In Britain (excl Northern Ireland) a country close in many respects to the US - in terms of religious history, society, status of women, medical ethics etc abortion is rarely a political issue.

The Act of 1967 made it virtually available on demand up to 28 weeks. This was reduced in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to 24 weeks, and allowed on the following very wide and encompassing grounds, certified by two doctors:

Ground A – risk to the life of the pregnant woman; Ground B – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; Ground C – risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (up to 24 weeks in the pregnancy); Ground D – risk of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children of the family of the pregnant woman (up to 24 weeks in the pregnancy); Ground E – substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped; Ground F – to save the life of the pregnant woman; or Ground G – to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman in an emergency.[12] (Wikipedia)

It has never been a party-political matter, rarely gets into the headlines - except when Northern Ireland is the subject of discussion - and most people, other than a few activists, seem to accept the law as it stands as reasonable.

The political position in the United States could not be more different. There it can decide elections, even the presidency - and it is the key issue determining appointments to the supreme court. It plays a huge part in dividing the population, and individual states, into two rival camps.

A gulf also separates the US from the UK on the matter of gun control - but there the reason is more obvious, given America's history as a frontier society. But quite why the US is so divided on a matter which can intimately affect any family, where it hardly ever enters a panel discussion, let alone an argument in a pub in Britain, is puzzling.

An article in this week's edition of The Economist entitled What happens after Roe? suggests the following:

In other countries abortion tends to be embedded in broader health-care systems. In the United States it is practised almost exclusively in stand-alone clinics, largely so that providers can avoid the costly billing systems found in hospitals. Yet this has made the job of anti-abortion campaigners easier, allowing them to find the right women to shout at and enabling them to portray abortion as being separate and different.

Somehow, it seems to me that this cannot provide the whole answer - there has to be a more basic reason.

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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to debate the question matter. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. If you would like to discuss, please use the chat function. Please try to limit these comments to suggesting improvements to the question.
    – JJJ
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 22:37
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    Title says UK but question body says "Britain (excl Northern Ireland)." Please make the title match the question or vice versa.
    – shoover
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 17:17
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    I'd dispute that the UK is close to the US in terms of religious history. The US has since its earliest days had significant involvement at all levels by radical Christian fundamentalists (e.g. the Pilgrims), whilst the UK has been dominated by much more moderate groups since the civil war, in large part because of the establish CoE. More recently, levels of religiosity are vastly lower in the UK than in the US (visible in the fact that we've had two openly irreligious PM's, and the rest tend not to speak about their faith much, the exact opposite of what you see in the US)
    – Tristan
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 11:19
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    I would argue that the UK is not as exempt from women's rights debates as the opening post makes it seem. Marital rape was legal until 1991, no-fault divorces are only introduced on April 6, 2022, and trans women's rights are still a topic of political debate and public campaigns in 2022.
    – Xano
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 13:31
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    @Xano But there is no concerted campaign in Britain to enforce newly-pregnant women to give birth to unwanted children - in quite the way there is in the US.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 16:50

8 Answers 8


The following is necessarily a massive oversimplification.


America is, by and large, the most religious of the high-GDP countries that aren't Middle Eastern (and heavily Muslim) oil exporting nations. Compared to most Western European nations especially, the US has a significantly higher number of people who consider themselves highly religious, and a notably smaller proportion of those who identify as non-religious. In the UK, some 55% of people say they are not religious, with about 34% identifying as Christian. By contrast, in the US some 63% of people identify as Christian, most of them Protestants, and only 28% identify as non-religious. That's about a 30% swing. Imagine how much different the UK would be if a quarter of its population swapped over to being heavily religious from non-religious.

As such, religious moralism, especially Protestant Christian moralism, plays a major role in all aspects of American society and politics at large. And Protestant (and Evangelical) Christianity largely sees abortion as one of the gravest sins imaginable (or at least, it seems the gravest one they're willing to get riled up about at the moment). There's simply no comparable religious undercurrent in the UK. While there are surely religious people there who take issue with abortion, they do not pose nearly as large of a sector of the voting (and politically vocal) populace.

Ease of change

Add to this the contrast in "reversibility" on the legality of abortion. In the UK, all Parliament has to do is pass a new law, requiring simply a majority of MPs, and boom, you can completely alter if something is allowed or not. You can even override court decisions this way, as Parliament is ultimately the supreme authority. Contrast in America, where a right to abortion has thus far been held as constitutionally protected by our Supreme Court. And the only thing that can override the Supreme Court on this is itself or a constitutional amendment.

