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I was wondering about the abortion issue in the US which is a hot topic. Poland just banned abortion and people are protesting against it in the capital. I was wondering about whether or not this opposition to abortion applies to the European right as well. I have noticed many parallels such as immigration and anti-mask views.

Does the European right at large oppose abortion?

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    Abortion regulation is not that much of a hot topic in the European politics in the first place. – fraxinus Nov 2 '20 at 7:48
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    In the Czech Republic, it's pretty much a non-isse. But we're one of the most atheist states anywhere and have pandemic to contend with a.t.m. And even without pandemic, we'd be more concerned with for example gun rights restrictions than with abortions. – mishan Nov 2 '20 at 8:28
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    Poland did not ban abortion. We got a declaration from Constitution Tribunal that current abortion law is against the Constitution. From this to actual law change there's a long way. Also, the Tribunal's declaration only specified that single case when abortion is allowed "it is allowed to abort a baby if there is a chance that it will be born damaged" in non-compliant, leaving the other points as they are (i.e. abortion when pregnancy is result of rape or when woman's life is in danger were not declared as non compliant with the Constitution). – Yksisarvinen Nov 2 '20 at 13:57
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    @IvanMcA What I meant is there is a contrast to US where prolife/prochoice is a profound electoral divide. The "European" in the question is implicitly limited to EU / NATO members and friends because one cannot easilly define a political right or left in e.g. Russia, even if there is something resembling an ongoing political debate over abortion there. The matter can be considered settled in almost all EU countries (ok, Poland). (Even if how exactly the matter is "settled" varies.) – fraxinus Nov 2 '20 at 15:34
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    If you're coming from US political background, "right wing parties" probably means something very different to you. Really, it's really hard to agree on anything useful to say about the so called political "right" or "left". But in general, abortion is not a partisan issue in Europe, which I guess is what you're really asking. There's religious political parties (mostly various Christian Liberals etc.) that usually try to ban abortion, but that's about it. – Luaan Nov 3 '20 at 8:17
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Not in general. For example the Conservative party in the UK made no mention of it in their last election Manifesto, implying that they support the status quo (abortion permitted with the approval of two doctors until fetal viability = 24 weeks, or up to birth in extreme cases) And Conservative members voted to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

The Conservative party's membership is less pro-choice than Labour or the Lib-Dems, but would not be considered a "Pro-life" party.

Similar things could be said about Angela Merkel's CDU (which has engaged on a reform of abortion law, that would generally leave the procedure legal). There are Pro-life parties, such as NI DUP. Also, conservative parties in generally Catholic countries tend to be pro-life, this is the case in Catholic Poland.

Many countries in Europe have no constitutional protection of abortion rights, and right-wing parties have been in power in many countries. They have been in a position in which they could ban abortion, and haven't.

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    Abortion is illegal in Germany (but not currently prosecuted) & abortion is mentioned in the program of the CDU, using the usual 'pro-life' language (unborn life - beginning at conception - must be protected; etc). – tim Nov 1 '20 at 19:57
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    The reform you mention is likely a small reform allowing doctors to publicize that they offer abortions, which the SPD pushed through against strong resistance from the CDU (which for their part insisted on funding studies into the alleged negative health consequences of abortions, another 'pro-life' talking point). At least for Germany, the CDU doesn't have the political power to prosecute doctors or patients for abortions (it would cost them too many votes, and the SPD wouldn't go for it). – tim Nov 1 '20 at 19:59
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    @tim: If I read §218a(2) StGB correctly, an abortion is not illegal in Germany if the physical or mental health of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy. – Schmuddi Nov 2 '20 at 0:06
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    @Schmuddi The most common exemption will probably be §218a(1) StGB, which excludes the termination of a pregnancy from the application of §218 StGB, if the pregnant woman presents proof of having been counseled at least three days before termination of the pregnancy, it is done by a doctor and no longer than 12 weeks after conception. - Thus abortion is not illegal per se in Germany, but it requires specific conditions to be legal, as these or the ones mentioned by you. – I'm with Monica Nov 2 '20 at 7:42
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    conservative parties in generally Catholic countries tend to be pro-life — This seems overgeneralised. Consider: Republic of Ireland, France, Spain? If you add a "some" before "generally" then it's accurate, but it needs a note that this isn't generally the case. – gerrit Nov 2 '20 at 9:23
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Does the European right at large oppose abortion?

