Contemporary Ethical And Legal Aspects B Legal And Regulatory Issues

Most contemporary legal systems regulate the practice of induced abortion. Governments around the world regulate whether, when, why, and how the estimated 46 million annual abortions occur. In some countries, abortion is governed primarily by national laws; in others, abortion is governed mainly by state or regional laws. Belief that abortion is unsafe, irreligious, immoral, unjust, or genocidal has tended to push regulation in the direction of laws that expressly prohibit some or all abortions. Convictions that abortion can alleviate overpopulation, avert economic hardship, protect women's health, promote sex equality, or eliminate undesirable progeny have tended to produce laws that permit, guarantee, or even compel abortion. More than 75 percent of the world's population live in countries in which abortion is legal, even when the life of pregnant woman is not at stake (Center for Reproductive Law and Policy).

An international survey of existing law reveals four basic patterns or models of express abortion regulation:

1. a model of prohibition;

2. a model of permission;

3. a model of prescription; and

4. a model of privacy.

Under the model of prohibition, the laws of a jurisdiction punish most or all abortions as criminal offenses, as in Ireland, Nigeria, Brazil, and Indonesia. In these countries, abortions are banned other than to save the life of the mother. Under the model of permission, laws permit abortions that meet criteria and conditions established by government, as in Sweden, Germany, England, India, and Zambia. For example, in Sweden abortions are readily available, subject to the approval of a National Health Board. In Germany, women face counseling and waiting period requirements for otherwise permitted early abortions. In the United Kingdom excluding Ireland, abortion for health and disability reasons is lawful up to 24 weeks, but a woman must obtain the approval of two physicians. Under the model of prescription, laws specifically require or encourage the termination of pregnancies falling into certain specific categories, as in The People's Republic of China. Finally, under the model of privacy, laws restrain government from enactments that criminalize or severely restrict access to medically safe abortions, as in the United States and Canada. The model of privacy treats abortion decisions as substantially a matter of private choice rather than public law. In some countries using models of permission, prescription, and privacy, including the United States, China, France, the Russian Federation, and South Africa, women are not required by law to provide officials or physicians with a state-approved reason for routine legal abortions (Center for Reproductive Law and Policy). In Russia, whose per capita abortion rate was second in the world after Romania's in 2002, 60 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion.

Abortion law is subject to change from one era to the next. Countries under the sway of the model of prohibition in one generation have moved toward the models of permission or privacy in subsequent generations. For example, when the Supreme Court of the United States declared in Roe v. Wade (1973) that the nation's constitution bars statutes categorically criminalizing all abortions, it announced a national standard for state and federal law that ushered out the model of prohibition and ushered in the model of privacy. Abortion law can also change from liberal to restrictive and back again, in response to political developments and judicial interpretations of constitutional principle. Thus, Poland adopted more restrictive abortion laws after democratic elections in 1989; greatly liberalized its law in 1996; and then, in response to an adverse constitutional court ruling overturning the permissive 1996 law, quickly revised its law in 1997. Under a 1997 act of Parliament, Poland permits abortion to protect the pregnant woman's life or health, or to terminate pregnancies resulting from criminal acts or in cases of fetal abnormality.

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