Tony Allen, Beverly Devakishen, Angel Loera, Gavin O’Donnell, Mireia Molina, Griffin Shiel and Sacha Silverstone explore reproductive rights around the world

Poland

Last year,  in response to widespread protests and strikes, a large parliamentary majority rejected plans to outlaw all abortions unless the woman’s life was in danger.

The BBC estimated that in October, 100,000 people took to the streets across Poland calling for the bill to be blocked. The prospect of women being imprisoned for obtaining abortions ultimately led Catholic bishops, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and many members of the Catholic ruling party Law and Justice, who had initially backed the proposal, to withdraw their support.

Abortions in Poland can only be carried out legally in cases of rape, incest, where there are serious and permanent deformities to the foetus, or when the mother’s health is at severe risk.

Dangerous illegal procedures greatly outnumber legal ones, and some women seek abortions elsewhere.

The Catholic influence in Poland has manifested itself in pro-life campaigns and publicity. Government advisor Urszula Dudziak caused controversy in 2016 when parts of a previous speech were uncovered, in which she called using contraception “wicked”. Condoms are the only freely available contraceptives. The morning after pill can now only be obtained with a prescription, and IVF state funding has also been stopped since Law and Justice came to power.

The current abortion law dates back to 1993, with regulations having been tightened after the fall of Communist rule. Sex education in schools is weak and patchy at best.

Fewer than  2000 legal abortions a year are reported to be peformed in Poland, despite a population of  38 million residents. TA

USA

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the USA. As it stands, abortion is legal under the Supreme Court act from Roe v. Wade, in 1972. However, there are increasingly more stipulations to aborting a foetus.

In 1992, the legality of abortion was changed from being time dependant, to being dependant on foetal viability outside the uterus. In 2003, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act made intact dilation and extraction illegal. In 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled abortion clinics cannot restrict delivery of abortion services that burden the woman seeking such. In 2017, Trump blocked federal funding for international groups that offer information on abortions. The order became infamous as it was photographed being signed by Trump, with a group of male politicians watching: women’s marches were rife around the country as a consequence of the order and the phrase “Men making decisions about women’s bodies” was repeatedly used to describe the act.

Yet before this, abortion rights have been infringed through a lengthy process of compulsory counselling, a waiting period of at least 24 hours, requirements of the procedure to be carried out by a licensed physician in some states, and in others for terminations to be performed in a hospital. Even then, the majority of states allow medical institutions to refuse. And an increasing number of states make the woman view and hear their foetus through ultrasound before being allowed to abort. Trump’s ‘pro-life’ stance worryingly could see the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the ban of abortion completely, but for now this is unlikely, especially as his anti-abortion order has already received backlash, with global countries form an alliance to support Netherlands’ governemtnal fundraising initiative, “She Decides”, with a 10 million  euro injection to help women access abortion services. SS

Brazil

In Brazil, abortion is currently illegal except for circumstances when the pregnancy seriously endangers the pregnant woman’s life, or the pregnancy is an outcome of rape. A woman who has an abortion without these exceptional circumstancs can face imprisonment for up to three years.

Late last year, the Zika virus spread across the country, affecting pregnant women in particular as its effects severely damage a foetus. Zika may cause an foetus to develop anencephaly; a disorder that causes abnormally small heads and restricted brain development at birth. Despite the devastating effects the virus have on pregnancy, the anti-abortion laws were not revised. Instead, the Brazilian government’s response was to encourage women to delay or avoid pregnancy, which some argue impede on a woman’s clear right to reproduce. It is noted that the virus could have been more effectively contained if the government had focused on more practical solutions, such as tackling the inefficiency of the healthcare system.

Women’s rights activists state that women have both a right to reproduce as well as to refrain from reproducing, and that the Brazilian government, in its reaction to the Zika virus, blatantly disregarded both.