If we interpret "opposition to abortion" as intent to either ban abortions, or restrict them to exceptional circumstances (e.g. rape, preserving the life of the mother), the answer to the question as phrased is: No, we cannot say that European right wing parties in general oppose abortion to such an extent. However, European parties that do oppose abortion tend to be right wing, and we can say that European right wing parties are generally in favor of tougher abortion regulations than their local left wing counterparts.

Just focusing on the 3 economic powerhouses:

Germany

Abortion in Germany is illegal under Section 218 of the German criminal code but simultaneously decriminalized under Section 218a of the German criminal code called Exception to liability for abortion, in the first trimester upon condition of mandatory counseling, and is also permitted later in pregnancy in cases of medical necessity. In both cases, a waiting period of three days is required. The counseling, called Schwangerschaftskonfliktberatung ("pregnancy-conflict counseling"), must take place at a state-approved centre, which afterwards gives the applicant a Beratungsschein ("certificate of counseling"). Wikipedia

Center right parties CDU/CSU (~40% votes) and FDP (~5% votes) do not intend to change this. Some elements of the far right AfD (5% votes) want to outlaw abortions altogether, but the party platform doesn't go quite this far: The AfD opposes all attempts to downplay abortions, government support for abortions, or to declare abortions as a human right. Center left SPD (~25% votes) wants to legalize rather than just decriminalize abortion.

UK

In Great Britain, abortion is generally allowed for socio-economic reasons during the first twenty-four weeks of the pregnancy (the highest such limit in the EU, together with the Netherlands), and beyond for medical reasons. Wikipedia

The manifestos of the right wing Conservative Party and the Brexit Party do not mention abortion, while those of left wing Labour, Greens, and center left Lib Dems mention explicit support.

France

Abortion in France is legal on demand up to 12 weeks after conception (14 weeks after the last menstrual period). Abortions at later stages of pregnancy are allowed if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable. The abortion law was liberalized by the Veil Law in 1975. Wikipedia

Neither the right wing Republicans nor the far right National Rally (formerly Front National) oppose this, but they opposed a recent attempt to extend the timeframe by 2 weeks.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JJJ Nov 3 '20 at 18:58
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I would say there is a huge degree of variation across different countries (and within those countries).

In the UK, abortion is a major political issue in Northern Ireland, but otherwise contested only by a relatively-minor-but-extant Christian Right. In Poland, it's a hot-button issue, but not so much in other countries. It really depends massively on the country and even the region within that country.

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As you've mentioned, Poland highly restricts abortion due to Christian majorities and a Christian-political view but also Malta, Andorra, San Marino which are the only European Countries that criminalize abortion.

Poland: The planned law had garnered support from both the Catholic Church and Poland's governing right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). It was submitted by the country's Stop Abortion coalition, and drafted by a hardline conservative Warsaw-based advocacy group and think tank called the Ordo Iuris Institute.

Countries which allow abortion on request in the EU are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

In a small number of European countries that allow abortion on request women may need to specify that they are in a state of distress about the pregnancy

  • In the European Union (EU) almost every country has legalized abortion on request or on broad social grounds. Poland and Malta are the only EU member states that maintain highly restrictive laws.

Do European right-wing parties oppose abortion: Yes

In reality, discrepancies and stipulations still occur. This is large because the EU's mandate is somewhat restricted—reproductive rights do not fall under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the legally binding document that protects the rights and freedoms of all European citizens. As opposed to the European Union rises with the spread of anti-immigrant, nationalist sentiment across the continent, that mandate looks to be restricted even further.

Every woman I spoke to over the course of Black Monday waved the same universal red flag—not just for Poles, but for all European women. "Right-wing governments and the repealing of reproductive rights is spreading in Europe like cancer," Palian warned me. "Check out what's happening in Croatia, check out what's happening in Hungary. This is not only us."