An amendment normally requires congressional two-thirds majorities in both chambers (only one of which is proportionate to population, but gerrymandered) and three quarters of states (which is definitely not proportionate to national population). This is obscenely difficult, and in theory a rather small fraction of our population can prevent any amendment, even if everyone else is vigorously in favor. Thus the much simpler solution: alter the Supreme Court to your view point. Which is still hard due to lifetime appointments, but easier than an amendment you don't have massive majorities for these days. And if you succeed, that difficulty now protects your success. The only way to go about that is through national politics, as Justices are appointed and confirmed through the federal political branches.

All told this created a massive political pressure. Abortion, once a state issue with little national character, was catapulted into a primary issue of national importance because a significant fraction of the population abhorred the constitutional protection of abortion, and so had to mobilize in the single plausible direction of correction: a massive alteration of national politics aimed to alter the Supreme Court's jurisprudence. This sort of urgent need to exploit national politics doesn't seem to arise in UK's system because simple majorities in the Commons are all you ever need, and the appointment of judges to their Supreme Court or other courts are significantly less political—at least at present to my understanding, as Prime Ministers are largely required to appoint Justices from candidates selected by an independent commission—, and have a mandatory retirement age. The strategy of obstructing and playing the waiting game to win over a single government institution to achieve long term changes in the law is much less likely to succeed in the UK than in the US, especially when there are ostensibly much easier avenues to achieve your goals anyway, and they can be much more easily reversed.

  • (1) I don't quite understand what you mean about the appointment of Supreme Court justices. They're nominated by the President and confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate. Obviously there is a whole lot of politics that happens in addition to that, but it's not clear to me what you mean by "confirmed through the federal political branches". Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 12:21
  • (2) I've been unable to find any information to suggest that UK judges have term limits. Judges on the UK Supreme Court serve until they reach the age of 75. Judges can be removed by Parliament, though apparently this hasn't happened in nearly 200 years. Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 12:25
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    @SteveMelnikoff What you described is exactly what I mean by "confirmed through the federal political branches". Federal judges and justices all come through the filter of the President and the Senate, with no input from the judiciary required (or even experience with courts or the law being formally required at all). Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 12:31
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    @WS2 Nothing is as as simple as "just religion" (probably not even religion itself). As I said at the start, this is all a vast oversimplification, and there are more factors than I could even pretend to have the knowledge to enumerate that feed these differences. The division is otherwise probably correlated with partisan divisions: Republican-controlled states, being most strongly associated with religious conservatives and the anti-abortion movement, will gravitate towards banning it; while Democratic-controlled states will gravitate towards permitting it. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 5:35
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    I would recommend changing "Christianity largely sees abortion as one of the gravest sins imaginable" to something more along the lines of "Christianity largely sees abortion as murder". Sin is something vague that often gets downplayed for various reasons while murder is something anyone can understand why a person would have a problem with it. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 14:15

In addition to zibadawa timmy's excellent answer, because abortion in the US is a stable Schelling Point for both the Left and the Right, because it is an issue on which essentially no actual debate ever takes place.

  1. For the Right, this is an issue about the right of living beings to continue to do so, any other considerations are dismissed as subordinate to that.
  2. For the Left this is an issue about legislating control of another's body, compounded by the fact that those impacted by the law are exclusively women and the ones making the law are mostly men, and any other considerations are dismissed as subordinate to those.

N.B. how each view completely dismisses as irrelevant the concerns of the other. And not even explicitly, it's not just that the counterpoints are conceded but de-prioritized, rather each frame defines the problem of the other out of existence, such concerns are unspeakable, inexpressible.

Since both sides sail right past each other without actually engaging on the other's terms, abortion is a great candidate for tribal membership litmus tests: you don't ever have to worry about someone who is otherwise on your side decamping on this issue and you can safely rally your side around it. And this lack of debate is necessary because most of the arguments around abortion (on both sides) don't actually hold up well to scrutiny, and as one of the other answers mentions positions were more mixed historically.

