In May, Irish people will go to the polls and vote whether abortion law should be changed so that it is freely available. The referendum challenges the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution which gives equal status to the life of the child in utero with that of its mother. It means that abortion is currently only permitted in extreme cases in Ireland. The amendment was signed into law in October 1983 when two-thirds of people who participated in the referendum voted to uphold the life of the unborn child.
And now, Irish people will vote again.
One of the arguments for decriminalising abortion in Ireland is for the traditionally Catholic country to catch up with the rest of the developing world, to enter the 21st-century, so to speak.
What does that look like? What does the rest of the world’s abortion laws look like?
World Abortion Laws
The Centre for Reproductive Rights (based in the US) maintains a map (above) of The World’s Abortion Laws, which gives an up-to-date snapshot of the value each country’s legal system places on life within the womb. According to the centre, “more than 60 per cent of the world’s population resides in countries with permissive abortion laws.” These are the countries coloured in green (including all of Australia) and pale yellow, defined as laws allowing unfettered abortion access up to a gestational limit, and abortion granted for socioeconomic grounds.
Green & Yellow Countries
These are the countries where abortion is freely available. The green (61 countries, 39.5% of world population) include Europe, China (the world’s most populous country), Russia, North America, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa. According to the CRR, many green countries have gestational limits on when a woman can have an abortion without restriction as to reason. Beyond this limit, abortion is usually permitted on certain grounds, such as disability of the unborn child, rape, risk to health of the mother and so on.
About 21 per cent of the world’s population (yellow countries, 13 in total) allow abortion for “socioeconomic reasons,” including India, Finland and Great Britain.
“In practice, these abortion laws are usually interpreted liberally and allow women to obtain abortions for factors such as their age, economic status, or marital status. Generally, socioeconomic reasons for abortion are considered within the framework of women’s health. For example, the laws of Great Britain, Belize, and Zambia consider a woman’s “actual or reasonably foreseeable environment” in determining whether the pregnancy endangers her physical or mental health.”
– Centre for Reproductive Rights.
There are 59 countries (13.8 per cent of the world’s population) that allow abortion to protect a woman’s life and health, including New Zealand, Northern Ireland, much of South America and Africa, Poland, South Korea and Pakistan. The CPP notes that most of these countries authorise abortion for “health” or “therapeutic” reasons, making it a relatively liberal place for abortion practices. Others, such as Zimbabwe and Monaco, allow abortion only where the physical health of the woman is in grave danger.
In 66 countries (25.5 per cent of the world’s population), abortion is strictly prohibited, or only permitted to save a woman’s life. Countries are mostly located in the Global South and include Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Egypt, Afghanistan, Mexico and the Philippines.
“Many of these countries, such as Brazil and Tanzania, include explicit provisions in their penal codes that exempt providers from punishment if they perform an abortion to save a woman’s life. Other countries, such as Egypt and Haiti, prohibit abortion altogether in their penal codes, but may permit it in these circumstances on the basis of the criminal law defense of “necessity.””
– Centre for Reproductive Rights.
What’s it all mean?
The Guttmacher Institute reports that there were an estimated 56 million abortions each year in 2010-2014, worldwide, an increase from 50 million each year in 1990-1994. Researchers attribute this to population growth.
56 million people is two-and-a-half times the Australian population.
It’s comparable to the population of Sudan, Spain or Myanmar.
A whole nation’s population snuffed before birth.
Australia contributes 70-80,000 abortions each year to the worldwide massacre, although that figure is a guesstimate at best, as Australia still doesn’t collect national data on abortion.
We still have a way to go in changing the culture of life.
But we can do it, one heart at a time, one opinion at a time, one life at a time.
Have you had your say on the Law Reform Inquiry into liberalising abortion law?
Click here to be heard, before February 13.