Attitudes towards reproductive rights seem to be in a state of flux across many European countries right now, including Hungary, Macedonia, Italy, and Slovakia.

https://reproductiverights.org/sites/default/files/documents/European%20abortion%20law%20a%20comparative%20review.pdf

https://www.vice.com/en/article/wje8k9/why-the-rise-of-the-european-right-spells-doom-for-reproductive-health(Do European right-wing parties oppose abortion)

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    "[...]Malta, Andorra, San Marino which are the only EU-States that criminalize abortion.". Andorra and San Marino are not part of the EU. – Some wandering yeti Nov 1 '20 at 18:58
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    And even though (somewhat sadly) Finland isn't on that list, since at least "economic or social reasons" are required to get an abortion, in practice that includes almost any scenario where one would want an abortion to begin with. I'd find it remarkable to hear of a case where the health care system blocked getting an abortion. The local right-wing parties do of course oppose it, or at least oppose relaxing the requirements, but they don't really seem to focus on it. It would seem quite a reach to compare them with US anti-abortionists. – ilkkachu Nov 1 '20 at 23:18
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    Also in the list of countries on the European continent which allow abortions there are important non-EU countries missing which makes me believe you copy-pasted it from a source about the EU, not the continent. – Nobody Nov 2 '20 at 7:57
  • Almost all European countries are ruled by right-wing parties and almost all permit abortion, so your conclusion can't be right. – gerrit Nov 2 '20 at 9:22
  • @Tim, I don't know the specifics, but it looks to me UK is in the same company as Finland, that a mere request isn't enough, but that some other reason is required. E.g. this BBC map from 2007 marks both in the "allowed for economic and social reasons" group: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6235557.stm (It's dated of course, at least Ireland and I think Poland have changed since.) – ilkkachu Nov 2 '20 at 11:10
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No, the European right does not, at large, oppose the right to abortion¹.

Most European countries have the right to abortion:

abortion
Source and legend: Wikimedia Commons, retrieved November 2020

This doesn't really relate to the largest party in government:

government
Source: reddit/Wikipedia, April 2017

Abortion is generally restricted in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. It is generally available in North America and Europe. Governments vary, but if the right-wing were more generally against it then there would be more countries in Europe with restrictions, either by changing the law or the constitution.

Note that the United States here is blue, despite many people in the party in charge (Republican Party) probably preferring to make access to abortion more restrictive, perhaps similar to Poland or much of Latin America. However, that opinion is probably not universal even in the Republican Party, and actually changing the law is difficult as the supreme court ruled that the right to abortion is fundamental. However, most European countries do not have supreme courts as powerful as in the United States, or other constitutions where courts would not conclude such a right.


I will interpret opposing abortion as opposing the right to abortion. It is possible to oppose abortion but support the right to abortion. I'm against smoking but also against completely banning smoking. Many people would agree that preventing abortion through improved sex education and access to birth control is desirable, and that abortion should only be used as a measure of last resort and not as regular birth control.

  • Helpful. Can you add a little paragraph that explains why abortion is legal in the US despite the anti-abortion party having been in charge of both Presidency and Congress quite recently, and why that same reason doesn't apply to your average European Country? – Peter Nov 2 '20 at 15:01
  • @Peter I don't really know what the Republican Party at large would prefer the abortion law to be. As far as I know there is a substantial group within the Republican Party who would prefer the law to be closer to Latin America, but I don't know if they form a majority or if that is official party policy. – gerrit Nov 2 '20 at 15:09
  • Fair point. I was referring to abortion being legalized through a Supreme Court decision rather than by introduction of a new law, and thus something the Presidency and a simple majority of Congress cannot change - making abortion illegal requires either a constitutional amendment, or a Supreme Court decision. – Peter Nov 2 '20 at 15:14
  • @Peter It would, but even if they could strongly restrict it by law (like in Poland) I don't know if the mainstream Republican Party would. Apparently, 48% of Americans consider themselves "pro-life" but only 20% of Americans and 28% of Republicans think abortion should be outlawed. – gerrit Nov 2 '20 at 15:33
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Right-wing parties tend to gather value conservatives so to answer you question, it is best to look at the value conservative traditions in the different countries. Here is an image from Wikipedia:

Religion in Europe

This map rather accurately reflects the situation regarding abortion. As one would expect from looking at this image, abortion is mostly an issue in Poland, Ireland and Portugal. To a lesser but significant extent, it is also an issue in Italy, Spain and other countries with a catholic heritage.

On the contrary, women's right to choose is a non-issue in the non-religious and protestant countries, also in the conservative parties.

In some countries, such as the Nordic countries, anti-abortionist views are unacceptable in conservative parties.