In the UK it does not serve this function, or serves it less well than other Schelling Points, and since it doesn't automatically mark people as one of us/one of those people we hate, people actually just compromise and move on with life.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 17:24
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    "In the UK ...people actually just compromise" Really? It seems abortion in the UK is simply quite legal during a relatively large part of the pregnancy and paid for. Where is the compromise? To me it seems that the "right of living beings to continue to do so" is really subordinate in the UK in that regard. Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 19:55
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    While it doesn't rise to the level of a downvote, note that "the right" considers this an issue about specific living beings, not an issue about the right to life in general. There are folks who insist that all humans have a right to life, but they are generally not politically aligned along the axis you've described.
    – Corbin
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 14:40
  • @Corbin that may be a fair point but I was giving pithy summaries of the positions not aiming to capture all the nuances. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 14:52
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    @Trilarion I'm not saying this is the case (I honestly don't know) but political compromise often takes the form of "one side is backing down on $LESS_PRESSING_ISSUE in order to win import concessions about $ISSUE_THEY_CURRENTLY_HOLD_MORE_IMPORTANT". And/or to make an alliance with another party against a third more palatable. IDK, but political issues don't really exist in isolation. Commented May 8, 2022 at 15:27

Because when racial segregation failed to cut ice as the banner to get American Evangelicals to vote consistently for one party, they went for abortion instead. Randall Balmer's book Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right is a good source on this one; a discussion of it can be found in this article on Religion News Service.

It's worked stunningly well, to the point that around 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Republican candidates in 2016 and 2020 (compared with 32% in 1960 and 48% in 1988), and over 2/3 of white Evangelicals consider themselves to be pro-life - when in 1971 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for abortion to be made legal in the US. That resolution can be found here. As you can see, they weren't asking for it to be totally unrestricted - but thought that abortion to protect the emotional or mental health of the mother should be permitted. This is basically exactly the situation of the law in the UK to this day, so the SBC were in favour of abortion laws like the UK's at that stage.

In the UK, the right-wing was able to win elections without focussing on culture war issues, and in fact was consistently in power from 1979 to 1997; by the end of that period the religiosity of the UK electorate had dropped a lot, and the compromise on abortion was well established, both militating against picking it as a key wedge issue.

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    to get American Evangelicals to vote consistently for one party, they went for abortion instead. Who are "they"? And maybe which party?
    – Limer
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 17:55
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    "they" is the "one party", and in the next paragraph the answer identifies it as the Republican part.y
    – mfinni
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 18:41
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    The central tenant of this answer is contradicted by the data. Overall American attitudes towards abortion have not changed significantly since the mid 1970s. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who believe the abortion should be illegal in all cases has been within 3 percentage points of 18% for the entire time since 1975 to the present. A large majority of Americans (80%) still abortion being legal in the cases where it is in the U.K. And a large majority (68%) still oppose it being legal for just any reason, as in the U.S.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 3:04
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    Indeed, what changes have happened since the mid 1970s have been almost entirely on the other side of the fence from what this answer suggests. In '75, only 22% of Americans believed abortion should be legal in all cases vs. 32% today. 21% believed it should be illegal under all circumstances in 1975 vs. 19% in 2021. While this is a common trope among the left, there really just isn't any truth to it at all.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 3:08
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    @reirab This answer isn't about attitudes towards abortion across all demographics. It's about attitudes to abortion among American evangelicals.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 9:00

Note regarding potentially outdated information: This answer reflected the situation at the time at which it was originally written (April 2022.) As of early May 2022, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to overturn Roe v. Wade and related decisions, allowing abortion law in the U.S. to be determined via normal democratic legislative processes again, as was the case prior to the 1973 Roe decision. As such, it appears likely that the situation will change significantly from what is described below over the weeks, months, and years following May 2022, so, while the information here answered the question at the time it was asked, it may no longer reflect the current situation.

June 2022 edit: The Supreme Court has indeed overturned Roe and Casey, so law on this subject will be returning to the arena of normal legislative processes.

Original answer:

So, this answer is part frame challenge, but also hopefully an actual answer to your question. Your question seems to suggest that the reasons you list for an abortion being allowed in the U.K. in the quoted section of the question, all of which are related to health of the mother or child, would actually be considered "very wide" in the context of the U.S. However, that is definitely not the case.

It turns out that the reasons you list in the question would not be especially contentious at all in the United States. According to recent polling from Gallup, 48% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under limited circumstances and another 32% believe that it should be legal under all circumstances, for a total of 80%. Only 19% believe that it should be illegal under all circumstances.