Furthermore Fatima Palaes, against legalising abortion, was recently appointed the Brazilian head of the Secretariat of Policies for Women, meaning women will have to fight harder to have full legal control over their bodies. BD

Paraguay

In Paraguay, abortion is permitted only in cases where labour is viewed as endangering the life of the woman. Anyone who performs an abortion or consents to one is subject to between fifteen and thirty months imprisonment, and if an abortion is carried out without consent the sentence is increased to two to five years. If an abortion causes the death of the woman the sentence is four to six years if the woman consented to the procedure, and five to ten years if not. Amnesty reported that “criminalization of abortion contributes to high rates of early pregnancy and unsafe abortions.”

Paraguay’s abortion laws received worldwide attention in 2015 when a girl, impregnated by her stepfather at the age of ten, was denied an abortion on the grounds that the girl appeared to be healthy enough to give birth. Additional to this, the girl’s mother was charged with negligence. The issue sparked a heated debate in Paraguayan political circles as the leftist opposition to the government called for an easing of the country’s abortion laws.

However, the government refused to budge on the issue and, upon the girl giving birth, Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes stated “The mother is alive, and so is the daughter. To those who suggested that the girl abort, two things could have happened: one lost life, for sure. We could have lost two lives… We did what our conscience dictated, what the Constitution commands, and what our religious convictions command.” Cartes continues to stand firmly against decriminalising abortions. GS

Malta

Malta is the only European country where abortions are still banned outright, with the penalty being up to a three-year custodial sentence for women. Despite a number of modernising reforms since 2010 including the legalisation of divorce and measures to support the LGBT+ community, such liberal attitudes have not yet extended to the termination of pregnancy.

Any abortion is deemed illegal except under the principle of the ‘double effect’, which allows a foetus to be terminated only as a necessary part of treatment to save the life of a pregnant woman.

The ban means that women who want or need an abortion are forced to travel abroad for the procedure, hoping not to be caught for fear of punishment. In some cases, Maltese women have flown to England for terminations.

The key reason for the continuing outlawing of abortions is Malta’s ingrained Catholicism. The country has been slow to accept the importing and advertising of contraception. Although condoms are now legal and easy to obtain, other preventative methods are less common and the ‘Morning-After Pill’ remains illegal. A black market of emergency contraception exists and it has been claimed that some women overdose on oral contraceptives to attempt to create the same effect as the morning after pill.However, movements in the country are campaigning for the wider availability of contraception and the legalisation of abortion. Last year, the Women’s Rights Foundation went to court calling for the morning after pill to be legalised and licensed. TA

Somalia

Abortion only became legal  in Somalia in 2012, yet the right only applies in the case of saving the mother if she is at risk.

Many issues still have to be solved to achieve full legal protection for women. For example, the country is not part of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, or the Maputo Protocol.

Thirty-six countries are ratified onto the protocol, which guarantees various rights for women including autonomy in their reproductive health decisions and an end to female genital mutilation (FGM); defined as the alteration or removal of some or all of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

However, legislation does not solve the problem by itself. In the country, on average 98% of the female population from 15 and 49 have suffered FGM, making it the country with the highest prevalence of FGM from 2004-2015.

While it was banned by 2012 Constitution, this is not efficiently enforced. In 2016 the NGO Avaaz issued a petition calling for its prohibition, which received the support of Somali Prime Minsiter, Hassan Mohamud. “If Somalia enacts a full ban law now and follows with massive public education campaigns, it could become the champion to lead the world to zero tolerance”, he championed.

Nevertheless, FGM continued to be a social ritual entrenched in Somalian culture, making its eradication difficult. AL

China

China, in some ways, is the world leader in abortions: they first legalised abortion in 1951 and then in 1988 became the world’s first country to legalise the use of mifepristone: the abortion pill. Abortion is a government service and is now provided upon the request of women after abortion laws were liberalised throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

However, China’s progressive policy on abortion stems more from its desire to limit population growth than to enrich reproductive rights. The widespread availability of abortions and contraception were integral to the country’s One Child Policy. From 1979 to 2015 China maintained a family planning policy limiting much of the population having only one child, designed to reduce demand on the country’s water and other natural resources.

Whilst certain ethnic groups were exempt from the policy, as well as rural families were granted a second child permit whereupon their first born was a daughter, the policy was brutally enforced on the Han ethnic group (who constitute 90% of the population), and especially in urban areas. Reports detail forced abortions and sterilizations on women who were unable or refused to pay the $6,300 fine for a second child.

