Two small shifts on abortion rights

Two small shifts on abortion rights

There have been two headline-grabbing developments in the global abortion debate this week, though both are a bit less than meets the eye. In Uruguay, the senate voted to legalize first timester abortions, which would make it only the third country in Latin America — after Cuba and Guyana — where the procedure is legal. (It is also legal in Mexico City and, in cases of rape and incest, in Colombia.) However, the law only passed after some pretty serious compromises from its supporters:

The legislation requires a woman to explain her desire to have an abortion to a panel of at least three people, including a gynecologist, social worker and mental health professional, who must discuss abortion-related health risks and alternatives including adoption. After meeting with the panel, a woman must then reflect for five days before finally opting to have an abortion.

Even with those serious caveats, the law comes as part of what seems like a fairly remarkable period of social liberalization in South America that includes Argentina’s recently-passed landmark transgender rights law. Uruguay recognizes civil unions for same-sex couples, as does Brazil. President Jose Mujica is also pushing internationally controversial legislation to legalize marijuana.

Across the Atlantic, Ireland and Northern Ireland are outliers on the other side. The Emerald Isle, along with Poland, are the only places in the EU where abortion is banned under most circumstances. 

Ireland’s first abortion clinic opened today in Belfast, amid protests from religious groups.  But here, too, there are major restrictions: 

The Marie Stopes family planning center will offer the abortion pill to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant — but only if doctors determine they’re at risk of death or long-term health damage from their pregnancy.

The fact that Ireland’s abortion restructions remain — on either side of the border — is a bit surprising given the precipitous decline of the Catholic Church’s influence and overall religiosity there. According to the AP, about 4,000 women from the Republic of Ireland and 1,000 from Northern Ireland travel to Britain every year for abortions. 

With increasing pressure from the European Union, that may change soon.