However, the current state of U.S. law is that it is legal under virtually all circumstances, due to a series of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the most famous being Roe v. Wade.

Indeed, according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute (which is pro-abortion rights and was actually founded as the research arm of Planned Parenthood and named for one of its Presidents,) only about 7% of abortions in the U.S. in 2004 were primarily for reasons that fall into the ones you listed in the question, i.e. health concerns of either the child or the mother. 86% were primarily for economic or social reasons, 6% listed "other" as the primary reason, and less than half a percent each listed primary reasons such as the pregnancy being due to rape, the partner or parents of the mother wanting the abortion, or not wanting others to know about the pregnancy.

So, the reason that it's more contentious is due to the difference in the current state of the law (and the practice,) not an actual significant difference in the overall attitude of the population towards it. Around 80% of Americans agree with the reasons that it's allowed in the U.K. being acceptable, but 68% believe that it should not be allowed in all circumstances, as is the current case and practice.

To make matters worse, to put it mildly, it is not at all clear that the cases creating the case law nearly unrestricted Constitutional right to an abortion were rightly decided. The U.S. Constitution says exactly nothing about the issue of abortion (unless one takes the view that the unborn child is a 'person' for purposes of Constitutional law, in which case the Constitution effectively bans abortion except in cases where the life or health of the mother is threatened, due to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.)

So, we have a case where 68% of the population believes that the state of the law is not what it ought to be and that's completely due to court cases that many believe were not rightly decided. The only way to overturn Supreme Court precedent on the Constitution itself is to either amend the Constitution (which is intentionally very hard to do) or have a new Supreme Court case that overturns the existing jurisprudence. And the only way to get the latter is to have a President and Senate that will appoint Supreme Court justices who might issue such a decision.

Thus, the difference in how central of a political issue abortion has become in the U.S. vs. in the U.K. are not due to particularly large differences in attitude of the populace, but rather with the current state of U.S. law surrounding abortion being quite different from that in the U.K. And the only viable paths to changing it requiring significant political power (either to change the Constitution or to get Supreme Court appointments that might result in the case law being overturned.)

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    In the UK, abortion is de facto allowed on demand, although with some degree of hoop jumping. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 17:52
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    This raises in my mind a question of whether the real difference is the willingness of the courts to get involved. Many abortions in the UK could be challenged as being illegal; but in most cases the courts would refuse to adjudicate such a challenge because the complainant would have to have locus standi. It's not uncommon in the UK for there to be laws that "everyone" breaks without challenge: the 70mph speed limit is another example. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 23:49
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    And if the courts did get involved, it would only be to decide whether an individual abortion was legal or not; it couldn't change the law, because a law passed by Parliament cannot (in general) be overturned by the courts. Perhaps some of the passion in the US is because of the process where it's decided by judges who are appointed politically and then serve for life. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 23:57
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    @MichaelKay It is also the case in the U.S. that charges would normally not be brought for laws that everyone violates and, if they did, those charges would normally be dismissed. In this case, much of the passion is indeed because the issue was decided by courts rather than the normal legislative processes that previously governed the issue. In particular, the problem is that the ruling is perceived to be simply factually incorrect. U.S. Constitutional law is intended to require very broad consensus to change, but the Constitution does not actually address this issue directly at all.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 2:45
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    @Acccumulation Sorry if my meaning was unclear. By 'circumstances,' I meant the circumstances of the pregnancy, i.e. the reason for the abortion. Not necessarily the circumstances surrounding how the procedure itself is done. Limits are allowed there. As for the 4th, 'liberty' there means that you can't be incarcerated without due process, not that you can do anything you want. Clearly, that is not the case and was never intended (nor did plaintiffs in Roe argue that nor courts rule it.)
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 19:43

Roe v Wade

The central piece here is the US Supreme Court decision called Roe v. Wade (I'll just call it Roe for simplicity). Some other answers have touched on it some without diving into it because it is an incredibly thorny issue in of itself.

Roe legalized abortion in the US. More specifically, it declared that a woman has a Constitutional right to seek an abortion and that no state can restrict that right. This wasn't just a fundamental shift in abortion policy, it was a fundamental shift in how SCOTUS operated. Instead of merely declaring the laws were unconstitutional, Roe actually crafted policy and legal frameworks where none existed before. Justice Blackmun, who authored the opinion, recognized this controversy shortly thereafter

Justice Blackmun, who authored the Roe decision, subsequently had mixed feelings about his role in the case. During a 1974 television interview, he stated that Roe "will be regarded as one of the worst mistakes in the court's history or one of its great decisions, a turning point."