One side-effect of the One Child Policy, driven by the Chinese cultural preference for sons, is the imbalanced gender ratio in the country: 118 males for every 100 females. Whilst gender-selective abortion is now illegal in the country, the policy is poorly enforced and therefore the practice still persists given the willingness of couples to bribe doctors to reveal the foetus’ gender. GO’D

Kenya

Kenya’s lack of consistent legislation and regulation on women’s reproductive rights and healthcare worsens women’s discrimination in the country.

Although Kenya has adopted the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women  (CEDAW) in 1984, the Sexual Offences Act in 2006 and other two regulations in 2008 that aid towards safety and criminalisation of sexual abuses, the country still fails to provide enough healthcare and legalisation on women’s sexual rights.

Sexual abuse is still not well managed. Although criminalised and punished with life-long sentences, rape is still “extremely permanent” and the Domestic Violence Bill has been pending since 1999, which makes cases of marital rape common and unattended.

Cultural practices such as “cleansing” of widows and genital mutilation are still present in the country as a punishment to the reluctance in following traditional and religious practices. The latter is still widely present, especially in certain ethnic groups. It was estimated in 2009 that 40% of women had been victims of the process, although legally prohibited in underage girls by the Children’s Act in 2001.

Futhermore, inefficient sexual and reproductive healthcare is affected by low rates of contraceptive usage, only available to 53.4% of women, which contribute to the spreading of HIV, affecting 6.9% of women aged 15 to 64.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution legalised abortion in extreme cases, but its safety regulations were withdrawn in 2013. The system fails to provide enough natal care lacking skilled doctors in a third of cases, and together with deregulated abortion services, maternal mortality still remains at 560 per 100,000 births. MM

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country and thus follows the rules of Islam when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.

Abortion is generally strictly illegal in Saudi Arabia, albeit with some very narrow exceptions. An abortion is only legally allowed if it will save the pregnant woman’s life, or if the pregnancy will gravely endanger her physical or mental health. Furthermore, any approved abortion requires the consent three physicians, who will all have to give their own opinions on whether a pregnancy will harm the woman severely enough for abortion to be allowed, and her husband or guardian. If an abortion is performed on a woman outside these stringent rules and laws, the ‘violator’ may be required to pay blood money to the fetus’ family. There have also been laws created to explicitly deny abortion to families who fear financial instability or an inability to give the child an education.

This means that a legal abortion is incredibly rare and almost impossible in Saudi Arabia. Thus, the underground market for abortion has become a popular avenue that desperate women go. However, doctors in this black market merely prescribe pills for these women, and are not professionally qualified to perform a proper abortion. These unsafe methods can severely harm a woman’s reproductive organs, and many Saudi women who have resorted to turning to this black market end up with damaged wombs.

Saudi Arabia is a very backward on women’s rights in general, and women are still severely discriminated against in the society. BD

Switzerland 

Free choice over abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy was only legalised in Switzerland after a referendum in 2002.

Laws from 1942 restricting abortions to cases in which the woman’s health was at risk had not been enforced for a while previously in most Cantons (regions). The website Swissinfo estimated that by 2002, around 13,000 terminations were carried out in the country per year, with the last prosecution in 1988.

Swiss women only gained the right to vote in 1971, and in that year the first organised movement for the legalisation of abortions was set up. However, in a 1977 referendum, campaigners suffered a setback when legal terminations were rejected by a narrow margin.

In 1978 and again in 1985 and 2002, proposals to tighten up abortion laws further were vetoed in referendums.

Today, Switzerland is known for having one of the lowest termination rates in Europe. This is down to a number of factors, including good sex education in schools and the ease of obtaining the morning after pill, made available without a prescription in 2002. Abortions can take place after the twelve-week mark if the mother’s health is in danger, and women have to agree to counselling before the procedure.

However, pro-life activists remain unhappy. In 2014, a referendum was held with the aim of removing provision for terminations from public health insurance, which would have forced women to take out private policies or pay for procedures. This was soundly voted down. TA