Last week, Mississippi voted to pass one of the strictest abortion laws in the United States by banning the procedure after just 15 weeks. Not only is it an attempt to subvert Roe v. Wade — the Supreme Court ruling that makes abortion legal up to the point of viability — it also adds the United States to the list of all the countries with the strictest abortion laws in the world, such as Poland, Iran, or most of Latin America, where women have to travel to get abortions, find unsafe ways to terminate their own pregnancies, or be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, even if the woman's health is at risk. That's the sort of reality the United States is headed towards.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant tweeted about the law, "As I have repeatedly said, I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child. House Bill 1510 will help us achieve that goal." His Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves agreed with him, telling reporters, according to the Clarion Ledger, "Mississippians are committed to protecting the lives of unborn children, and this law will be a major step in accomplishing that goal. I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child."
Mississippi is among 18 other states that ban abortion before 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and already, there's only one clinic in the entire state. Mississippi state Sen. Deborah Dawkins told NPR's Mississippi Edition, "This change to the law has twin purposes: to force women to have babies they don't want, and then to stigmatize and undermine the resulting single mothers. It'll be the worst thing that we do here today."
Reproductive rights are basic human rights and while the United States still has a lot of work to do, especially in the realm of women's reproductive health, many countries across the globe impose strict laws that restrict a woman's freedom to make her own personal health decisions. Thanks to the wonderful interactive abortion laws map created by the Center for Reproductive Rights, here are 11 countries with the strictest abortion laws that affect women, their health, and their families.
Poland is one of the toughest places to get a legal abortion in Europe, although they do make exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal impairment, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. But even then, women have to get an abortion within the first 12 weeks. It's one of the countries that was visited by Women on Waves, a boat manned by Dutch women who offer medical abortions to women who come aboard to skirt the laws in their country, as Al Jazeera reported. You might remember that the government tried to impose five years of prison time for women who got an abortion otherwise, according to The Independent, though thanks to protests, reevaluated the legislation.
In El Salvador, women cannot get an abortion under any circumstance, even if it's to save her own life, according to CNN. Women who have an abortion there, or even miscarry, face prison sentences of up to 50 years, as The Guardian reported. It's considered one of the most draconian abortion laws in the entire world, according to CNN.
Malta is another country that bans abortion no matter what, according to the BBC, even in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman might die. Activists are working hard to get Malta to legalize abortion at least for those exceptions, but even the suggestion has created a bit of a stir, according to the Times of Malta.
Nicaragua is another country that puts women in jail if they get an abortion either through an rogue doctor or telemedicine and denies the right to abortion even when the woman might die or after she's been raped, according to Human Rights Watch.
Chile previously was one of the countries that banned abortion without exception, according to The New York Times, though the country just came around and legalized abortion to save a mother's life, in the case of fetal impairment, or if a pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
Malawi allows abortion only if the woman's life is at risk, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Anyone who attempts to get an abortion, or "forced miscarriage," as the country's law states, is subject to prison time to up 14 years. Same goes for anyone who helps her. Clandestine abortions are common in Malawi, according to the Guttmacher Institute, with over 140,000 estimated abortions in 2015 alone. The law reads:
Any person who, with intent to procure a miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.
In Bhutan, women can only terminate their pregnancy if the life of the mother is in danger, according to Women on Waves. Luckily, illegal abortions aren't considered felonies, just misdemeanors. Women often travel to neighboring countries to get their abortions, according to Business Bhutan.
Women in Ireland often also have to leave the country to get an abortion, since they're illegal unless a woman's life is at risk, though there's no exception for fetal impairment, rape or incest, or if the women's general health is in danger, according to NBC News.
The law is different though in Northern Ireland, which only further confuses things. There, a woman can only get an abortion if her life is at risk or if there is a "permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health," as reported by the BBC. A woman cannot get an abortion in the case of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality.
There's a referendum on expanding the abortion laws in May 2018, so hopefully pro-choice activists can get out the vote, according to the BBC. This won't affect women in Northern Ireland, though, despite the country's High Court ruling that the region's current laws infringe on women's human rights, but legislators will have to vote to make that happen, as reported by the Guardian.
In Iraq, women can only get an abortion if their life is at risk and face criminal charges if they get an illegal one, according to Women on Waves. Because of this, home abortions are common. One midwife told The Telegraph that she "has already performed nine abortions in the past three months, two on women with large families who could not cope with another mouth to feed, the rest the result of what she calls 'illegitimate pregnancies.'"
She's had a good outcome rate, but Hazim Abdul Karim, a doctor working in the emergency department of Al Aliya Women's Hospital, said in the same article:
We see one or two septic abortions every week. There are some very bad people out there who do not know what they are doing, but they are endangering the lives of women by exposing them to infection or botching the operations. This is a major problem since the end of the war.
In Egypt an abortion is only legal if the woman's life is in danger, according to the Guttmacher Institute. If she induces an abortion, the woman can face up to three years in prison and doctors who help them can get up to 15 years, according to Egyptian Streets, really driving the point home that women are on their own. According to a study done by the Population Council, 35 percent of abortions in the country are done without any medical supervision at all.
In the Philippines, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, women can be jailed for terminating their pregnancies and there is no exception at all, even to save the woman's life. Many turn to "clinics" in parking lots, eat bitter herbs, or get their stomachs "massaged hard" every day in the hope of terminating their pregnancy, as The Guardian reported. Three women die every day in the country, according to the same report in The Guardian.
It's incredibly sad the torture that women endure just to have autonomy over their own bodies. Hopefully, one day leaders all over the world will come to their senses and protect women.