In Liberal Europe, Abortion Laws Come With Their Own Restrictions

Waiting periods, decried by American pro-choicers as infantilizing and unreasonably burdensome, are common in Western Europe.

.. In Germany, women seeking first-trimester abortions are subject to a mandatory three-day waiting period and a counseling session. Abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are forbidden except in cases of grave threat to the mother’s physical or mental health.

..  The Netherlands mandates a five-day waiting period between initial consultation and abortion; clinics must provide women with information about abortion alternatives. Abortion is then legal until viability (legally defined as 24 weeks, usually interpreted as 22 weeks).

In Belgium, where abortion was illegal until 1990, there’s a six-day waiting period and the woman must claim to be in “a state of distress” before receiving a first-trimester abortion.

.. In Finland (home of the now-famous Finnish baby boxes and other enviable government benefits), abortion is available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless the woman is under 17 years old, in which case she may have an abortion until she’s 20 weeks pregnant. But even for early abortions, women must provide a “social reason” for seeking to terminate her pregnancy, such as poverty, extreme distress, or already having at least four children.

.. In Denmark, abortion is available on demand up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Afterward, exceptions are made for cases of rape, threats to the woman’s physical or mental health, risk of fetal defects, and — revealingly — in cases where the woman can demonstrate lack of financial resources to care for a child.

.. Eastern Europe, a stronghold of liberal abortion laws under Communism, has become increasingly strict of late. Russia recently passed a law restricting abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and Russian clinics are also now forced to give (medically dubious) warnings about the health risks of abortion, which supposedly include cancer and infertility.

.. So why are Europe’s abortion laws not as libertine and laissez-faire as our stereotypes about those countries might suggest?

Here’s one way of looking at the difference between abortion laws in Europe and those in the U.S.: in America, abortion laws are about morality, while in Europe, they reflect national ideas of what constitutes the common good.

.. In America, anti-abortion activists and politicians construe abortion as a clear-cut moral issue: “abortion is murder,” “I am a person, not a choice,” “It’s not right versus left, it’s right versus wrong,” etc. Exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother are political concessions, not morally consistent positions.

.. If you believe fetuses are people and abortion is murder, why would you think the murder of a person conceived in rape is more okay than the murder of a person conceived in a happy marriage?

.. In Russia and other Eastern European countries with steeply declining populations, new abortion restrictions are explicitly aimed at boosting birth rates. The same is true of Israel, perhaps less explicitly. The Israeli restrictions on abortion have more to do with the idea that, as Roni Abramson writes in Haaretz, “The Jewish womb belongs to the Jewish people.” The baby of a married Jewish woman is considered a gain for the country that’s concerned about maintaining a Jewish majority in the region, so aborting is a social harm.
.. So what are the countries with the most liberal abortion laws? Canada is a decent candidate, with abortion available on-demand, paid for by Canadian Medicare in most provinces. Though there is no federal criminal law governing abortion at any phase of pregnancy, in practice it is extremely difficult to find a doctor or facility willing to provide abortions past 20 weeks.
.. In the end, though, the least restrictive country is probably China, where abortion is completely legal (and often encouraged, to combat overpopulation) throughout pregnancy.