Abortion rights hotspots in 2021 as Argentina grants approval

by Christine Murray | @chrissiemurray | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 January 2021 17:00 GMT

Demonstrators in favour of legalizing abortion react after the senate passed an abortion bill, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

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Argentina became the first major Latin American country to legalize abortion. What other nations are in the spotlight for change in 2021?

By Christine Murray

Jan 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Argentina became the first major country in Latin America to legalize abortion on Wednesday, allowing the procedure through the 14th week of pregnancy and bucking the traditionally strong influence of the Catholic Church in the region. [nL1N2JA0D9]

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted abortions around the world, with lockdowns complicating access in some places, while other countries made it easier to get at-home medical abortions.

But despite stay-at-home orders, the world's legislatures, courts and politicians have continued to make key decisions to expand or roll back rights.

In October, 33 countries including the United States, Egypt and Brazil, signed a declaration that critics say was aimed at restricting access to abortion.

Previously in Argentina women were only allowed to abort in cases of rape or serious risk to the mother.

Here are some of the hotspots for abortion rights in 2021:

1. Poland

A court ruling last October in staunchly-Catholic Poland banned abortions in most circumstances and led to huge protests. Calls to an abortion support hotline in the country have increased more than five-fold since the ruling.

The  verdict restricting access to abortion went into effect in January, three months after it sparked nationwide protests.

Under the ruling, abortions are now only permitted in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother's life or health is endangered, pushing Poland further from the European mainstream.


A woman shouts slogans as she takes part in an abortion rights campaigners' demonstration "Black Protest" in front of the Parliament in Warsaw, Poland October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

2. South Korea

A 2019 constitutional court ruling struck down a decades-long ban on abortion. That forced the government to propose new legislation in October that would allow abortion up to 14 weeks  and in some cases up to 24 weeks.

The proposal has yet to be voted on and implemented.

3. United States

Outgoing President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett - a devout Catholic favored by conservatives - was confirmed in October. Rights advocates worry her appointment could tip the bench towards overturning a landmark 1973 ruling that said women had a right to abortion.

A case involving access to medical abortion drugs is currently before the court.

4. Slovakia

Last October, the country's parliament narrowly rejected a bill that would have made it harder to get an abortion. But at least one lawmaker reportedly said she will try again in six months.



Pro-Choice activists dress up as characters from the Handmaid's Tale in a City centre demonstration ahead of a May 25 referendum on abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

5. Thailand

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled in February that existing laws criminalizing abortion were unconstitutional. Thai lawmakers in January voted in favour of allowing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy while retaining penalties for later terminations, a move that pro-choice activists said fell short of protecting the rights of the mother.

Under the amendment, an abortion after 12 weeks would be allowed only in certain conditions and would otherwise be punishable by up to six months in prison, or a fine of up to 10,000 baht ($334) or both.

6. Mexico

Legalization proposals have been presented in several state Congress including in Michoacan and Chiapas, with rights activists hoping they will follow Mexico City and Oaxaca which allow abortion up to 12 weeks.

Amnesty requests under a new law for women imprisoned for abortion have not yet been granted. Large protests over abortion and other women's rights issues are expected to continue.

Members of a feminist collective clash with police officers during a protest to mark the International Safe Abortion Day in Mexico City, Mexico September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

7. Philippines

In the Philippines - where abortion is illegal and carries a jail term of up to six years - women's rights groups have drafted a bill to decriminalize abortion, and are looking for a lawmaker to sponsor it.

Past decriminalization efforts have been opposed by the powerful Catholic church.

8. El Salvador

The Central American country, which has a strict outright ban on abortion - even in cases of rape - will likely continue to face pressure from international organizations.

In 2020, a United Nations expert group said three women put in prison under the law were detained unfairly. More than a dozen women have been jailed for abortion-related crimes.

Related stories:

FACTBOX - Abortion rights in Europe

Abortion in a lockdown: India says 'yes' but women wonder how

OPINION: Young people key to safe and legal abortion in Bangladesh


(Reporting by Christine Murray; Additional reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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