News and Analysis

The United States Is Radical On Abortion When Compared To Other Countries
US-WOMEN-RIGHTS-HEALTH-ABORTION-SUPREMECOURT A sign reading "Protection" is displayed in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2022. - The Supreme Court is poised to strike down the right to abortion in the US, according to a leaked draft of a majority opinion that would shred nearly 50 years of constitutional protections. The draft, obtained by Politico, was written by Justice Samuel Alito, and has been circulated inside the conservative-dominated court, the news outlet reported. Politico stressed that the document it obtained is a draft and opinions could change. The court is expected to issue a decision by June. The draft opinion calls the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision "egregiously wrong from the start." (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor
Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor via Getty Images

The United States is a major outlier when it comes to how most of the world handles abortion law.

A leaked draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court made headlines across the country on Monday night as Politico released the document, titled “Opinion of the Court.” Written by Justice Samuel Alito, and reportedly joined by the four other conservative-leaning justices, Alito wrote, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” adding, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

If the ability to determine abortion law does return to the states, many legislatures will likely take action to limit the procedure or ban it altogether, but others will broaden its access. However, the United States is currently and will likely remain one of the most radical countries in the world when it comes to abortion.

During oral arguments for the case in December, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out the difference of abortion laws in the U.S. when compared to the other countries around the world that have a reputation for violating human rights.

“I’d like to focus on the 15-week ban because that’s not a dramatic departure from viability. It is the standard that the vast majority of other countries have,” the chief justice said. “When you get to the viability standard, we share that standard with the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. And I don’t think you have to be in favor of looking to international law to set our constitutional standards to be concerned if those are your — share that particular time period.”

In 2017, a Washington Post report fact-checked the claim that the U.S. is “one of seven countries that ‘allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy,’” finding the statement to be “surprisingly” true.

The Post pointed to a 2014 report by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute that examined “198 countries, independent states, and semi-autonomous regions” with populations of over 1 million people. The group found that of these areas, 59 permit abortion on demand. The other 139 countries mandate “some reason” to get an abortion.

When compared to the other 58 countries, the U.S. is one of only seven nations that allows “elective abortion” past the 20-week mark. Supreme Court precedent established that states must allow abortion up to the point of fetal viability, which is typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

While nations define the timing of pregnancy differently, the group pointed out that most of the countries in the survey use gestational age to mark the length of a pregnancy. For countries that didn’t use gestation, the institute converted the measurement to the gestational age, “which is most commonly and medically measured from the date of the woman’s last menstrual period.”

Out of the 59 countries that allow elective abortion, nine of them limit it before the 12th week of gestation, while 36 restrict it at 12 weeks. Six countries limit it between 12 and 20 weeks gestation.

Australia operates on a system where states and territories determine abortion laws, with at least two of them allowing elective abortion past 20 weeks, per the study, which did not include Australia as one of the countries that allows elective abortions past 20 weeks.

Only seven countries allow elective abortion to take place past 20 weeks, and the United States is one of them. The U.S., which determines restrictions based on viability, is in the company of Canada, China, Vietnam, and North Korea — all of which have no legal restriction on abortion. The Netherlands and Singapore limit abortion at 24 weeks.

Although the Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion group, reported last year that 41 out of 47 countries across Europe “have legalized abortion on request or broad social grounds” and “39 of these countries have legalized abortion on request, either without restriction as to reason or for reasons of distress,” it also noted that some European countries have laws that establish a time limit “for abortion on request or broad social grounds between 18-24 weeks of pregnancy, whereas others set the limit around the first trimester of pregnancy.”

A more recent report by the Family Research Council (FRC) from earlier this year backs up the claim that the United States is far outside the norm of international standards on abortion. It showed that the United States is one of just six countries that permits abortion throughout the entirety of a woman’s pregnancy. The countries included in its report were Canada, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and South Korea.

Throughout the world, there are 77 nations that entirely ban abortion or only permit it when a woman is physically in danger, per the FRC. Only three European countries permit abortion after 14 weeks, which is even more restrictive than the law at issue in the Supreme Court case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case centers on an abortion ban in Mississippi that outlaws the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

While many on the Left in the United States have characterized the Mississippi abortion law as extreme, it appears to be even less restrictive than many other nations. If states take action to further restrict abortion in light of a Supreme Court ruling overturning past precedent for abortion, they will join the wide majority of the international community when it comes to protecting the unborn.