This week I had an “On Faith” article in the Washington Post which explored the implications of the dramatic defeat of Texas’ proposed abortion legislation last week, and its likely passage in a new special session this month. The legislation, in addition to requiring abortion providers to have appropriate access to hospital facilities should something go wrong (we’ve seen the horrific results for women when this is not the case), bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation. A similar ban was passed in the House, and last night the Weekly Standard reported that Mark Rubio will introduce a bill in the Senate that will also ban abortion after 20 weeks–with exceptions for rape and life of the mother.
If some thought that the Texas bill “turned back the clock” on women’s rights, then it will be quite the spectacle when Rubio goes to the Senate floor to argue that this ban should apply for the whole nation. Some believe (and I am one of them) that the bill has little chance in the Senate precisely because too many people will think of it as “extreme.” But is it?
Here are the gestational ages at which some European countries ban abortion (with exceptions similar to those in the House bill):
Belgium: 12 weeks
Denmark: 12 weeks
France: 12 weeks
Germany: 12 weeks
Greece: 12 weeks
Italy: 12 weeks
Holland: 13 weeks
Portugal: 16 weeks
Sweden: 18 weeks
Ireland, one of the safest places in the world for pregnant women, is having a very different kind of conversation. It is apparently controversial in this very developed country to include risk of suicide as an example of the only exception which would exist under Irish law: the life of the mother.
Furthermore, the reaction against the 20 week ban is extreme even in the United States, at least when you consider broad public opinion. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal during weeks 13-24. And a whopping 80 percent believe it should be illegal after 24.
The move to ban abortion after 20 weeks (with rape and life exceptions) is hardly radical or even “religiously” motivated. (Especially given the public policies of post-Christian Europe.) That it has been painted this way–and will continue to be in most media outlets–is evidence, not of the ban’s extremism, but rather of the extremism which dominates American public discourse over abortion.