This article was last modified on January 24, 2009.

Abortion as a Measure of Progress?

Abortion rights (and therefore abortion legalization) are often associated with “progressives” and “liberals”. I wondered — if we made a list of the countries and states that legalized abortion, and the years they did so, would we be able to generalize which countries were most and least liberal overall? (For example, we would generally say the Scandinavian countries are more liberal, the United States moderate, and much of the Middle East conservative or oppressive. Does this list reflect that?)

I will not make any speculations or conclusions at this time, I merely offer the list…

(If anyone can point me to more precise dates, I’d appreciate it.)

  • November 8, 1920 –- Lenin legalized all abortions in the Soviet Union. (Stalin appeals this in 1936, to increase population growth.)
  • August 13, 1931 –- Mexico is the first country in the world to legalize abortion in case of rape. All other reasons remained illegal.
  • July 11, 1932 -– Poland as first country in Europe outside Soviet Union legalized abortion in cases of rape and threat to maternal health.
  • January 28, 1935 –- Iceland became the first Western country to legalize therapeutic abortion under limited circumstances.
  • 1935 –- Nazi Germany amended its eugenics law, to promote abortion for women who have hereditary disorders. The law allowed abortion if a woman gave her permission, and if the fetus was not yet viable, and for purposes of so-called racial hygiene.
  • 1938 –- In Britain, Dr. Aleck Bourne aborted the pregnancy of a young girl who had been raped by soldiers. Bourne was acquitted after turning himself into authorities. The legal precedent of allowing abortion in order to avoid mental or physical damage was picked up by the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • 1938 –- Abortion legalized on a limited basis in Sweden.
  • 1948 –- The Eugenic Protection Act in Japan expanded the circumstances in which abortion is allowed.
  • 1955 — Stalin’s abortion ban repealed, abortion is once more legal in Soviet Union.
  • 1959 –- The American Law Institute drafts a model state abortion law to make legal abortions accessible.
  • 1961 -– California state legislature introduces an abortion reform law based on the American Law Institute model.
  • 1966 –- Mississippi reformed its abortion law and became the first U.S. state to allow abortion in cases of rape.
  • 1967 –- The Abortion Act (effective 1968) legalized abortion in the United Kingdom (except in Northern Ireland). In the U.S., Colorado, California, and North Carolina reformed their abortion laws based on the 1962 ALI Model Penal Code (MPC).
  • 1967–1970 –- Colorado becomes first state to loosen its abortion laws followed by Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, and Virginia.
  • 1968 –- President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on The Status of Women releases a report calling for a repeal of all abortion laws.
  • 1969 –- Canada passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, which began to allow abortion for selective reasons.
  • 1969 –- The ruling in the Victorian case of R v Davidson defined for the first time which abortions are lawful in Australia.
  • 1970–1970 –- Hawaii, New York, Alaska, Washington and Florida repealed their abortion laws and allowed abortion on demand; South Carolina and Virginia reformed their abortion laws based on the Model Penal Code.
  • 1971 –- The Indian Parliament under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, passes Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (more commonly referred to as simply MTP Act 1971). India thus becomes one of the earliest nations to pass this Act. The Act gains importance, considering India had traditionally been a very conservative country in these matters. Most notably there was no similar Act in several US states around the same time.
  • 1973 –- The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, declared all the individual state bans on abortion during the first trimester to be unconstitutional, allowed states to regulate but not proscribe abortion during the second trimester, and allowed states to proscribe abortion during the third trimester unless abortion is in the best interest of the woman’s physical or mental health. The Court legalized abortion in all trimesters when a woman’s doctor believes the abortion is necessary for her physical or mental health.
  • 1975 -– France legalizes abortion in limited circumstances.
  • 1976 — West Germany legalizes abortion in limited circumstances.
  • 1977 — New Zealand legalizes abortion in limited circumstances.
  • 1978 — Italy legalizes abortion in limited circumstances.
  • 1979 –- The People’s Republic of China enacted a one-child policy, leaving some women to either undergo an abortion or violate the policy and face economic penalties in some circumstances.
  • 1980 — The Netherlands legalizes abortion in limited circumstances.
  • 1988 –- France legalized the “abortion pill” mifepristone (RU-486). In R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down regulations of abortion for violating a woman’s constitutional “security of person”; Canadian law has not regulated abortion ever since.
  • 1996 –- Republic of South Africa the ‘Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996’ comes into effect (Repealing the ‘Abortion and Sterilization Act 2 of 1975’ which only allowed abortions in certain circumstances) lawfully permitting abortions by choice. Act is often challenged in Court.
  • 1998 –- Republic of South Africa the abortion question is finally answered when the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court of South Africa in Christian Lawyers Association and Others v Minister of Health and Others held that abortions are legal in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
  • 2000 -– Mifepristone (RU-486) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a Nebraska state law that banned intact dilation and extraction.
  • 2007 –- The Parliament of Portugal voted to legalize abortion during the first ten weeks of pregnancy. This followed a referendum that, while revealing that a majority of Portuguese voters favored legalization of early-stage abortions, failed due to low voter turnout. Although, at the 2nd referendum, the vote for the legalization won. President Cavaco Silva signed the measure and it went on effect.
  • 2007 –- The government of Mexico City legalizes abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and offers free abortions. On August 28, 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court upholds the law.
  • 2008 –- The Australian state of Victoria passes a bill which decriminalizes abortion, making it legally accessible to women in the first 24 weeks of the pregnancy.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical, Political
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

One Response to “Abortion as a Measure of Progress?”

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