The recent leaking of a draft decision, by the United States Supreme Court, to overturn more than 5 decades of the legal protection of a woman’s right to seek an abortion without excessive government interference has rocked the United States.
Norway, meanwhile, has legalized abortion for more than 6 decades. Yet despite perceived liberal attitudes toward abortion generally, some in this country would like to follow the United States’ example and turn the clock back to a time when abortion was illegal in Norway.
Leaked draft memo shows a seismic shift in women’s protective rights brewing
The leaking of a draft decision, by the United Supreme Court, which would overturn American women’s legal right to an abortion has caused a mixture of consternation, confoundment, and unbridled joy. Never was a draft memo more important to the history of women’s rights stateside.
The leaked draft, which was written by Justice Samuel Alito, explained how the Supreme Court saw the 1973 ruling which enshrined women’s legal right to seek an abortion without undue government interference (the famous Roe vs. Wade ruling) was “egregiously wrong from the start”. The Court would overturn the ruling and “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” Any decision then about the legality of abortion would flow down to individual states. Some 13 states have already passed “trigger laws” which would effectively ban abortions following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Now, this is just a draft decision. The full bench of the Supreme Court – dominated by conservative-leaning judges since former President Trump appointed 3 during his sole term in office – can change their minds. Perhaps the leaking of the draft was to gauge the public’s mood before deciding? Nonetheless, many more learned political commentators than I feel that this draft decision will be the final decision of the Supreme Court.
So, after more than half a century of the legal right of women, across the United States, to seek an abortion, that right seems to be set to disappear when the Supreme Court gives its final decision on the Mississippi abortion law case – which bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy despite a federal right to seek an abortion up until the end of the first trimester – sometime in June or July.
How does one get an abortion in Norway?
Access to legal, clean, and safe abortions is a fundamental right enshrined by Norwegian law since 1960. One of the key reasons why modern Norwegian society is so successful is the high level of gender equality. Women in Norway have the option and right to seek an abortion up until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy with no medical or governmental interference or judgment – no questions asked.
For women wanting an abortion after this period an abortion can be granted by a medical board only in cases of rape, incest, injury, or danger to the mother (physical or mental) or fetus.
Abortions are handled by the Health Department in Norway (HelseNorge) and are free for women who reside in the country. One can request an abortion, up until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy, and there is no need for a referral from a doctor, a period of reflection (or “cooling off”), or any explanation needed. Most abortions (pre-12 week) are carried out at a hospital and then later home with a surgical operation needed for abortions post-week 12.
Abortion legislation since 1960
Since the early 20th century, the legality of abortion has often taken a rollercoaster ride. From being first banned in 1902, it was not until 1960 that Norway had its first abortion law. Before then, countless lives were ruined and lost by botched abortions in shady back alleys, doctors or nurses facing the full force of law for aiding women in an hour of need, and many unwanted children forced upon parents who could not cope.
Though Norway’s first abortion law was passed in 1960 – making some abortions legal – it did not come into force until February 1, 1964. Though liberal for the times, the Law allowed abortions – for much the same reasons as the current post-12 week abortions allow – but the procedure had to be approved by a medical board including two doctors. Approvals of abortion applications rose from 73% in 1965 to 85% by 1971.
The increasing rate of approved abortions, through the late 1960s and early 1970s, coupled with the birth of the “second wave” feminism movement forced legislators to amend the law to be more compatible with societal expectations and norms. The result was the Abortion Act of 1975 (Aborltoven, lov om svangerskapsavbrudd), which was amended in 1978, saw the decision to rest solely with the women, up until the 12th week of pregnancy.
Geographical politics of abortion in Norway
One of the key reasons why the abortion act was amended, in the 1970s, was due to the regional variation in approved abortion rates. Generally speaking, doctors in larger cities, like Oslo, had higher approval rates for abortions compared to more regional parts of the country – especially northern, western, and southern (the so-called “Norwegian Bible Belt”) Norway. Furthermore, these areas tended to be more socially conservative meaning an influx of women to the Oslo region seeking abortions.
This social constructivism towards the issue of the legality of abortion has never left some of these areas in Norway. The former leader of the Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KFP), Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, utilized the social and religious conservatism of his constituency (formerly Aust-Agder but since 2021 named Agder) to become an important and influential cabinet minister in the Solberg government. In the lead-up to the 2021 election, Ropstad, a former Minister of Children and Family Affairs, spoke out against any further liberalization of abortion law.
Political division on the issue of abortion
Ropstad’s party had courted controversy when trying to tighten abortion laws in 2014 and then attempting to “reform” them in 2016 and 2018. The conservative Solberg government ended up applying some new restrictions on pregnancies with more than one fetus but ultimately little changed.
On the other side of politics, it was just over a year ago that the leader of the Socialist Left party opened his party’s national conference with a pledge to allow women to self-determine an abortion up until the 22nd week of pregnancy. Lysbakken wanted to modernize abortion laws and put the decision in the hands of the women seeking an abortion themselves and not anyone else.
The other left-wing parties (Red, the Greens, and Labour) have wanted to extend self-determination for abortions up until the 18th week of pregnancy and do away with the, as they see them, old-fashioned and outdated medical boards (abortnemnd).
Though not as heated or toxic as the United States, there is political division over the issue of abortion here in Norway.
Why would a US Supreme Court ruling matter in Norway?
Assuming that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe vs. Wade sometime this summer, this could have quite an impact in Norway. Following Lybakken’s comments about his party’s wish to further liberalization of abortion last year, the newspaper Aftenposten carried a commentary urging Norwegians to “Let the Americans carry on their abortion battle in peace” and not get sucked into a maelstrom of divisive and toxic debate over this issue.
A cornerstone of Norway’s recent foreign policy – both under the Solberg and Store governments – has been the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality. Norway’s recent successful bid to be elected as a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council involved Norway’s promotion of improving women’s empowerment, self-determination, and rights worldwide. Part of this policy was to safeguard and improve women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe. Given that countries close to Norway (for example, Poland) have seen a severe winding back of abortion access in recent years, Norway faces yet another ally and close partner, in the US, with domestic policy at odds with this country’s stated foreign policy.
After the political rollercoaster of relations under former President Trump, a Supreme Court decision to ban abortion could strain a tender diplomatic relationship that has only recently started to blossom again.
Norway and the world are watching and waiting for summer…
A decision on the Mississippi abortion law case, by the United States Supreme Court, is expected sometime this summer in either June or July. Should the Court decide to overturn almost 5 decades of the legal right for women to seek an abortion in the United States, this would be a seismic erosion of women’s sexual, health, and reproductive rights stateside. Though abortion is free, legal, safe, and has genuine public support, the US Supreme Court decision may start a new debate on either the further restriction or liberalization of abortion here in Norway.
Not for the first time in history, the fate of decisions about a woman’s body, health, and reproductive rights will be (mostly) decided by men.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.
About the author:
Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.
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