Abortion Laws across the Globe

By Opondo, Evelyne | Conscience, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Abortion Laws across the Globe


Opondo, Evelyne, Conscience


Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies

Edited by Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman and Bernard M. Dickens

(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, 480 pp)

978-0-8122-4627-8, $69.95

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

ABORTION LAW IN TRANSNATIONAL Perspective, edited by Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman and Bernard M. Dickens--all celebrated scholars in sexual and reproductive health and rights law--provides a comprehensive collection of landmark jurisprudence on abortion from diverse regions across the world. It examines the events that have shaped the abortion debate and the role of different actors in these initiatives. This book is highly recommended for safe abortion advocates and readers interested in legal strategies as a platform for framing the abortion debate.

The book traces the development of abortion laws from a time when abortion was only viewed through a criminal lens to today, when abortion is regarded as a human rights issue. Discussions from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States provide a unique perspective on the strategies employed by the various actors, the challenges and lessons they have learned and the new frontiers to be won, while recognizing the exceptional circumstances in each country.

Beyond the formal laws, there are the informal laws and rules that play a big part in determining whether women are able to access services or are denied. In a number of countries, such as Zimbabwe, providers do not know the law and are therefore hesitant to provide abortion services even when legally permissible. In other countries, such as Ghana, Ethiopia and Zambia, where abortion laws have been liberalized, there has been an urgent necessity to develop guidelines and protocols to guide healthcare providers in service provision as a step towards implementation of the newly formulated laws.

Notably, conservative groups have not been left behind in pushing their agenda and have used these same platforms to frustrate the efforts to implement access to safe and legal abortion services. One of their strategies has been to ensure that where the laws have been liberalized, they remain rights only on paper and are not actualized. This kind of countermobilization is a grim reminder that with every abortion victory, there will be a backlash, with the opponents of abortion regrouping and staging assaults to roll back the gains made. The battle is never really over, even in big wins such as the cases celebrated in this book.

Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective uses the examples of medical abortion and conscientious objection to give insights into some of the frameworks that have been used by both prochoice groups and conservative groups to set the abortion debates. Early medical abortion has been discussed as offering the potential for easy access to abortion that challenges the neat distinction between safe and unsafe abortion. Whereas the World Health Organization defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy performed by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment not in conformity with minimal medical standards (or both), medical abortion allows for the performance of safe abortion outside a medical facility by the pregnant woman within a home setting. This gives her a greater level of control over the process by, for example, determining when to administer pain relief medication and if or when to report any side effects.

Medical abortion is showcased as a transformative technology for restrictive environments, one that is client-dependent and not provider-reliant. Medical abortion offers resource-poor countries the tools to save many women's lives with minimal expenditure. This technology would greatly benefit the Africa region, where access to reproductive health services is very poor and where a high proportion of maternal mortality is due to unsafe abortion. …

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