The following is a guest post by Clare Feikert-Ahalt, a senior foreign law specialist at the Law Library of Congress covering the United Kingdom and several other jurisdictions. Clare has written numerous posts for In Custodia Legis, including Revealing the Presence of Ghosts; Weird Laws, or Urban Legends?; FALQs: Brexit Referendum; and 100 Years of “Poppy Day” in the United Kingdom.
The Law Library has published a report on the development of laws on abortion, genetic consultation, and assisted reproduction online. The report covers the laws in this area from 1945 to the current day for eleven countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
All of the countries surveyed in the report permit abortions. The dates that the countries legalized abortion vary significantly: Romania and Bulgaria were the first two countries to legalize abortion in 1936, while Spain was the last to legalize it in 1985. The time limits for and circumstances under which abortions are allowed vary from country to country. In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Germany, abortions may be performed up to 12 weeks without reference to a medical reason. In Portugal, this threshold is 10 weeks but there are other thresholds for different circumstances, for example for fetal malformation the threshold is 24 weeks, and, if the pregnancy was a result of rape, the threshold is 12 weeks. In Poland, Spain, and France the threshold is 14 weeks without a medical reason. France permits abortions after this date if two doctors confirm that carrying the fetus to term would seriously endanger the health of the woman, or that there is a strong probability the child would be born with a serious, untreatable health condition.
In Bulgaria, an abortion may be performed between 12 to 20 weeks to save the woman’s life or physical health, or if there is an impairment of the fetus. Abortions after 20 weeks are only permitted to save the life of the woman or in cases of fetal impairment. The Czech Republic permits lawful abortions beyond 12 weeks if the life or health of the woman is in danger or if the fetus has any genetic abnormalities. The Netherlands permits abortions up to 24 weeks when there is an emergency situation that makes it unavoidable. Poland permits abortions where the life or health of the woman is at risk, the fetus is seriously damaged, or the pregnancy is the result of a crime.
Unlike abortion, not all of the countries surveyed have enacted legislation that regulates genetic consultations and assisted reproduction. Of the countries that do have such legislation, the United Kingdom was the first to enact legislation on assisted reproduction in 1990 and Poland was the last country to date to enact legislation on this subject in 2015. France introduced legislation to regulate genetic consultations in 1994, and Portugal did so in 2005. Germany and the Netherlands did not introduce new legislation to address these issues, but instead amended, or interpreted, their existing legislative framework. Italy and Romania have yet to introduce legislation to regulate genetic consultations.
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