Democrats Abroad Mobilize to Protect Abortion Rights as U.S. Falls Further Behind Most European Nations

Democrats Abroad Mobilize to Protect Abortion Rights as U.S. Falls Further Behind Most European Nations
A November 2012 rally in Dublin, Ireland, in defense of abortion rights. (William Murphy / Flickr)

The overseas voter mobilization group Democrats Abroad and NARAL Pro-Choice America are organizing to inform American Democrats living abroad about the alarming state of abortion rights in the U.S. and what they can do stop anti-abortion laws and increase abortion access for people living stateside.

“Democrats Abroad and NARAL decided to work together because there was a feeling on both sides that the examples of what’s going on in Europe would be helpful,” said Salli Anne Swartz, co-chair of the Global Women’s Caucus of Democrats Abroad, at a panel discussion in late June—Defend Pro-Choice America—for Americans living abroad.

Europeans have significantly broader access to legal abortion than Americans, says Swartz: 41 out of 48 nations in Europe have legalized abortion on request or for broad social grounds. Except for Poland, all the European nations that ban or heavily restrict abortion are tiny countries near countries where abortion is legal, such as San Marino and Monaco.

“In continental Europe, what we call abortion on request is basically if a woman is in distress and wants to have an abortion, she will most likely be able to get an abortion,” said Swartz. “And access, of course, is very important. A lot of these countries have what Americans stupidly would call a ‘socialist’ medical system—meaning they have a medical system that works for the citizens and inhabitants of a state, which everyone contributes to, as opposed to a private medical system.”

Limited Abortion Access in the United States

While abortion is legal and accessible in most of Europe, many U.S. states heavily restrict abortion access, explained Jael Humphrey, counsel and associate director of state legislative affairs at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Anti-choice lawmakers have enacted a web of restrictions trying to make abortion care difficult if not impossible to access,” said Humphrey. “Each restriction amplifies the harm, working to increase patients’ logistical, financial, and legal barriers to care.”

In the first six months of 2021, U.S. states enacted a record-breaking 90 abortion restrictions. States passed a range of abortion bans, including near-total abortion bans, six-week abortion bans, reason-based bans and “trigger” bans that come into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. States also enacted targeted regulation of abortion providers, known as TRAP laws, and restricted medication abortion, in some cases banning telehealth for abortion.

“In Europe, in most countries, it’s pretty easy to get the abortion pill. You can usually get it in pharmacies,” said Swartz. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits pharmacies from stocking abortion pills, instead requiring physicians to distribute abortion pills directly to their patients (though restrictions are currently under review).

“Although Roe still stands, the reality is that its promises have long gone unfulfilled for many in the United States,” said Humphrey. “Because of restrictions on abortion care and insurance coverage, many people are unable to access the abortion care they need. These burdens disproportionately fall on those already facing the most significant barriers to accessing care due to systemic racism and structural inequities.”

A Dark Future for Abortion Rights

While abortion is currently legal in all 50 states, 24 states are positioned to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in the currently-pending Supreme Court case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, says Humphrey.

Three states—Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma—have total bans, eight states have six-week bans, one has an eight-week ban and one a 12-week ban. These bans, currently blocked by courts, would go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Twelve states have “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe fell and nine states have pre-Roe bans that would likely go into effect if Roe fell, says Humphrey. Most countries in Europe allow abortion through the second trimester, with broad exceptions later in pregnancy for physical or psychological reasons, says Swartz.

“It is very alarming that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to review an unquestionably unconstitutional abortion ban,” said Christina Krysinski, counsel and senior manager of policy at NARAL Pro-Choice America. “There is no path for the Supreme Court to uphold Mississippi’s abortion ban without overturning the core holding of Roe v. Wade.”

Democrats Abroad Mobilize to Protect Abortion Rights as U.S. Falls Further Behind Most European Nations
A rally against abortion bans in Seattle in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involving a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will consider the question as to whether all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional. The case is a direct challenge to the court’s precedents in Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood ruling states cannot ban abortion before viability. This is the first time the court will rule on the constitutionality of a pre-viability abortion ban since Roe.

“Weakening or overturning Roe poses a threat to our fundamental freedom to make personal decisions about our lives and our futures,” said Krysinski. “Roe v. Wade and access to abortion care are certainly on the line, despite the fact that support for abortion rights is at a record high in the United States. Americans overwhelmingly support reproductive freedom and 77 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade and the legal right to abortion.”

Take Action

Democrats Abroad encourage participants to contact their members of Congress to support the recently-introduced Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would guarantee the right to access abortion and protect the right of abortion providers to deliver these services free from medically unnecessary restrictions. 

“Every day without congressional action means that more and more people are being denied access to abortion, and the ability to make decisions for themselves and their families free from political interference,” said Krysinski. “Passing the Women’s Health Protection Act is a critical step towards creating a world where everybody, whoever they are, or wherever they live, is free to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their lives.”

Krysinski encouraged Americans abroad to contact their members of Congress and ask them to support WHPA.

“It is absolutely critical that Congress pass the Women’s Health Protection Act before Roe falls, or abortion rights and access are further undermined in the United States,” said Krysinski.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Chair of American Studies and a professor in the program for the study of women and gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the U.S. Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race, and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com.