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An Overview of Current Domestic and International Abortion-Related Policies

October 17th, 2008

Before we jump into discussing different international policies regarding abortion, I thought it might be useful to take a second and clarify what has gone on, and what is currently going on at home: the history of the struggle to legalize abortion in the U.S., the current abortion policy in the United States, and the current presidential candidates’ positions on the practice.


1860’s: All states pass comprehensive abortion laws…most of which remain until 1973

1965: all states still prohibited abortion (with some exceptions, which varied by state, such as cases of rape or incest, or cases in which the mother’s life was endangered of the fetus was deformed)

1967: Governor Ronald Reagan signed the most liberal abortion law of the times permitting freedom of choice during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (in California)

1970: Hawaii, Alaska, New York allow abortion in the first trimester

1973: ABORTION LEGAL in the U.S.: Roe vs. Wade declared most existing state abortion laws unconstitutional

*allowed women to freely seek abortions without restrictions during the first trimester

*states can place limitations (restrict to issues regarding the health of the pregnant woman) during the second semester

*states can make third trimester states illegal, except as necessary to preserve the health of the woman (*health* broadly defined)

1976: Hyde Amendment is passed, barring the use of Medicaid funds to provide abortions

1977: Hyde Amendment revised to allow Medicaid to fund abortions in the case of rape, incest, or severe endangerment of the mother

1977-1982: various protests and acts of vandalism against abortion clinics

1995: U.S. clinical trials of mifepristone (RU486…aka abortion pill)

1995: Republicans lead the path to banning partial birth abortions; bill vetoed by Clinton in 1996 and 1997

1998: celebrates the 25th anniversary of abortion being legal in the U.S.

2000: FDA approves RU486

2003: partial birth abortions banned (Bush signs bill into action)

2006: several states enacted “trigger laws” (making abortion a felony) which will take effect if Roe vs. Wade is overturned

2008: Roe vs. Wade still upheld (States have passed laws to restrict late term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate the disclosure of abortion risk information to patients prior to the procedure)


Being that the current administration is only in office for about three more months, it may be relevant to familiarize ourselves with the two presidential candidates’ positions on abortion and thus what will enter the political discussion when one of them takes office in January. I will make the greatest attempt to be as unbiased as possible in my presentation of the candidates’ positions, and thus will take information from only each respective candidates’ official campaign website.


John McCain:

Senator John McCain has publicly noted that “At its core, abortion is a human tragedy” and is an active supporter of ending the now-legal practice. He believes that legalized abortion at the national level is morally unjust and thus supports the overturning, or reversal of the “flawed” judgment of Roe vs. Wade.  Overturning Roe vs. Wade would return the question of abortion to the individual states so that the states could independently decide whether they wanted to make abortion legal on a state-by-state basis.



Barack Obama:

Senator Barack Obama believes in a woman’s right to reproductive choice and thus is an avid supporter of maintaining the now-legal practice of abortion.  He believes that legalized abortion at the national level is just and as President will thus oppose any attempt to overturn or reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade.



An international overview of current abortion policy:


Completely legal:

U.S., Canada, Russia, South Africa, France, Italy, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Prague, Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Greenland:


Legal to abort on request, but not yet legal throughout the entire country:

Mexico and Australia


Legal for rape, maternal life, health, mental health, socioeconomic factors, and/or fetal defects:

Zambia, United Kingdom, Finland, India, Uruguay, Japan:


Illegal with exception for rape, maternal life, health, fetal defects, and/or mental health:

Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Burkina, Ghana, Liberia:


Illegal with exception for maternal life, health, and/or mental health:

Majority of Africa (Angola, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Níger, Nigeria, D.R.C., Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, Algeria, Mali, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Guinea), Ireland, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afganistán, Pakistan, Oman, Yemen, Papua New Guinea.:


Illegal with exception for rape, maternal life, health, and/or mental health:

Cameroon, Thailand, Brazil, Bolivia:


Completely illegal:

Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile:


Each week, I’m going to try and focus on a specific country’s abortion policies just to give us a better international context with which to better understand our own country’s policies. This week, I chose to focus on South Africa.