As it were, one cannot say that European conservatives are generally against abortion. However, one can say to some degree of accuracy that where catholic conservatives make up a part of the conservatives there is also to some extent an opposition to abortion.

An example of what it might look like is provided by Italy (added in response to a comment, now removed):

Today, 70 percent of Italian gynecologists and 48.4 percent of anesthesiologists decline to perform terminations, according to a report from the Italian health ministry presented in December.

In more conservative regions such as Sicily and Campania, as much as 84 percent of doctors object to abortion. That leaves a tiny group of abortion providers to deal with a huge demand for terminations.

This can be compared to northern countries where that number is 0% because if you refuse despite being asked by your employer, that is grounds for being fired. This too is a political decision, whether abortion should be legal or not is not the only political decision.

Today, the anti-abortion activists typically try to restrict access to abortion rather than make it illegal. One can see this is many countries. A well-known example is the United States where anti-abortion activists try to limit access by defunding Planned Parenthood, among other things. When looking for political movements that are anti-abortion it is therefore not very interesting whether they want to make it illegal or not. Just because they don't try to make it illegal doesn't mean they aren't working against the right to choose.

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Yes.

In the case of Germany, the right-wing CDU/CSU is opposed to abortion (see eg here or here), as is the fascist AfD (see eg here).

The same is true for Lega Nord & Forza Nuova in Italy (see here & here) or Front National in France (see eg here).

Looking at Europe more broadly, the EPP (conservative, Christian coalition) opposes abortion. It seems that the right to far-right ECR does as well. The right-wing extremist ID likely does as well, given that the individual parties of the coalition do so.

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    That said, just to talk about my own country, opposition to abortion is at best a marginal issue for the Lega Nord and Forza Nuova. I don't think it's ever been mentioned in a truly prominent position, and I suspect making it a more important issue would net them less votes.. In my experience the general Italian public is pretty much uncontroversially pro-abortion. – Denis Nardin Nov 1 '20 at 14:35
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    I'd say it's the same for Front National (which changed its name to "Rassemblement National" btw), definitely not a defining issue. Also this party is the far right in France, and I'm not even sure that the mainstream rightwing party (Les Républicains) has an official position about abortion. – Erwan Nov 1 '20 at 21:16
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    (-1) You're misrepresenting the current position of these parties and your own sources. In the Bayern Kurier, the CDU is explicitly in favor of current law (more restrictive than in some neighbouring countries but abortions are legal in Germany during the first three months of pregnancy) and the debate is about information regarding abortion in other circumstances. Similarly, the EPP “rejects abortion as a family planning method” and the text focuses on offering alternative and welcoming handicapped children. This is not unconditional opposition to abortion or a call to criminalize it. – Relaxed Nov 1 '20 at 21:17
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    @Relaxed They are explicitly in favor of not changing the existing law which makes abortion illegal, specifically because they want to 'protect life' and 'encourage' women to 'choose' life. They fight to restrict abortion as much as they can in the current political climate (by keeping the existing conditions on abortion, by trying to restrict how doctors can provide information about abortion, etc). And the question wasn't about 'unconditional opposition', but 'opposition' (even the new law in Poland isn't unconditional, but has exceptions for rape, incest, etc). – tim Nov 2 '20 at 8:03
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    It's a bit simplistic to say that the EPP opposes abortion, tbh. – Statsanalyst Nov 2 '20 at 16:30
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The key dimension to understand the politics of abortion in Europe is religion - both the general place it holds in public life, and Protestantism vs Catholicism specifically.

For example Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) are relatively liberal and it is not a major political dividing line. But these are societies where the public role and power of relgion is waning (despite having an established church!). Tony Blair wa quite strongly religious but was firmly told by an advisers "We Don't Do God!". Also Protestantism predominates.

Whereas in the Republic of Ireland abortion was illega until 2019. The country is predominantly Catholic.

Abortion was also highly restricted in Northern Ireland until recently despite being part of the UK and despite having a Protestant majority. But the role of religion and the overall politicl system is - err - historically complicated.

Broadly speaking you will see Protestant and/or Post-religious countries (mostly north west Europe) having more liberal approaches and less political controvery over abortion and Catholic / South-EasternEuropean countries having more restrictions and higher political profile.

One has to understand the politics at country level though. France is - to the extent people are religous - primarily catholic - but also an explicitly secular state.

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