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Why The Right Doesn’t Really Want European-Style Reproductive Health Care

Memo Pad National News

Why The Right Doesn’t Really Want European-Style Reproductive Health Care


U.S. conservatives want Europe’s abortion restrictions, but they oppose the generous systems and legal exceptions that support women’s health.

Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers witnessed and participated in passionate debates about one of the nation’s most sweeping pieces of anti-choice legislation. That legislation, known as SB1, was initially delayed by Wendy Davis’s now-famous filibuster before Governor Rick Perry signed it into law last week during a second special legislative session. It bans abortions after 20 weeks, places cumbersome restrictions on abortion clinics and physicians, and threatens to close all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Throughout the many days of hearings, anti-choice activists relied on religious, scientific, and political evidence to argue that the new Texas law is just and sensible.

Many of those arguments are tenuous at best, but it is the continued reference to European abortion laws that most represent a convenient cherry-picking of facts to support the rollback of women’s rights. Many European countries do indeed regulate abortion with gestational limits, but what SB1 supporters conveniently ignore is that those laws are entrenched in progressive public health systems that provide quality, affordable (sometimes free) health care to all individuals and prioritize the sexual and reproductive health of their citizens. Most SB1 advocates would scoff at the very programs and policies that are credited with Europe’s low unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.

Members of the media have also seized on European policies to argue that Texas lawmakers are acting in the best interests of women. Soon after the passage of SB1, Bill O’Reilly argued that “most countries in the world have a 20-week threshold,” and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Reviewwrote, “It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.”

It’s hard to imagine any other scenario in which O’Reilly and Lowry, and most conservative politicians and activists, would hold up European social policies as a beacon for U.S. policy. After all, the cornerstones of Europe’s women’s health programs are the very programs that conservatives have long threatened would destroy the moral fabric of American society. One cannot compare the abortion policies of Europe and the United States without looking at the broader social policies that shape women’s health.

Both Belgium and France have mandatory sexuality education beginning in elementary school (in France parents are prohibited from removing their children from the program). France passed a bill earlier this year that allows women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control. Emergency contraception in both countries is easily accessible over the counter, and in Belgium the cost of the drug is reimbursed for young people and those with a prescription. Both countries limit abortion to the first trimester but also make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons. None of these exceptions are included in the new Texas law, and I’d guess it would be a cold day in hell before the likes of O’Reilly and Lowry advocate for more expansive health policies or for including such exceptions in abortion laws.

But it would be wise if they did. This availability of preventative care contributes to the overall health and wellness of women in Europe and enables them to make free and fully informed decisions about their bodies over the course of their lifetimes. The demonization and lack of progressive sexual health policies in Texas, and in the United States more broadly, drives high rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections, and abortion.

Unfortunately, Texas couldn’t be further from France or Belgium when it comes to the care it provides to women and families before, during, and after delivery, as I’ve written about before. The Texas teen birth rate is nearly nine times higher than that of France and nearly 10 times higher than that of Belgium. Nearly 90 percent of all teens in France and Belgium reported using birth control at their last sexual intercourse, compared with only 53 percent in Texas. The infant mortality rate in Texas is twice that of Belgium and France. The poverty rate among women in Texas is a third higher than that of women in Belgium and France, and the poverty rate among Texas children is 1.5 times higher. Less than 60 percent of Texas women receive prenatal care, while quality care before, during, and after pregnancy is available to nearly all women throughout Europe.

None of those hard facts were compelling enough to amend – let alone negate – the new law. It seems impossible these days to find a common ground between anti- and pro-choice individuals, but if conservatives wanted to have a conversation about enacting European-style sexual and reproductive health policies in the United States, that just might be something that could bring everyone to the same table. The more likely scenario is that once conservatives have plucked out the facts that help advance their anti-choice cause, they will promptly return to tarring and feathering Europe’s socialized health system.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States and globally.

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo: European Parliament via Flickr.com


  1. His Shadow July 24, 2013

    Anyone who insists that abortion be severely restricted but also opposes sex education and access to contraceptives is an ideologue with nothing of value to add to the discussion.

    1. Joseph Squerciati July 25, 2013

      OR a Catholic Cardinal

      I did ask one supporter of these type of laws “how can you be opposed to birth control AND abortion when the use of the former reduces the latter ” Not surprisingly I got no response

      1. Sand_Cat August 2, 2013

        Are you sure the person comprehended what you were asking?
        (that’s a rhetorical question)

  2. dtgraham July 25, 2013

    Call me crazy, but why do I get this feeling that their friendly neighbour to the North won’t be getting any international lovin’ from the political right on their world abortion-restriction gratitude tour.

    There are no abortion laws in Canada. It’s strictly a medical procedure that has been completely removed from the legal system. It can be performed at any point in the pregnancy and is done free of charge like any other medical procedure. Two thirds of them are done in hospitals and not clinics. Furthermore, the Access to Abortion Services Act prevents political demonstrations from happening at clinics, hospitals, Doctor’s offices and Doctor’s homes.

    You can put restrictions on abortion as long as you’re willing to do all of the right things as the Europeans do. European stats on abortion are very similar to Canada, where the overwhelming majority of abortions are done very early on in the pregnancy due to such easy access to it. Abortion per capita has been steadily dropping in Canada over the last few decades probably due to easy, and often free, access to contraception and the so-called morning after pill. Don’t know the latter stats for Europe but I suspect they would also be similar.

