Fact Check: Is it Harder to Get an Abortion in Europe Than America?

As abortion laws in the U.S. could face major upheaval in the wake of the Supreme Court leak on Roe v. Wade, eyes have turned to the rights of women in other parts of the world.

Recently, several commentators and pundits have claimed that European nations are far more restrictive than the U.S.

So how accurate is this comparison? How liberal are U.S. state and federal laws compared with countries like France, Germany and Spain?

Roe V Wade Abortion Protest
Pro-choice demonstrators rally outside the State House during a Pro-Choice Mother's Day Rally in Boston, Massachusetts on May 8, 2022. - Multiple US organizations that support abortion rights called for nationwide protests on May 14, after a leaked draft opinion showed the US Supreme Court was poised to overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision. JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP/Getty Images

The Claim

A number of tweets posted in May 2022 stated that the U.S. enjoys far more liberal rights and laws on abortion than European nations.

Some have suggested that many countries in Europe have stricter abortion laws, selecting out France and Germany, among others.

During a discussion about Roe v. Wade on HBO's Real Time, host Bill Maher chimed into the discussion, saying: "Like, in Europe, the modern countries of Europe, [are] way more restrictive than we are or what they're [the Supreme Court] even proposing.

"If you are pro-choice, you would like it a lot less in Germany and Italy and France and Spain and Switzerland. Did you know that?"

The Facts

The comparison between Europe and the U.S. is not a straightforward one as neither side is monolithic in its approach to abortions.

Not only do different European nations have significantly differing laws on abortion, but an increasing number of American states, even with Roe v. Wade, are introducing stricter rules.

Across Europe, the picture is far from uniform. Some countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden offer broad grounds for abortion. Most U.K. nations permit abortion up to 24 weeks (and in some limited cases beyond that), although this is not extended to Northern Ireland.

In Sweden, women have the right to an abortion up to the 18th week of their pregnancy, regardless of the reason.

In the Netherlands, women can get the procedure up until the 24th week of pregnancy.

However, the continent is also home to some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. In Poland, for example, abortion is only allowed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or if the woman's life or health is in danger.

Andorra and Malta do not allow abortions at all. Abortion was illegal in San Marino until September 2021, when the country overwhelmingly voted in favor of the procedure.

According to data provided by WHO's Global Abortion Policies Database, the majority of European countries permit abortions on request between 10-14 weeks of gestation. There are further restrictions to access, however, which vary from country to country, such as compulsory counseling and forced waiting periods.

On his HBO talk show, Real Time, Bill Maher claimed France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland had stricter practices. Newsweek has contacted Maher for comment.

Those listed countries permit abortion between 12-14 weeks, depending on the nation. Most states in the U.S. permit abortion beyond 12-14 weeks (some with no limit), but not all do.

In September 2021, Texas introduced a new abortion restriction, Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks, after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The law allows citizens to sue women that go through with the procedure and those who aid in getting an abortion.

Idaho has attempted to follow with a similar fetal heartbeat ban but was blocked by the state Supreme Court in April 2022.

Pro-abortion protestor Washington
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 07: An anti-abortion protester walks past as abortion-rights activists participate in a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Less than a week since the leaked draft of the Court's potential decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, protesters on both sides of the abortion debate, some of whom have traveled from around the country, continue to demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court Building which has been fortified by a temporary fence. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Furthermore, a number of states are set for stricter laws over the coming months.

For example, Florida currently permits abortions up to 24 weeks, but from July abortions will be banned beyond 15 weeks, unless it is necessary to save a mother's life, prevent serious injury, or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

These new restrictions are coming in place even before any changes stemming from Roe v. Wade potentially being overturned. A draft opinion leaked to Politico suggests the Supreme Court will overturn the landmark ruling, which grants a pregnant woman the right to an abortion without excessive restrictions from government.

Should the Supreme Court officially overturn the ruling, abortion will immediately become illegal in 13 states: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Other states, even those that do not have these types of "trigger bans," would likely outlaw the procedure if Roe v. Wade is overturned, including West Virginia and Alabama. The Guttmacher Institute (an abortion rights-focused research organization) claims Florida, Indiana, Montana, and Nebraska are also likely to ban abortion if it's overturned.

Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, and South Carolina have six-week limits, while Michigan and Wisconsin have bans that predate 1973, although it remains to be seen what actions their state legislature might take if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Despite multiple surveys which suggest that the majority of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, the leaked Supreme Court draft indicates the Supreme Court is minded to do so, with a majority made up of Republican-appointed judges supporting the proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), recently said a national abortion ban could also be "possible" if SCOTUS overturns the ruling.

So while, as of May 2022, most Americans do indeed have the right to looser term limits on abortion than many nations in Europe, not all American citizens have the same type of access, and fewer exemptions may be available to them than to many Europeans.

The Ruling

Fact Check - Half True

Half True.

While some European nations have far more restrictive abortion laws, or even outright bans, broad comparisons between the United States and Europe can be misleading. Texas currently enforces the most restrictive ban in the U.S. and other states are following its lead. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, as many think it will be, multiple states will introduce bans immediately. Even if it isn't overturned, some states are set to introduce new restrictions.

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