The small club of countries that the US joins after overturning the Roe v Wade ruling

In a ruling that will take “America 150 years back” , the United States Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade verdict , holding t...

In a ruling that will take “America 150 years back”, the United States Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade verdict, holding that the fundamental right to abortion ceases to exist.

About half of the country’s 50 states are likely to introduce new restrictions after the top court's decision on Friday. Thirteen states banned abortion immediately with Missouri becoming the first.

Now the US has joined a small group of countries which outlaw abortion. We take a look.

Europe

Most Western countries and allies of the US allow abortion.

In fact, most developed countries in the world allow abortions on request or on broad health and socio-economic grounds, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which campaigns for improved access to abortion and monitors laws worldwide.

However, abortion remains completely illegal in three microstates: Andorra, Malta and Vatican City.

It is important to note that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal rolled back women’s right to terminate pregnancies in 2021, ruling that women can undergo an abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or if their life is in danger.

Other predominantly Catholic countries have also permitted abortions such as Ireland. In 2018, a popular referendum led to abortion being legalised up to 12 weeks, and limited circumstances beyond then. Before the change, thousands of Irish women would typically travel to nearby England for the procedure every year, according to the Belfast-based journalism project Detail Data.

Germany, the giant of Europe, outlaws abortion, but women do not face penalties for going through with the procedure — if they get mandatory counselling within 12 weeks after conception, if the pregnancy creates health risks, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

File image of demonstrators protesting with placards against Poland's near-total ban on abortion during a demonstration in Berlin in 2020. AFP

Latin America

Courts in most Latin American countries have been moving in the ‘pro-choice’ direction.

In February, Colombia legalised the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy, part of a broader trend seen in parts of heavily Catholic Latin America.

Recently, Chile’s constitutional convention – which is drafting a new constitution for the country — passed an article enshrining sexual and reproductive rights as fundamental and guaranteed by the state. These rights include abortion on request.

Abortion was banned in Chile in all instances and only permitted in 2017 in cases of rape, foetal inviability and risk to the woman's life. The public will vote on the new constitution in September; if approved, it will become the first country in the world to give constitutional status to the right to abortion.

In 2021, Mexico’s supreme court ruled the criminalisation of abortion unconstitutional, and invalidated a federal law that allowed health personnel to refuse to perform terminations on the grounds of “conscientious objection”. This ruling means no woman can be imprisoned for ending her pregnancy.

A report revealed that 37 per cent of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population of 652 million live in countries where women have won rights to legal abortion or are no longer imprisoned for terminating a pregnancy (including Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico). Five years ago, it was less than three per cent.

Americas

While America grapples with its abortion status, many have turned their focus to US’ northern neighbour, Canada, where abortion is permitted at any point during pregnancy.

There are no federal laws governing abortion in Canada – it was decriminalised in 1988. However, adequate access to routine abortions continues to be an issue.

In fact, as the US dealt with the Supreme Court leak on abortions in May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland affirmed their support of women’s right to choose.

Reuters reported Trudeau as saying, “We’ll never back down from protecting and promoting women’s rights in Canada and around the world.”

File image of abortion-rights activists celebrating after the Constitutional Court approved the decriminalisation of abortion, lifting all limitations on the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy, in Bogota, Colombia. AP

Asia

The Asian countries don’t have a good track record when it comes to dealing with women’s abortion rights. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that more than half of all unsafe abortions occur in Asia, most of them in south and central Asia.

Japan, alongside India, makes provisions for abortion in cases of rape or risk to the woman's health but also on wider socioeconomic grounds.

Abortion remains illegal in Laos and the Philippines.

The Philippines’ ban is based on a colonial-era law introduced by the Spanish back in 1870. A woman who has an abortion in the Philippines risks up to six years in prison.

Other southeast Asian countries like Thailand allow abortions with conditions. In 2021, the country allowed abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Previously, with some exceptions, the procedure was considered a criminal offence and could carry prison time.

Other Muslim-dominated countries also restrict abortions. In the United Arab Emirates, abortion is illegal except if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or there is evidence the baby will not survive. Women could face up to one year in prison and a hefty fine. Women who seek hospital treatment for a miscarriage may be accused of an attempted abortion.

Africa

Many African nations also maintain complete bans, but in October 2021, Benin legalised abortion in most circumstances up to 12 weeks. Previously it was permitted in cases of rape or incest; risk to the woman's life; or severe fetal malformation.

In several countries, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal, abortion is completely illegal.

The Guttmacher Institute has reported that Africa has the highest death rate related to unsafe abortions and that deaths of up to 15,000 women a year could be prevented by improving access to safe abortions across the continent.

With inputs from agencies

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