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The Family Foundation, a socially conservative Virginia group, recently applauded the U.S. House’s passage of a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
"The United States is one of only seven nations that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization..." the organization said in a May 14 Facebook post.
We wondered whether the global characterization was correct.
The U.S. standard for abortion rights was handed down by the Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The court ruled that a woman is entitled to have an elective abortion -- terminate a pregnancy for any reason -- until the point when a fetus can viably survive outside a uterus. Justices cited medical research showing that viability point can begin as early as 24 weeks into the gestation period, which begins on the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period.
So women in the United States can get an abortion for any reason until at least 24 weeks of gestation. After 24 weeks, states may set up their own abortion rules and most, including Virginia, generally restrict the procedure at some point to mothers whose health is endangered by pregnancy.
The Family Foundation pointed us to a report on global abortion laws published in February 2014 by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization dedicated to ending abortion. It concluded that only seven of 198 nations and territories allow elective abortions after 20 weeks: Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.
We came up with the same seven countries after sifting through 2014 data published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a worldwide pro-abortion group.
Some might argue there’s an eighth nation, Australia, but this should come with a qualification. Although Australia has no federal abortion law, it allows each of its states and territories to set its own guidelines. Some of those regions have tight restrictions but one -- Victoria, on the populous southeastern coast --allows an elective abortion until the 24th week of pregnancy.
Although the Lozier Institute and the Center for Reproductive Rights are at cross purposes, they agree on other broad characterizations of global abortion laws. The institute says 59 nations allow abortion without restriction at some point in pregnancy and 139 require some reason for the procedure, such as saving the life or health of the mother. The center says 61 countries allow early abortions without restriction, 109 require a reason for it and 29 ban the procedure.
The two organizations disagree mightily, however, on how the data should be interpreted.
The Lozier Institute, in its report, said the figures show the U.S. is outside "the international mainstream" on abortion and has "ultra-permissive abortion policies."
But Katherine Mayall, global advocacy adviser for the center, told us the data is an "imperfect way to think about abortion laws. What’s important is access to clinics. In Europe, you don’t see the efforts to limit access to clinics you see in the United States."
We should note that House bill banning most abortions after the 20th week is expected to be blocked by Senate Democrats and, even if it does pass in the chamber, faces a promised veto from President Barack Obama.
And one final note: In 2013, PolitiFact National gave a Half True rating to a statement by Carly Fiorina, now a GOP presidential candidate, that the U.S. was among "four nations that legalize abortion after five months." PolitiFact Texas gave the same rating that year to an almost identical claim made by Anita Perry, the wife of then Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Both statements were downgraded because many countries allow abortions after 20 weeks for special circumstances, such as if the mother’s life is endangered.
The Family Foundation’s statement is different from Fiorina’s and Perry’s because the organization specified it was referring to elective abortions after 20 weeks.
The Family Foundation says, "The United States is one of only seven nations that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization."
Separate research by pro- and anti-abortion rights groups back up claim. We won’t quibble over whether Australia should be added to the group of seven.
We find the statement True.
The Family Foundation, Facebook post, May 14, 2015.
Email from Chris Freund, vice president of government relations and communications for The Family Foundation, May 19, 2015.
Charlotte Lozier Institute, "Gestational Limits on Abortion in the United States Compared to International Norms," Feb. 1, 2014.
Center for Reproductive Rights, "The World’s Abortion Laws Map 2013 Update," June 2013.
PolitiFact Texas, "Six countries allow abortion after 20 weeks of gestation and many permit them under certain circumstances," Oct. 4, 2013.
PolitiFact National, "Only four countries 'legalize abortion after 5 months,' Carly Fiorina says," Aug. 22, 2013
The New York Times, "House approves revived measure banning most abortions after 20 weeks," May 13, 2015.
The Washington Post, "20-week abortion ban wins approval," May 14, 2015.
Canada.com, "Abortion in Canada: breaking down the law, policies and practices," Feb. 14, 2013.
FactCheck.org, "Does a fetus feel pain at 20 weeks?" May 18, 2015.
Congress.gov, H.R.36, assessed May 21, 2015.
Guttmacher Institute, "State Policies in Brief, An Overview of Abortion Laws," May 1, 2015.
Children by Choice, "Australian abortion law and practice," assessed May 21, 2015.
Interview with Katherine Mayall, global policy adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights, May 21, 2015.
Interview with Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, May 21, 2015.
Emails with Mallory Quigley, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, May 21, 2015.
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