<em>Washington Post</em> Misleads on Abortion Laws around the World

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Pro-life and Pro-Choice demonstrators stand in front of the Supreme Court during a pro-life rally in Washington, D.C., January 22, 2004. (William Philpott/Reuters)

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published a feature piece comparing abortion laws in the U.S. to those around the world, arguing that “many states have moved to restrict access as global abortion laws become more liberal.”

But the authors (two graphics reporters, one intern, and one staff writer, for what it’s worth) ignore key context and misstate several facts that undermine the argument they’d like to make — which is, of course, that pro-lifers are trying to move the U.S. backwards while countries around the world make “progress.” (Never mind the question-begging involved in the article’s assumption that unlimited abortion is a desirable form of societal advancement.)

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First and most important, the article misrepresents the status quo on abortion in the U.S. The authors do not divulge that, because of Roe v. Wade and subsequent rulings, most state efforts to regulate abortion are struck down before they can ever take effect. This reality severely neuters the article’s claim that “in some parts of the United States . . . it’s gotten harder” to obtain an abortion. Thanks to Roe, this really isn’t the case.

Meanwhile, the article states that, in the U.S., “abortions after fetal viability are rare, even if they are not outlawed.” In reality, the best estimates suggest that there are about 12,000 post-viability abortions in the U.S. each year, which amounts to more than the annual number of gun homicides. This might be “rare” compared to the 900,000 or so total abortions in the U.S. each year, but it’s hardly rare in any serious sense.

Finally, the article’s argument rests on the claim that a number of countries recently have made it easier to obtain an abortion legally. This is undoubtedly true, but not in the way the Post suggests.

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“Just this month, Mexico’s supreme court ruled to decriminalize the practice. Argentina’s Senate legalized abortion in December. Meanwhile, New ZealandThailand and Ireland have all taken steps to ease abortion restrictions in recent years,” the authors write.

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But if you read the articles linked in each case, you find that not a single one of those countries has legalized abortion past 20 weeks’ gestation, and most curb it far earlier.

Despite the court ruling in Mexico, there are plenty of states in  the country where abortion remains entirely illegal, and in the ones where it is permitted, it is only legal up to twelve weeks’ gestation. Both Thailand and Ireland legalized abortion for any reason only during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. In Argentina, the recently enacted bill allows abortion only during the first 14 weeks. And New Zealand moved to permit abortion only during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. All of these facts are easily discernible merely by following the links the Post includes in its story.

Rather than proving that the U.S. is restricting abortion while a series of countries liberalize their abortion laws, the Post has exposed the ignorance and laziness of its reporters — as well as the unfortunate reality that the U.S. remains one of just a few countries, including China and North Korea, to permit abortion on demand after the unborn child can survive outside the womb. 

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