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The aftermath of a bombastic draft US Supreme Court ruling that threatens to upend 50 years of abortion access is echoing across Europe, where conservative activists have made their own push to curb rights.
Across the Atlantic, Europe is often seen as the bastion of liberalism when it comes to easy access to abortion. But while the European Parliament last year declared access to a safe abortion a human right, in practice access varies widely across Europe.
A majority of EU countries allow abortions within the first trimester of pregnancy. Northern European countries, which were among the first to legalize abortion, are the most liberal when it comes to such access.
Sweden ranked first in the European Abortion Policies Atlas 2021 – a ranking compiled by abortion rights groups – which allows abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
In contrast, countries in Eastern and Southern Europe fared worse. And it is here that some of the fiercest battles over access to abortion are fought.
Eastern Europe: Eye of the Storm
Poland is at the epicenter of Europe’s abortion debate, having imposed a near-total ban in 2020 when a top court ruled that pregnancies could not be terminated due to fetal defects. The only exceptions permitted by the decision were rape, incest or the woman’s life in danger.
The ban is a highly political issue: the court that handed down the verdict is believed to be close to the ruling law and justice government, and the ban was promoted by influential Catholic groups in the country.
But it has also met fierce opposition from within Poland – highlighting the divide between conservative rural areas and more liberal cities.
The death of a 30-year-old woman last year sparked protests across Poland, as well as condemnations from the European Parliament, after a lawyer representing her family said a decision not to have a potentially life-saving abortion was linked to the rules of the country.
The Eastern European country shows how the achievements of liberal activists are under threat. Poland first legalized abortion in 1932, allowing it both on medical grounds and when the pregnancy was the result of a crime. And during communist rule, the country had a relatively permissive stance on allowing women to terminate pregnancies.
But the restrictions have gradually tightened. And the rise of the populist Law and Justice government led to a crackdown not only on abortion but also on LGBTQ+ rights.
Other countries in Eastern Europe have also attempted to increase access to abortion.
In neighboring Hungary, for example, Viktor Orbán’s right-wing government tied the knot additional funds A requirement for hospitals not to perform abortions. Women must have two sessions there Mandatory advice before you can have an abortion. And in Slovakia, lawmakers from the ruling party have repeatedly tried to tighten access to abortion services, when they have narrowly defeated every time so far.
Southern Europe: feeling of pressure
Malta has the strictest laws in the bloc: abortion is not illegal under any circumstances in the predominantly Catholic country. However, women circumvent the country’s ban by ordering abortion pills online; others have to travel abroad to have an abortion.
Malta’s position on abortion took center stage earlier this year when the European Parliament elected centre-right Roberta Metsola as President. Metsola has opposed several reports and resolutions calling for access to safe abortion treatment.
But even in countries where abortion is legal, women may encounter informal barriers to accessing abortion services.
In Italy, around 70 percent of the country’s gynecologists say they are conscientious objectors. The situation makes it difficult for women to access safe abortions in a timely manner Human Rights Watch Some have had to travel abroad to access the care they need. women look alike barriers in Spain, where abortion is legal but some have to travel hundreds of miles to find a provider.
Another hurdle is mandatory waiting times between abortion consultations and the actual procedure — said to be put in place to avoid women making hasty or uninformed decisions.
Northern Europe: A stronghold for abortion rights
There are bright spots for right-wing activists.
In Ireland, a large majority of voters supported lifting an abortion ban in a 2018 referendum. And earlier this year, the Dutch House of Commons voted in favor of a bill to abolish the five-day waiting period.
According to IPSOS data, attitudes towards abortion rights are most positive in the north of the continent: in Sweden, 75 percent of respondents say they support women having the right to an abortion if they want one; 64 percent in the Netherlands see it the same way.
Things have also changed in Germany, where the abortion debate has focused on a ban on so-called abortion advertising. In January, the country’s justice minister, Marco Buschmann, announced that the coalition government would lift the ban that had allowed doctors to be prosecuted for publishing factual information about abortions. Abortion is still technically illegal in Germany, but allowed under certain conditions, e.g. B. if the termination of pregnancy takes place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and after consultation with the woman.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to overcome obstacles to women’s reproductive health care — and to find solutions. Some of these changes may stick. In FranceHere’s how women can end an early pregnancy with abortion pills at home after a telemedicine consultation. The United Kingdom expanded the use of abortion pills at home by August 29.
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