South Africa:

  • restrictively legal (i.e. allowed only under limited circumstances) until 1997
  • 1997 widespread access to abortion legalized
  • Current stipulations:
    • A female of any age can legally seek abortion services
    • No male consent is required
    • Parental consent suggested if under 18, but not mandatory
    • Parental or partner consent mandatory if female is mentally ill
    • Time period:
      • 12 weeks pregnant or less: no reasons need to be given
      • 13-20 weeks pregnant: woman can seek abortion if she became pregnant by rape or incest, her own physical or mental health is at stake, or if her economic/social position is not conducive to having a child
      • >20 weeks pregnant: abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is endangered


Abortion legal in Mexico City

October 16th, 2008

This past summer I spent most of my time in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is a state in which women’s health is a huge issue. Take for example, the maternal mortality rate. Oaxaca possesses the highest maternal mortality rate in Mexico, with more than double the national average. In Oaxaca, abortion is not allowed and many women who seek such services are forced to travel all the way to Mexico City to find somewhere to get it performed. Very recently, in 2007, lawmakers in Mexico City voted 46 to 19 in favor of the bill that will permit abortions of pregnancies in the first 12 weeks, much to the dismay of the staunch conservatives and Roman Catholics. In Oaxaca I had heard many stories about young girls having to sneak out to Mexico City and that those who could not afford the trip would either be left with an unwanted pregnancy or might resort to a homemade concoction for abortion. I think it’s extremely sad when not only legislation is an obstacle but also distance. Even if your country happens to have a place where you can seek abortion if there are financial or some other form of obstacle exists then the services are not as beneficial to you. I think this should definitely be considered when women’s rights advocates are working in the field. Not just getting the laws passed but making sure that ACCESS is available as well.

The Unintended Consequences of the Ban on Sex-selective Abortion

October 15th, 2008

One of the unintended consequences of the ban on sex-selective abortion is that it has had the effect of making women feel guilty about abortion in general.

Take, for instance, images of a foetus in a womb with a noose around the neck. This is supposed to create a sense of revulsion and guilt about the use of sex-selective abortions. Perhaps it does. But is it also indirectly giving a message against all abortions?”

I would agree that this is not an effective campaign measure against sex-selective abortion. In this case, a woman’s right to choose is being improperly connected to the larger societal issue of son-preference. I think the government needs to pay particular attention to separating women’s reproductive rights from issues beyond an individual woman’s control. Moreover, this kind of advertisement focuses on the specific act of abortion, which is a particularly emotional issue. However, the root of the problem is not the practice of abortion itself, but rather the widespread societal devaluing of women and preference for sons. In my opinion, the last thing a government wants to do is to guilt-trip already devalued women from exercising their rights to their body through a shock-factor ad campaign.

A second consequence of the ban on sex-selective abortion is its effect of the restriction of abortions on other women who actually need abortions for medical reasons. This woman wants to have an abortion because her child has a congenital heart condition and but, because of sex-selective abortion, more stringent abortion laws have limited the time frame in which a woman can legally seek an abortion. The article then delves into the larger issue of abortion and argues that normally people argue for choice, yet in the case of the ban on sex-selective abortion the government of India is, in fact, reducing choice.

A final unintended consequence of the ban is that is puts a woman’s health at risk by pushing the practice underground. An article notes that,

“Oddly, legal interference has had a negative affect on the situation, leading an otherwise lawful practice in hygienic clinics to slip underground. When determination techniques were banned, health care workers–who now could face prosecution–raised the price for these sex determination tests dramatically.”

