Many Western European countries have what might seem like odd requirements and exceptions to their abortion laws.
(home of the now-famous Finnish baby boxes and other enviable government benefits), abortion is
available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless the woman is under 17 years old, in which case she may have an abortion until she's 20 weeks pregnant. But
even for early abortions, women must provide a "social reason" for seeking to terminate her pregnancy, such as poverty, extreme distress, or already having
at least four children. While in practice most abortion requests are granted, it still forces women to prove to an authority the validity of their desire
not to have a baby. In Denmark, abortion is available on demand up to 12
weeks of pregnancy. Afterward, exceptions are made for cases of rape, threats to the woman's physical or mental health, risk of fetal defects, and --
revealingly -- in cases where the woman can demonstrate lack of financial resources to care for a child.
Israel (though not part of Europe, obviously) has similarly idiosyncratic requirements and restrictions. Though 93 percent of American Jews support abortion rights in all
or most cases, and the Torah has little to say about abortion, the Jewish state of Israel has fairly heavy-handed abortion laws. Abortion is illegal for
married women between ages 17 and 40, except in cases of rape, incest, fetal malformation, or risk to the mother's physical or mental health. Women
eligible for abortions (the unmarried ones, that is) must submit to ultrasounds, wade through rivers of paperwork, and plead their case to an expert.
Eastern Europe, a stronghold of liberal abortion laws under Communism, has become increasingly strict of late. Russia recently passed a law restricting abortion to the first 12 weeks of
pregnancy, and Russian clinics are also now forced to give (medically dubious) warnings about the health risks of abortion, which supposedly include cancer
and infertility. After the fall of the USSR,
Poland enacted some of Europe's strictest abortion laws
, banning the procedure except in cases of rape, fetal malformation, or serious threats to the woman's health. The Ukraine is currently threatening to
So why are Europe's abortion laws not as libertine and laissez-faire as our stereotypes about those countries might suggest?
Here's one way of looking at the difference between abortion laws in Europe and those in the U.S.: in America, abortion laws are about morality, while in
Europe, they reflect national ideas of what constitutes the common good.
In America, anti-abortion activists and politicians construe abortion as a clear-cut moral issue: "abortion is murder," "I am a person, not a choice,"
"It's not right versus left, it's right versus wrong," etc. Exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother are political concessions, not morally
consistent positions. If you believe fetuses are people and abortion is murder, why would you think the murder of a person conceived in rape is more okay
than the murder of a person conceived in a happy marriage?