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Abortion rights around the world

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Abortion laws vary around the world, with some countries having outright bans while others maintain highly restrictive laws.

After Poland’s constitutional court on Thursday struck down a provision of the country’s abortion law, allowing Europe’s most restrictive strict legislation to be further tightened, here is a snapshot of the global situation.

– Total ban –

In El Salvador, the courts have handed down lengthy jail sentences, some of up to 30 years, to women who have lost their babies, including through abortion.

Non governmental organisations say around 20 women are currently detained in Salvador under its strict law, which considers the loss of a child as “aggravated homicide”.

Predominantly Catholic Malta is the only European Union country to ban abortion totally, imposing jail terms of between 18 months and three years if the law is broken.

Abortion is also banned in Andorra, the Vatican and San Marino, which are in Europe but not members of the European Union.

Globally there are total bans in Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Laos, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Philippines, Palau, Senegal and Suriname.

– Restricted –

Many countries allow abortions in cases where the mother’s life is deemed to be in danger.

A partial list includes: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar, Paraguay, South Sudan,  Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.

In Brazil the law only allows terminations in cases of rape, risk to the life of the mother or if the foetus is missing part or all of the brain.

In 2017, Chile ended nearly three decades of a strict ban when then president Michelle Bachelet signed into law legislation to decriminalise abortion in certain cases.

In Argentina a draft law legalising abortion was adopted in 2018 by parliament, but was then rejected by the upper house. This year, new centre-left president Alberto Fernandez pledged to submit a new draft, but this has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In April 2019 South Korea’s constitutional court ordered the country’s decades-old abortion ban to be lifted in a landmark ruling and ordered the law to be revised by the end of 2020.

In early October the Seoul government submitted a draft law allowing abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy, to the ire of pro-lifers, while not satifying abortion campaigners either.

– Change –

Women from Europe, North America and Oceania benefit from the most liberal legislation, in some cases acquired only recently.

New Zealand only decriminalised abortion in March 2020. Up to then it was punishable with a 14-year prison term.

In Australia, the state of Queensland legalised abortion in October 2018, abolishing an 1899 British colonial era law. Only New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, continues to ban abortion.

In Ireland abortion has only been legal since September 2018, following a historic referendum which did away with the constitutional ban on abortion in the Catholic country.

It was also legalised in October 2019 in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where it was prohibited.

In the United States abortion was legalised nationwide in 1973, but the issue has been a part of the presidential election campaign. Democrat Joe Biden, who has promised to enshrine the right to abortion in law if he is elected, is accused by President Donald Trump of backing “late term abortion”.

Campaigners for abortion rights fear a step backwards in the Supreme court which Trump has tilted firmly to the right, picking his third conservative judge, Amy Coney Barrett, recently.

If confirmed by Congress Barrett, deeply opposed to abortion, will succeed liberal justice and women’s rights champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died of cancer on September 18.

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