This news is particularly upsetting to me because of the negative health consequences of unsafe abortions. I cannot help but think that the governmental ban on sex-selective abortion was a highly symbolic act that needs a society to change in order to succeed. Not only is the procedure highly dangerous since it may not be preformed in a clean, safe setting, the price increases will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty. It is mostly rural women seeking these procedures and they are least likely to have the money to pay for the procedure and for any potential health problems in case of a botched procedure. I think we find again that to avoid these consequences the government needs to primarily address the status of women, which is the root of the issue.

Cotnraception and Abortion

October 15th, 2008

When I hear about the actions the Bush administration has taken in attempts to, quote unquote, reduce the number of abortions, I wonder how they can in good conscience make these decisions.  It is painfully obvious to me, as it should be to the Bush Admin, that removing access to contracetion will increase the number of unintended pregnancies and lead to more abortion.  The proof is in the pudding if you will; endless data show that abortion rates decline when preventative contraceptioon is available, but will occur whether it is safe or not.  check out http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html for more global statistics on abortion.   Unfortunately, the increase in abortion will be an increase in unsafe abortion (which include drinking turpentine, jamming bones or coat hangers into the uterus) which is what organizatios like MSI are trying to prevent in the first place.

I’m forced to question the motives of the Administration.  Are they trying to reduce abortion becuase it does not fit into their idealized Christian views of reprodruction?  Is this another case of the powerful forcing their beliefs upon others, mainly the moral reprehension attributed to abortion and contraception, upon those whose healthy lives, prosperity, and basic human rights depend on their ability to control their reporduction.

Regardless of ones personal stance on abortion, it is pretty clear that eliminating the funding for not only abortion but contraception in general will lead to more dangerous practices, adn mores lives lost.  And though this may not be a convincing argument, I do wonder about the quality of life these children live, being born into families that would have for whatever reason terminated the pregnancy but were not allowed.  Do they go weeks without food? Are they forced into child or sex labor? Did their mother’s foresee this poor lifestyle, but were forced to bring their children into it? hmmmmmmm

Abortion and Family-Planning: a Look at the Legislation

October 11th, 2008

Welcome to the blog! I’m going to be focusing on policy-related issues regarding abortion practices and family planning resources (i.e. contraception), specifically on where abortion is legal/illegal, the restrictions on abortion practices in countries where it is legal, controversies surrounding new abortion-related legislation, updates on abortion or contraception-related initiatives that are currently under-way, and updates on foreign aid programs that are used to fund contraception campaigns wordwide.


I wanted to begin my blog by addressing the article that Anjali sent out this week regarding the Bush administration withdrawing funding from contraception-providing organizations in six African countries in a grandeur effort to reduce the incidence of abortions in these countries.



A recent happening in the world of abortion-related current events is that the Bush administration has effectively increased the number of abortions that will take place in six African countries this year.  As of October 2, 2008, the Bush administration ordered that U.S.-funded contraception should be withheld from one of the world’s leading family planning organizations, Marie Stopes International (MSI), in a large scale effort to ensure that U.S. funds are directed away from any organization that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization (part of the Kemp-Kasten amendment).  The Bush administration is clearly taking a very broad reading of this amendment in their decision to go ahead with this directive of withdrawing monetary support from MSI, based upon the belief that MSI’s work is essentially violating the amendment in their mode of supplying family planning services (i.e. contraception) to Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. 


Somewhat contradictory is the fact that the overall stated goal of this new directive is to reduce the rate/incidence of abortion in the six main countries that MSI previously served. However, removing MSI from the contraception-contributing parties may ultimately result in countries becoming unable to meet their national contraception needs.  When countries are unable to meet such needs, their women, who already face economic and gender-based inequality challenges in accessing adequate contraception methods, are placed in a position of increased risk for unprotected sexual intercourse. Furthermore, higher occurrences of unprotected sexual intercourse result in increased numbers of unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, as well as cases of HIV/AIDS.  Instead of decreasing the overall rate of abortions, it seems that increasing rates of unintended pregnancy might often have the opposite effect: it seems logical that if there are more women with more unintended pregnancies, then more women will seek abortion.

