Europe Has Tighter Abortion Restrictions Than America—A Country-By-Country Look

By Katarina Bradford
·  5 min read
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The progressives frequently compare the U.S. to Western Europe as a seemingly idyllic, socialist haven. However, on the issue of abortion in Europe, they’ve been curiously silent.

Surely our more “enlightened” neighbors across the pond have much broader abortion access than the U.S. and its “regressive” abortion restrictions. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Europe takes the issue of abortion very seriously. It turns out that the U.S.’s abortion laws are quite radical when compared to our friends across the pond. Not only do most European countries place restrictions on abortions after 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, but furthermore, many of them require waiting periods and mandatory counseling sessions before a woman undergoes the abortion procedure.


Up until last week, Germany banned doctors from even advertising abortion as a medical option. In Germany, on-demand abortions are only permitted within 12 weeks since conception (14 weeks since a woman’s last period). Additionally, Germany requires a mandatory counseling session and waiting period between a woman’s first appointment requesting an abortion and when a woman can receive the procedure. 


Similar to Germany, Belgium also permits on-demand abortions up until 12 weeks after conception (14 weeks after the last menstrual period). Per Belgium’s current law, abortions are permitted for women who are “in a state of distress” within the 12-week time period. Additionally, women who request an abortion prior to 12 weeks of gestation are required to undergo a mandatory six-day waiting period after counseling.


In Sweden, abortions are permitted until the 18th week of pregnancy without having to explain your reasonings. However, after the 18th week, women need permission from Socialstyrelsen (the National Board of Health and Welfare) to have an abortion. You heard that right – even in this socialist Scandanavian haven, a government board will only permit an abortion after 18 weeks if the woman can prove that she has “special reasons” for the abortion, such as health risks for the mother. The Socialstyrelsen can’t give permission to terminate pregnancies beyond week 22. 

During the 2016 Democratic Nominee debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Sanders said, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden, and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” I wonder if Sanders would say the same about Sweden’s abortion policies. 


Speaking of Denmark, Danish women can request an abortion up to week 12 of pregnancy and must submit a letter asking for permission to undergo the procedure. A woman may request to have an abortion up to week 22 of pregnancy, but she must attend counseling sessions, one with a legal representative and another with a social worker. 

Furthermore, unmarried minors must get parental consent before undergoing abortions, even if it’s before the 12-week mark. Contrast that to California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC, who do not require minors to obtain any parental consent before undergoing an abortion.


This year, the French government passed legislation extending the period when a woman can request an abortion for any reason from week 12 to week 14 after conception. It also eliminated the two-day waiting period between when a woman asks for an abortion and when the procedure is performed. Extending the period of permissible abortions an additional two weeks was considered groundbreaking legislation.


Similar to France, Spanish women can request an abortion for any reason until week 14 after conception. A woman can terminate her pregnancy up until week 22 if there is evidence of physical or emotional pathology to either the mother or the baby. However, after week 22, Spain does not permit women to undergo abortions. 


Poland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, permitting legal abortion only in cases when the pregnancy is a result of rape, or when a woman’s life is in danger. These laws are largely influenced by Poland’s overwhelmingly Catholic population and history. 

Other Eastern European Countries

Most other Eastern European countries ban on-demand abortions after 12 weeks since conception, including countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Serbia and Slovenia ban abortion after only 10 weeks of gestation. 

Closing Thoughts

Europe’s legal stance on abortion is astounding when compared to abortion laws in the U.S. Having abortions without restrictions, even up to the point of birth, in states like Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, and Alaska, is unthinkable to Europeans, even in the least restrictive countries like England, Wales, Finland and the Netherlands, who allow on-demand abortions at 20 and 24 weeks of gestation. 

Millions of Americans champion abortion as an expression of the fundamental human right to bodily autonomy. However, isn’t it curious that not even our “enlightened” European neighbors share this view? Even the most liberal and developed European countries believe that our bodily autonomy has limits when the presence of another body becomes apparent. In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, perhaps it’s time for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we, out of the Western world, are the only ones who celebrate abortion without restrictions as a fundamental expression of our freedom. 

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