No evidence to support abortion landslide claims
X case legislation warnings about liberal European abortion trends are not backed up by data
Warnings that any attempt by the Oireachtas to place the Supreme Court decision in the X case on a statutory basis will open a landslide towards widespread abortion are without substantial evidence.
Such warnings are ever more frequent in the mass media. The evidence for these perspectives is far from clear. In the case of the 27 member states of the EU, it is certainly unclear as to whether a large proportion of them have moved to an ever more liberal abortion regime.
The legal termination of pregnancy in Europe has three broad historical frameworks. In the first group are those countries that legalised abortion in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly as a consequence of a strong women’s movement supported by lawyers and health professionals.
Countries in north and western Europe such as France, Sweden, Britain, Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece, Germany and Italy fall into this category. In the case of France, Simone Weil, a former teenage survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, as a minister legalised abortion in France in 1975 and went on to become the first elected president of the European Parliament. These countries were joined in the 1980s by the largely Catholic countries of Portugal and Spain, where the struggle for reproductive choice had encountered considerable opposition and in the case of Spain continues to do so. Abortion in these countries is generally permitted, not on demand but for a wide range of situations and conditions encountered by pregnant women and girls to 12 weeks’ gestation. Ireland and Malta remain the two EU countries where abortion is effectively illegal.
More interesting is the third group of 11 countries from central and eastern Europe and the Baltic region which joined the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Abortion had been legalised in almost all 11 countries between 1950 and 1957: Lithuania in 1955, Latvia in 1936 and more completely in 1955, Bulgaria in 1956, Czech Republic and Slovakia (as Czechoslovakia) in a limited way in 1950 and with a wider law in 1956, Hungary in 1953 on very limited grounds which were widened in 1956, Estonia in 1955, Romania in 1957, Poland in 1956, Finland in 1950 and Slovenia ( former Yugoslavia) in 1977.
In many of these countries abortion was a substitute for the absence of modern contraception. As a consequence, many women were obliged to have three or four abortions to control their fertility.
The opening up of the countries to west European ideas, mass media, individualism, markets and medicine prompted extensive debate about reproductive rights.