  3. charleo1 July 25, 2013

    The anti-choice obsession is not about the immorality of abortion. Not at this time.
    That is not to say there are not those who see abortion as something they personally
    have a moral aversion to. And feel an imperative to overturn Roe V. Wade, and place more restrictions on the procedure. There is an honest way to be aganist the current laws governing abortion. But, that’s not what Right Wing politicians are being, honest. What we are seeing is the same obstruction they have made their singular goal since Jan. 2009. And in that obstruction there is no by-product too onerous, no misery too profound to create, or any Constitutional crisis too big to create, to oppose this President, along with any laws passed passed without their votes in Congress. It’s a game of what if. What if Congress passed a law, and we refused to acknowledge it’s legitimacy? Or, call it a law? ignored it? And, what if,
    in all the States we control, the Governors, and Legislatures voted to close down healthcare facilities that are designed to be a part of the healthcare law? Refused
    to participate in the law’s implementation? Even if those closings cut off the only available access to a doctor to more than 150,000 poor women? What if, we engaged collectively in a de facto nullification of Federal Law, not seen since the
    Civil War? What could they really do? This ought to scare the bejesus out of every
    American in this Country. This fact we are becoming ungovernable. That politicians
    are willing to oppose the principals on which the Country was founded. And to what
    ends? To protect a bunch of healthcare cos. who are draining the economy of
    the Country dry. Making us uncompetitive in a global marketplace. Robbing us of
    vital investments, and costing the lives of tens of thousands of us each year, by their profit driven, denials of care, and wholesale looting of the American healthcare
    system of which they are in complete control. You know we as Americans have
    had some nobel goals in our time. Goals for which we firmly stood aganist all odds,
    with everything on the line. This is not one of them, friends. And it’s not about abortion.

  4. Allan Richardson July 25, 2013

    The ideologues who oppose abortion AND access to contraception AND sex education are promoting evil outcomes for humanity and the planet due to overpopulation, as well as evil outcomes for the majority of individuals and families. Even this newest Pope, who seems to have some feeling for the poor, is unable to think outside the faulty Biblical interpretation (and medieval reproductive theory) that “sperm must not be wasted” to recommend contraception and barriers to the spread of disease.

    I can understand not WANTING babies to be aborted, as a general concept. But not wanting their conception to be PREVENTED, and not wanting to give young people ACCURATE information about HOW to prevent unwanted conception, at the same time as wanting to CRIMINALIZE abortion afterward, is based upon a backward social system not too much different from Sharia law (same product, different label).

    One reason abortions are rare in Canada is that fewer pregnancies are unplanned. And couples (mostly married, but if not, honestly living as if married) who PLAN to have a child are NOT going to want an abortion except for grave health reasons. In Canada the law TRUSTS those couples to make this tragic choice in accordance with their own beliefs, and they do not make the choice lightly. In pre-Roe-v-Wade America, the law forced women who really DO need an abortion to put their private medical situation in front of a judicial panel (then they object to the IRS asking them WHETHER they have bought insurance?) and embarrass them.

    The results can be tragic, as in the case of the Indian-Irish mother who DIED because Irish law would not allow her miscarriage (which was inevitable anyway) to be cleaned up with an abortion until the fetus was COMPLETELY dead, by which point it was too late to save the mother.

    Basically, the American right wing wants ZERO safety net (they even want to eliminate the minimum wage, COMPLETELY) and TOTAL, one might even say totalitarian, control to prevent the ONE option left when a woman is DESPERATE.

    1. charleo1 July 25, 2013

      Allen, it is happening already in Texas. Where women are so desperate to
      end their pregnancies, they are resorting to self help. Going across the border,
      to underground facilities. Asking to be beaten, in hopes of causing a miscarriage. And are back to using “home remedies.” And, these laws only
      effect the poor. Proving closing facilities where safe abortions are preformed,
      does not stop the demand for the procedure. Only drives it back into the the
      era of the back ally, and coat hangers. But, as I contend. It’s not about
      abortion. And the tactic only effects the poor, so who in the Right Wing
      cares about the poor anymore, anyway?

  5. progressiveandproud July 25, 2013

    Wow! You’re telling me that the right wing isn’t being totally honest with their constituents?! I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

    Let’s face it folks, the right wing isn’t capable of honesty because their entire argument is based on a lie. The leaders couldn’t care less about women and children, their goal is control pure and simple. The pity is that so many women buy into their lies and arguments. The right wing leaders won’t be happy until the “lower classes” are in complete servitude to their “betters”.

  6. elw July 25, 2013

    Translation, the laws being pushed by the extreme Right are outdated, inhumane and would only be pushed by ignorant, mean spirited assholes. They do nothing to help women, children, families or the Nation. They make little sense.

  7. m8lsem July 25, 2013

    I have said before, and will say again, the Right is in favor of ending abortion provided it doesn’t cost any money. A health system like Europe’s and Canada’s coupled with ample, accurate, full sex education and a world class, free child care system for working or student mothers, would likely nearly end abortion. But, gasp, shudder, wince, that just might be expensive!

  8. Lovefacts July 25, 2013

    Even Catholic Italy allows abortion and birth control. And while the Republicans want to abolish abortion the also oppose sexual education, birth control, funding aid to dependent children, food stamps to feed these children, and education for all children–unless you homeschool or can avoid to sent your kids to a private school. That fact we’ve had public education since our colonial days doesn’t seem to matter. The fact Europeans have free education through university, including graduate school doesn’t enter into their thinking. The fact that Europe supports families and children financially, educationally, and with health is disregarded. And that abortion is the only thing of importance to Republicans is the tragedy.

  9. docb July 25, 2013

    Lowry and oreilly! Please, WFB would roll over in his grave…He was conservative but a patriot which they are neither!


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