One more complicating factor: abortion is illegal in most of these six countries that are having their contraception funding yanked out from underneath them. Thus, not only will this new mandate result in the increase in the number of unintended pregnancies, and thus in the number of women seeking abortions, but also in the number of women seeking unsafe abortions. The World Health Organization defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.  Also according to the World Health Organization, in Africa 4.2 million women resort to unsafe abortions every year with 30,000 dying each year from unhygienic conditions, the mis-use of dangerous objects as abortion-inducing agents, and poor post-operative care conditions.  In conclusion, these women who live in countries where abortion practices are not only illegal, but also often punishable by law are in DIRE need of accessible, and affordable contraception.  It is unthinkable to me that some amount of women in these countries will soon be left without contraception, and also without the right to choose whether or not to keep the child.  

Link to the article that Anjali sent out:


Other references:


Check out the following if you’re interested in abortion statistics for different factors WORLDWIDE (age, geographical region, technique, unsafe vs. safe, religion, etc.):


welcome to the blog!

October 9th, 2008

UNICEF estimates that there are 40-50 million girls missing in India since 1901.  Why?  What is the government doing about this practice? How does one influence the way a culture values girls?

The topic that I will be examining over the quarter is sex-selective abortion in India.  The topic of sex-selective abortion addresses many aspects of women’s health and human rights, including why women are undervalued and a woman’s right to her body.  I thought India would be a particularly rich source of information on this topic due to the media interest in India’s skewed gender ratios and the challenges the government faces as it tries to tackle this issue.

It is necessary to begin with some background information on the topic. Since the 1970s the availability of prenatal sex determination methods, which includes amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling and ultrasound, have grown in popularity.  The government has outlawed prenatal diagnostic techniques for indicating the sex of the fetus, but these laws are widely flouted.  The most recent Census figures indicate that overall India has approximately 927 girls for every 1000 boys.  However, these figures vary by region and richer states in India often have more skewed ratios.  Some of these are: Punjab 798 girls, Haryana 819, Delhi 868 and Gujarat 883 girls per 1000 boys in the 2001 Census.  This phenomenon is made more alarming by evidence that the ratios have been decreasing over the past two to three decades despite the outlawing of sex-selective abortion. 

With that I would like to start by looking at a recent speech by India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh at a conference in India called “Save the Girl Child.”  In this speech, he noted that,

“The focus in today’s meeting is on the declining child sex ratio in the country. But, it is important to remember that gender related deprivation is an interlocked situation. Female illiteracy, obscurantist social practices like child marriage or early marriage, dowry, poor nutritional entitlements, taboos on women in public places all make the Indian women and especially the Indian girl child extremely vulnerable…But it is not government alone that can address this problem. Though Government must be active in mobilizing public opinion in this regard. We need active civil society involvement in the national campaign to save the girl child.”

In this quote Singh gets to the root of the issue—the societal conditions that devalue girls.  However, many people are less insightful when examining the problem of sex-selective abortion.  In this article , the two campaigners responded that they believe the main issue is implementing the laws and not the social issues concerning girls.  It shocks me that these men are reducing the problem to simply an issue of the government failing to enforce the laws banning sex-selective abortion.  I think the Prime Minister is completely correct when he frames the issue as one involving public opinion of women.  If the government of India simply enforces the laws and crackdown on doctors who act illegally, they will not be addressing the root of the problem.  Furthermore, strict enforcement of these laws may have the unwanted consequence of increasing female infanticide, which I think is an important side effect that has been overlooked by those blaming the government for poor enforcement of the laws. 

Finally, the government of India is making a determined effort to “Save the Girl Child” .   The government has a national plan of action for promoting the health and rights of female children.  Noticeably missing from their action plan is a way to address the key causes of foeticide (abortion of female fetuses), which they list as poverty and social stigma.  I am curious to continue looking at different advocacy site and see how they plan to address the issue.

Hello world!

October 8th, 2008

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