Roe was, more or less, an unfettered victory for abortion proponents. To put it a different way, there was no democratic effort to attempt to craft any sort of compromise that people on both sides could live with. Abortion proponents could expand abortion rights all they wanted (Roe only legalized abortion through 24 weeks, or the second trimester), while abortion opponents were left with very little in the way of restricting abortion.

Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992 would restrict this side further, by creating an "undue burden" standard

The plurality opinion stated that it was upholding what it called the "essential holding" of Roe. The essential holding consists of three parts: (1) Women have the right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability and to do so without undue interference from the State; (2) the State can restrict the abortion procedure post-viability, so long as the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman's life or health; and (3) the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.[10] The plurality asserted that the fundamental right to abortion is grounded in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the plurality reiterated what the Court had said in Eisenstadt v. Baird: "[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

The over-emphasis of SCOTUS

Regardless of which side you land on, this has made SCOTUS confirmations more contentious since, politically, SCOTUS overturning Roe would be the path of least resistance. As I noted in this answer, every SCOTUS nominee since 1987 (except Kennedy) has faced a confirmation hearing question about Roe. Since I wrote it Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson have continued that trend.

Contrary to some other answers, Roe is not settled in any way, shape or form. Polling here is mixed. Gallup's page shows that "pro-life" vs "pro-choice" has narrowed to a virtual 50-50 tie and stayed there for roughly around 20 years. Gallup's main page highlights how much more diverse things are with three simple categories (numbers from 2021 May 3-18)

  • Legal under any - 32%
  • Legal only under certain - 48%
  • Illegal in all - 19%

It's fair to say that if Roe were vacated, some states would move to make abortion completely illegal within their state (many states have made it explicitly legal and vacating Roe would not change that). But the poll above says that position isn't very popular overall. Neither does this give a simple "Should abortion be completely illegal" binary answer. Only slightly more favor unfettered abortion. Most people seem to think there should be some restrictions.

Congress could resolve this if they wanted to. Congress has overturned SCOTUS decisions before (most notably the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

Why the UK is different

The UK has two major differences here

  1. No filibuster in Parliament. In the US Senate, you need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The Republicans (tend to be pro-life) have never had that many Senators at once (post-Roe), and the Democrats (tend to be pro-choice) had that many only from 2009-2011. Parliament is a simple majority system of 50% + 1. The UK could change national policy with a popular vote or even a referendum.
  2. Better "states' rights" in this regard. The four countries of the UK have more freedom to set abortion policy than any US state. Thus the UK keeps the issue local, rather than setting a one-size-fits-all policy like Roe
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    "Thus the UK keeps the issue local..." Does it? Isn't the legal situation of abortion the same everywhere in the UK and has been since 1967 except for Northern Ireland. Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 20:02
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    @Trilarion Which illustrates my point. No state has been free to take the position Northern Ireland had since 1972
    – Machavity
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 23:55
  • Good answer overall, but it's not really correct that Congress could resolve this by "overturning" Roe, PP v. Casey, etc. Congress can't 'overturn' a SCOTUS decision that a given right exists in the Constitution save by passing a Constitutional amendment. RFRA just mooted Smith by explicitly adding additional restrictions to government action that Smith ruled weren't already included in the Constitution. The other way around cannot happen. Congress cannot pass a law that allows the government to do something that the SCOTUS has determined the Constitution says it can't.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 4:08
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    @reirab Maybe. The catch with that line of thinking is that SCOTUS could make anything a Constitutional issue by simply declaring it one and thus requiring Congress to amend the Constitution with a 2/3 vote to override it. That would mean SCOTUS has the power to amend the Constitution with as little as 5 votes (a strange view considering how hard the enumerated path is). Moreover abortion (or even bodily autonomy) is not an enumerated part of the Constitution. In theory, if Congress vacated the logic behind Roe by saying it's not actually in the Constitution, they would also be correct.
    – Machavity
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 12:31
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    @Machavity Yes, that is indeed the case that SCOTUS can theoretically make anything a Constitutional issue by merely declaring it one. That was indeed exactly what they did with Roe. While I agree that they're not supposed to make up new law and declare it Constitutional, there's nothing really stopping them from doing that beyond simply just making sure that justices aren't appointed who would abuse their power in that way. Which is why the appointment process is so important, especially since the appointments are for life.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 17:47

Zibadawa timmy rightly mentions religiousness in his answer. I'd like to add an aspect to that.

