The repeal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that protected reproductive rights in the United States, has certainly made waves in North America. But the controversial decision also had ramifications across the Atlantic, where it sparked protests and sparked debate over Europe’s abortion laws.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 95% of European women of childbearing age live in a country where abortion services are available on request. To date, only a handful of European countries – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and, more recently, Poland – have near or complete bans on the procedure.
However, many European women still face barriers to abortion access, including waiting periods, mandatory counseling and limited providers. And in the wake of Roe’s overthrow, these barriers are attracting more attention.
“The news [of Roe v. Wade] proves that women’s rights should never be taken for granted,” tweeted French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. “For all women, for human rights, we need to set this win in stone.”
In response to the quashing of Roe v. Wade, citizens of some European countries are re-examining their country’s abortion policies. However, reforms have to work their way through each country’s legislative process, which can take time. Here is an overview of the state of the discussion in several countries:
Finnish abortion laws date back to the 1970s and are strict compared to the rest of the European Union, where termination of pregnancy is mostly available on request. Although the country allows abortion within 12 weeks for medical or social reasons, Finnish women must obtain permission from two medical providers, a requirement that has become the rallying point of an initiative by reform. A Finnish parliamentary committee will release a report examining campaign demands to scrap the two-doctor requirement and allow abortion on demand in September. A vote should follow thereafter.
Campaigners have called for more abortion protections in the UK, where, with the exception of Northern Ireland, abortion is available on social grounds – that is, depending on a woman’s mental or physical health or financial situation – rather than on demand. Although access is “not very problematic” in general, the laws “do not allow pregnant women to make their own decisions about their pregnancy,” says Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. .
Despite pressure to secure the right to abortion, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said last month that abortion law was “settled” in the UK and refused to enshrine the right in the next British Bill of Rights, which will replace the abortion law. Rights Act – the current legislation establishing the fundamental rights of British citizens – in the country’s constitution. However, activists continue to push for change.
Across the Channel, France has been overwhelmed by a wave of support for the protection of reproductive rights since the US Supreme Court ruling. While the country has permitted abortion on demand since 1975, this right has yet to be codified in its constitution. According to a poll conducted on June 28 and 29 – just days after the Roe ruling – 81% of the country supports such a review. Those in the legislative arena seem to agree. The left-wing coalition known as the New Popular Ecological and Social Union – commonly shortened to Nupes – and French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party have both put forward proposals to make abortion a constitutional right. If either becomes law, it would be the country’s second phased abortion measure this year, as February saw the extension of the time to terminate a pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks.
Less than a week after the US Supreme Court ruling, Swedish Center Party leader Annie Lööf called for a constitutional inquiry into the issue of abortion rights. Lööf’s proposal has since gained support from several political parties. However, given the mechanisms of the Swedish Parliament as well as the delay caused by the elections in the fall, the addition of the right to abortion in the country’s constitution may not be finalized until 2027.