Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unsurprisingly weighed in on the abortion case that is on everyone’s mind and displayed her usual tenuous grasp of the truth. “Ireland, Italy, Mexico has had legislative initiatives to expand a woman’s right to choose — very Catholic countries,” she stated. Hers is, sadly, a narrative that seems common on both sides of the Atlantic.
Recently a Swedish colleague told me abortion is a major topic in Sweden right now. He wasn’t talking about abortion laws in Sweden — that isn’t on the agenda of any major political party right now. Swedes are frequently discussing abortion laws in the United States in light of the much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this month.
Most of these conversations contain a touch of perplexity, as the Swedes take for granted that the United States already has particularly draconian abortion laws. “How could this be,” the narrative goes, “since it is already practically impossible for a woman to get an abortion in America?” My unusually informed colleague explained his own perplexity, as abortion is legal until 18 weeks in Sweden. But, surprising to him, in many parts of the United States abortion law is actually allowed much later than that.
I must admit my own ignorance of this fact represented a mirror image of the Scandinavians’. I assumed full-term, perhaps even partial-birth, abortions were completely legal in the Nordic welfare state. My ignorance might be partially forgiven since the European Union Parliament voted 364-154 (with 37 abstentions) in favor of condemning the expected U.S. court decision. Never mind that the parliament has no competence to consider abortion laws, let alone any legal developments in the United States.
U.S. Abortion Laws Will Remain Radical
Upon further research, I felt comfortable asserting what I had suspected, and what so many Europeans seem not to realize: no matter how the justices rule in this case, the United States will continue to have looser abortion laws than virtually all of Europe. Thus, even if the worst fears of the pro-abortion lobby are realized, American abortion laws will remain radical within the Western world.
What does it say, then, that the possibility of such an outcome warrants, in some quarters, threats against justices and harassment (if not worse) of their children at school? Or the resignation of many Americans that we will witness widespread unrest, if not outright violence, this summer? I submit that it proves this uproar is primarily about ideology, not choice, or health, or any of the other political rhetoric frequently associated with that side of this issue.
If this were simply an argument over a woman’s basic rights, as the argument goes, one might think the European landscape would be satisfactory to the aggrieved parties. Notoriously laissez-faire Netherlands is the most permissive on the continent, with abortions allowed until 24 weeks. France’s limit is 14 weeks. Sweden’s fellow Scandinavian countries Denmark, Finland, and Norway allow abortions until 12 weeks, as does Germany.
Even Hungary, which spends 6 percent of GDP on family policies and has enshrined the right to life from the moment of conception in its constitution, allows abortion until 12 weeks. By contrast, perennial red state Alaska, for example, is one of seven states that has no term limits on the practice, and one of eight that allows it in the third trimester or beyond.
Self-professed leftist Bill Maher even opined on the topic this spring. “If you are pro-choice,” he stated on his show “Real Time,” “you would like it a lot less in Germany and Italy and France and Spain and Switzerland. Did you know that? I didn’t know that.”
Not Creating a Financial Barrier
Inevitably the pro-abortion argument reverts at this point to access to the practice for low-income women, as 13 states are set to ban it if the Supreme Court decision rules accordingly. This is disingenuous. Contrary to popular belief, abortions are usually not free or even low-cost at facilities like Planned Parenthood.
According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, the average cost of an abortion at 10 weeks of pregnancy was more than $500 in 2014. Depending on the length of gestation, location of the facility, and insurance factors, the cost can easily surpass $1,000.
In 2015, virtually all of the 157,000 abortions covered by Medicaid were conducted in states that contribute funds specifically for the practice (in other words, states that are already pro-abortion). A bus ticket from, say, New Orleans (Louisiana would be the only state to be surrounded by other states in which abortion is illegal if the 13 state laws come into effect) to Mobile or Pensacola is a comparatively unrealistic barrier to “access.”
Thus, not all that much is likely to change in wake of the Dobbs case, as abortions were already especially expensive for low-income women in the states in question, and a woman pregnant at 40 weeks will still be able to cross into states like New Jersey or Oregon for what amounts to medieval butchery.
This all offers the next piece of evidence that this was never about women, or health, or rights. It has always been about the exercise of power and the quest to destroy all that is sacred, including the home, the family, and life itself.
To my friends in Sweden and other parts of Europe — sadly, you are wrong about the state of abortion in America. To my fellow pro-lifers — we have a lot of work ahead of us, no matter how the court rules.
Abortion is alive and well in America and will remain that way for the foreseeable future; and our opponents consider even the harassment of schoolchildren fair game in this moral conflict. This is the civil rights issue of our century. Let us not mistake a victorious battle (assuming it happens) for triumph in that war.
Michael O’Shea is a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute. He is part of the Budapest Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Hungary Foundation and the Mathias Corvinus Collegium.