The American left loves Western European democracies for their cultural sensibilities and for their policies on everything from crime to health care. One policy area where you won’t hear American liberals cite the European example, though, is abortion.
The reason is simple: Abortion law is far more restrictive in Europe than in the United States. As the table below shows, 16 of 18 countries on the continent limit abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy (with certain exceptions in various countries). The banning of late-term abortions now being considered in the House of Representatives and some American states would seem only civilized to most Europeans.
Not to U.S. liberals, who call “extremism” the attempt by some in Congress to promote a bill banning abortions after 22 weeks. A similar bill in Texas is “a sweeping assault on women’s rights,” in the words of the Nation. Yet even these bills—in the unlikely event they became laws—would be among the most permissive in the Western world.
Indeed, only Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands would have more permissive laws. Even anti-Catholic France bans abortion at 12 weeks, nearly 3 whole months before the gestational limit in the House bill. By international standards, Republican efforts to ban late abortions are anything but conservative—they are fringe left.
Source: Phillip B. Levine, Sex and Consequences: Abortion, Public Policy, and the Economics of Fertility (Princeton University Press, 2007), 135-139.
Other restrictions are also common in Europe. Many nations impose mandatory waiting periods, ranging from three days in Germany to seven days in France. German women must receive counseling that discourages abortion. In Greece, it is illegal to advertise abortion services.
So, yes, the House bill is arguably, as the New York Times has it, the “most restrictive abortion bill to come to a vote” in Congress in some time. But that fact only highlights the radicalism of America’s abortion regime and its defenders.
Jon A. Shields is associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.