Ask An Abortion Doula 13 – “Which countries have the best access to abortion?”

by | April 15, 2020

By Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson

Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson is an abortion doula and Ph.D. student in religious studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of the Humanist Ceremonies Handbook (Humanist Press, 2018) and the upcoming The Companion: An Abortion Doula Handbook. You can visit her on her website  Here she answers Darren’s question from Edmonton, Alberta about the countries with the best access to abortion.

Hello from isolation in Edmonton, Alberta! I hope that you are all taking it as easy as possible during this really, really weird time. While padding about my house waiting for civilization to resume, I’m going to answer a question from Darren, also here in Edmonton. He asks:

Which countries have the best access to abortion?

April, 2020

Phew! Okay, this is actually a much harder question than it seems. Determining “best access” is a tricky game because the answer might be something like China. China has government-funded abortions that are (mostly) not stigmatized and available all over the place. However, that access comes with a price – many women find themselves coerced or at least pressured to conform to China’s policies on family size. So, while access is great, there’s still not much of a culture of either choice or reproductive justice.

But most people when they ask about abortion laws outside the US are really interested in Europe. There’s a stereotype that Europe is a bastion of liberalism and sexual openness. While that’s somewhat true, abortion access in European countries is often even more restrictive than a lot of US states. For instance, many countries only allow abortion up to 12 weeks unless the health of the pregnant person is in question or there is a serious fetal abnormality. That’s a pretty small window in which to obtain an abortion, especially because a lot people don’t even realize they’re pregnant for many weeks. Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium all have restrictive waiting periods, and some are required provide information on “alternatives” (you know, just in case the pregnant person never realized that they could choose to carry to term).

Aside from waiting periods and medically irrelevant information, some European countries require that the person give a reason for their abortion. In Belgium a woman must indicate that she is in severe distress to be allowed to terminate a pregnancy. Then there are the countries where abortion is still criminalized such as Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, and, until just this year, Northern Ireland. And Poland is still in its eternal war with abortion rights and may soon be subject to a total ban.

If we move on to African countries, there are only three which do not have restrictions pertaining to the reason someone is seeking an abortion and the majority of countries either ban it outright or allow it only with a health exception. In Asia, the two most populous countries (China and India) have no restriction on reasons for abortion but most Asian countries have gestational limits. In the areas where abortion laws are fairly liberal, there are still severe barriers to access. In Latin America, the vast majority of people cannot access abortion unless their life or health is at stake. Only Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana do not impose a restriction on the reason for an abortion.

The funny thing is that if we look at simply the legal issues, the best place to be is right here in Canada where we have no government-imposed term limits or restrictions on reasons for having an abortion and where it is funded by the government. And yet, as I’m always pointing out, we have godawful access issues. Some provinces have one or no clinics to serve an entire province. Also, the clinics we do have tend to exist in urban areas despite the overwhelmingly rural nature of this country. Of course, doctors can perform abortions in their offices, they don’t have to work at clinics if they’re trained to provide abortions. But the stigma in Canada can be off-putting for physicians, some of whom work in very small towns that have a very small-town morality.

So, Darren, I suppose there’s not actually a straightforward answer to your question, but I hope that I have helped to contextualize the issue somewhat.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson.

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