The — from a European perspective — outsize influence of religion on public life in the U.S. cannot be emphasized enough. Just remember that religious movements once succeeded in banning alcohol from public life in the U.S.

Such a move — closing down all pubs — seems entirely unimaginable, even ludicrous in the U.K. It would lead to revolution. Wikipedia reports (emphasis by me):

The impotence of legislation in this field [in the U.K.] was demonstrated when the Sale of Beer Act 1854, which restricted Sunday opening hours, had to be repealed, following widespread rioting.

The religious sentiment in the U.S., and its emanating into the cultural and political realm, is larger than the superficial similarity of its society and political system to their European counterparts would suggest.

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    That was a century ago (and it failed miserably in the U.S., too, leading it to be the only Constitutional amendment to ever be explicitly repealed by another Constitutional amendment just over a decade later.) The religious situation in Europe was quite different then, too, and, indeed, organizations in the U.K. promoted the same thing at the time. In both the U.S. and U.K., these movements were heavily tied to the women's suffrage movements. (Also, this seems like more of a comment than an answer to the question asked.)
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 16:28
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    @reirab All fringe religious groups. And as I said: "the Sale of Beer Act 1854, which restricted Sunday opening hours, had to be repealed, following widespread rioting..." (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition#United_Kingdom) In the U.K. they had a riot because of a restriction in Sunday opening hours :-)). Just my kind of people. Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 16:41
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    Not sure how relevant it is, but UK "licensing hours" (the times when alcohol can be sold) were limited on Sundays through most of the 20th century, without resulting in rioting; in Wales, Sunday opening was banned completely from 1881 to 1961, and in some areas the ban was not lifted until 1996. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 14:00

Yes, the US is more religious than the UK, but there are two big additional differences--abortion was regulated by States in the US, and abortion was legalized by the unelected national Supreme Court overruling the laws of all 50 states.

The UK had one national parliament, elected by the people, that made the decision to legalized abortion. It was the normal, expected place for laws to be made, and reflected a rough national consensus.

(The UK now has 3 regional parliaments for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, in addition to the national parliament. One of those, NI, did restrict abortion till 2020. Showing that when you divide a country into smaller regions, some are likely to choose different policies).

Some of the US states, including California and New York, had legalized abortion before the Supreme Court decision, and more would have followed, but because of differences between states, some would never have followed. The 20 or 30% who are strongly against abortion in the US are concentrated so they are over 50% in about 1/3 of the states, while they are fewer in the other states.

So legal abortion was imposed on the whole US, from above, not through the democratic process, not reflecting a national consensus, and directly contrary to the desire of voters in a significant number of states.

(I find the Economist's explanation quite improbable--protests at clinics are a small part of the anti-abortion movement, let alone their false characterization of them as mainly harassing pregnant women.).

  • In paragraph 3: (1) England does not have its own parliament; the UK Parliament continues to legislate for it (which makes sense, given that England accounts for 84% of the UK's population). (2) Abortion was indeed restricted in Northern Ireland - until 2020. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 13:35
  • Thank you I corrected the statement about parliaments. Note that the liberalization of NI's law came after considerable intervention from the national government. Left to itself it's not clear to me that NI would have changed it's law, which was called "one of the most restrictive in the world".
    – ttulinsky
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 17:50
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    agreed. It was very much imposed from above. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 18:15

There are already several good answers. There is one more aspect that needs to be mentioned: abortion in the USA is often part of reproductive care that is publicly funded. (for example Planned Parenthood)

Publicly funded healthcare is the norm in the UK (ie NHS) but is highly controversial in the USA. To put it very bluntly, at least some Americans who oppose abortion resent that 'those women were out partying' while they were 'working and paying taxes'. Contempt for poor people, latinos, blacks may also play a role in this context.

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    while maybe not wrong (I can't judge), clearly not complete as an answer: the discussion is not about the payment itself, but whether it should be legal at all. That's a very different discussion and is not addressed in this answer
    – Mayou36
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 20:56
  • Factually incorrect - the Hyde amendment has banned federal funding of abortions since 1976.
    – Guy F-W
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 21:10

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