How Abortion Laws in Texas, Mississippi, and the United States Compare to Other Countries


As the Supreme Court heard arguments on an abortion law in Mississippi on Wednesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. focused on the legislation’s 15-week limit. “This is the standard that the vast majority of other countries have,” said Roberts.

It is true that many countries have a deadline of 15 weeks or earlier. But a closer look reveals a much more complicated picture. For example, many European countries limit on-demand abortions to the first trimester, which is more restrictive than most of the United States. And the United States is one of less than a dozen countries that allow abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy for any reason.

But many countries also offer wide exceptions after the first three months for socio-economic reasons such as unemployment, medical issues such as fetal impairment, or social issues such as the mother’s age. The exemptions from Mississippi law relate only to the life or health of the pregnant person or a fatal fetal abnormality.

“They don’t have the same kinds of barriers that we have here either,” Reproduction rights litigation director Julie Rikelman told Roberts. There is only one abortion clinic in Mississippi.

[What abortion laws would look like if Roe v. Wade was overturned]

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Over the past three decades, countries around the world, including Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Thailand and Ireland, have facilitated legal abortion.

In parts of the United States, however, it became more difficult. Access to the procedure has increasingly declined in more than a dozen states across the country. The most restrictive law to date is that of Texas, a state of nearly 30 million people, which has banned most abortions around six weeks.

A Washington Post analysis looked at how the United States as a whole, as well as abortion laws in Texas and Mississippi, stack up against other parts of the world.

Protesters stand outside the gate of the Texas Capitol in Austin earlier this year.
Protesters stand outside the gate of the Texas Capitol in Austin earlier this year. (Sergio Flores / Getty Images)

Understanding the legality of access

Legality is one thing. Access to the ground can be very different. Anti-abortion groups echo Roberts, saying US laws are too liberal compared to the rest of the world.

“I think very few Americans realize how radical and out of step America’s abortion laws are from the rest of the world,” said Angelina Nguyen, associate researcher at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Mark Levels, a health professor at Maastricht University who has studied the evolution of abortion laws over four decades, said that in places like the Netherlands where abortion on demand is available until Until the fetus is viable, most abortions still take place in the first trimester.

He attributed this fact to the combination of the widespread availability of effective contraceptives, such as birth control pills, and a culture that speaks openly about sex and provides sex education. “If you really want to ban abortion, the only thing you can do is provide contraceptives freely and openly, and be open about it,” Levels told The Post.

Liberal abortion laws do not necessarily mean that abortions are readily available. There are countries with procedural barriers, including physician approval, parental consent, and mandatory waiting periods. In Germany, women must receive counseling and wait three days before having an abortion. In the Netherlands, the waiting time is five days so that, according to a government website, “you can think carefully about your decision.”

Signs about the abortion debate outside a cemetery in Ireland.
Signs about the abortion debate outside a cemetery in Ireland. (James Forde for the Washington Post)

“The enabling legal environment is really only the first step in enabling people to truly exercise their reproductive autonomy and access safe abortion care,” said Katherine Mayall, director of strategic initiatives at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which advocates for expanded access to abortion worldwide. .

“Making access to abortion a reality for people around the world takes a lot more,” added Mayall. This includes policies that cover the cost of abortion services and integrate it into the health care system and societal measures that de-stigmatize the procedure.

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Even in countries where abortion is legal or decriminalized, women may still face barriers to accessing it. A 2020 study found that in Italy, where abortion is legal, access may still be limited as more than 70 percent of gynecologists are registered as conscientious objectors. This designation allows them to refuse abortions because of moral or religious beliefs. And while abortion was decriminalized in South Korea in January, it is not clear whether the procedure is widely available to those who seek it.

Expanding abortion rights around the world

Still on the whole, when it comes to the legality of abortion, countries around the world that have changed their laws on this issue have largely pushed for increase access over the past three decades.

Even though fewer restrictions are in place globally, data shows that “many countries with the most liberal abortion laws have lower abortion rates,” Mayall noted, as those same countries have often also greater access to contraceptive and sex education services. “Restrictive abortion laws don’t lead to fewer abortions, they only lead to more unsafe abortions,” she said.

As Argentina debated last year whether to pass a law legalizing the practice, then health minister Ginés González García said more than 3,000 women had died in Argentina since the early 1980s following clandestine abortions.

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A regional anomaly in abortion laws

In the Americas, the United States is one of the least restrictive countries in the region when it comes to abortion access. But as conservative states scramble to pass legislation making access to abortion more difficult, countries in Latin America have had a “green wave” towards liberalization.

In addition to recent legal changes in Mexico and Argentina, Colombia’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule on the decriminalization of abortion soon. Ecuador decriminalized in the event of rape in April.

[What to know about the Texas abortion law]

In many countries in Latin America, contraception may be more readily available than in the United States. Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua, where abortion is either prohibited or permitted only in certain circumstances, have one of the highest contraceptives prevalence rate around the world, according to the latest World Bank statistics.

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Paula Avila-Guilen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center, compared Texas’ new law “to total abortion bans in El Salvador and Honduras.” And these two laws were passed 20 years ago. Although Texas has not outright banned abortion, very few women know they are pregnant at six weeks, especially if it was unintentional.

Protesters stand outside the Texas Capitol in Austin earlier this year.
Protesters stand outside the Texas Capitol in Austin earlier this year. (Sergio Flores for the Washington Post)

Texas law also urges the public to report and prosecute those who violate it, with the possibility of a $ 10,000 reward, raising the stakes for providers and abortion rights advocates. .

“It has been very difficult trying to figure out how to provide people with the care they need,” said Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund, an advocacy group based in the Rio Grande Valley on the border. Mexican who helps women pay for and get to abortions. Zamora added: “I am concerned about the viability of my organization. I don’t want to be sued for not being able to do my job.

Zamora said she suspected that if abortions became more available in Mexico, she might see many people coming from Texas to seek treatment. But she noted that many of the people she helps are undocumented.

“They can’t go to Mexico because they won’t be able to come back.”

About this story

The Washington Post analysis and charts above were based on information from the World Map of Abortion Laws from Center for Reproductive Rights and the Global Abortion Policy Database from World Health Organization. Many countries have several laws that guide access to abortion, ranging from health acts, penal codes, codes of ethics and specific laws. Some policies are contradictory or vague. There are also countries that do not offer English translations of their laws, making it difficult to compare nuances of legal definitions and specific terms from country to country. Editing by Reem Akkad, Danielle Rindler and Ann Gerhart. Copy edition by Angélica Tan. Photo editing by Chloé Coleman.


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