreme Court's decision to eliminate the federal constitutional right to abortion and leave the decision to the states. Dupond-Moretti added, "The right to abortion we thought was acquired for 50 years (in the US) was in reality not at all acquired."

According to a New Indian Express report, recent polls by the French conveyed that over 80 per cent of the population supports the right to abortion. These poll results have been consistent with support shown in previous surveys, indicating that most people favor enabling abortion as a constitutional right. However, within the upper house and the Senate there are possibilities of conflict in terms of the bill.

At the Senate, with the conservatives and republicans as a majority, a similar bill was rejected in the month of September. They argued that the measure was unnecessary, considering the right to abortion was given in France. However, the proponents of constitutional change argue that lawmakers should not take a chance with a fundamental right, as it is easy to change laws at any given time but not that easy to change a constitutional right.

Abortion Laws Across World

Different countries have voiced different opinions regarding drafting rules governing a woman's right to make decisions about their reproductive health. Many of which have been deemed regressive and life-threatening to women. While we claim to be living in modern times with progressive minds, the debate closes up on the mention of abortion.

In India, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 permitted abortion up until 20 weeks of pregnancy. The ceiling for this period was lifted further through an amendment in 2021 that legalised abortion up to 24 weeks for specific pregnancies, such as rape or incest survivors. This would still require the approval of two registered doctors. However, questionably there is no upper gestation limit for the termination in cases of foetal disability as long as it is approved by a medical board of specialist doctors set up by the government.

Similarly, about 50 countries, including Libya, Indonesia, Brazil, Iran, and Nigeria, permit abortions with significant restrictions. Most restrictions were in regard to situations where the mother's health is at risk, or it is a pregnancy out of rape or incest. In all such cases, the carrying woman must also acquire approval from a doctor or state-approved specialists. The US also entered the list of nations that imposed severe restrictions upon this procedure by overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision. The new ruling gave individual states the authority to regulate abortions. As a result, medical termination of pregnancy is illegal and heavily restricted in at least 11 US states.

Meanwhile, about 24 countries have banned the procedure altogether. These countries have a combined population of over 90 million women within reproductive age. Some of these countries, include Senegal, Mauritania, Laos, Philippines, and El Salvador (which follows a system of imprisoning women who choose abortion.) In a few cases, the woman can be held guilty of "aggravated homicide," even in instances of miscarriage, and will be charged on the grounds of homicide.

According to Wikipedia, Malta is the only European Union member that bans abortions under all circumstances. However, the same streets witnessed a massive pro-choice movement against the century-old abortion law.

There are very few countable nations where people can freely make decisions regarding their body and their reproductive health. This includes Canada, Australia, and much of Europe, with few restrictions on gestational limits. Even though Canada has not legally granted rights to abort, it continues to be permitted at all stages of pregnancy regardless of the reason. The move had come about since 1998 after the country's Supreme Court quashed an ancient federal law that banned abortions. The court observed that the ban was in clear violation of a woman's right to "life, liberty and security" as enshrined in the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Many European countries also permit abortions within gestational time limits and sometimes even later. For instance, in the UK, abortion can be carried out right up until birth in cases of foetal disability. Even the traditionally conservative catholic regions in Europe relaxed their abortion-related laws after widespread protests by pro-choice groups and activists.

As many countries continue their fight for the fundamental healthcare right, France's first step towards making abortion a constitutional right is expected to bring larger momentum to the women's rights movements.

Also Read: Know What Are The Laws When It Comes To Abortion In India

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Writer : Laxmi Mohan Kumar
Editor : Jayali Wavhal
Creatives : Laxmi Mohan Kumar

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