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Abortion and divorce in Western law.

Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.

Mary Ann Glendon. Harvard University Press, $25. Americans tend to think of abortion as a black-and-white issue. Protest groups, like Right to Life and NOW, fight over whether it should be legal or illegal. But as Glendon shows in this short but enlightening book, the issue is not nearly so divisive in Europe, where most nations have no idea why we're still shouting.

For Glendon, Harvard law professor, the key difference is how abortion laws are formed. While the U.S. has put major abortion decisions in the hands of the judiciary, European countries have left them to their legislatures. When courts create upheaval, she argues, citizens are more likely to become angry, feeling that the law is imposed on them and that major decisions have been taken out of their hands. By contrast, laws passed by legislatures, while often unpopular, are nevertheless more likely to be shaped by public opinion and thus more widely accepted.

The laws the Europeans have come up with are designed to navigate a middle ground. While the U.S. has the least restrictive abortion laws in the West, most European countries require a brief waiting period before granting approval and put a limit on abortions after ten weeks. What's more, they spend much more on family planning, to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and generously support child care programs to make raising children an attractive alternative to terminating pregnancies.

Another small but telling difference is that in Europe, abortions are discreetly administered in state-owned hospitals. Only the U.S. has a profit-making abortion industry that advertises in newspapers and at bus stops.

Glendon acknowledges that the U.S. tradition of privacy and individualism is probably too strong for a simple consensus to develop here the way it did in, say, Sweden. In her analysis of the American difference, however, she fails to acknowledge an even more significant factor hindering an abortion compromise. Religiously, ethnically, and culturally, we're just too diverse to easily reconcile this issue. And "turning it back to the states' is no panacea. Even if Berkeley and Birmingham were allowed to have abortion laws reflecting their different community standards, it's hard to believe that the right-to-life movement would be content to see thousands of abortions performed anywhere in the country. Similarly, it's hard to imagine feminist groups ever being content to see women--in any part of the country--jailed for obtaining an abortion. Whether or not the Rehnquist court, as influenced by Reagan appointments, overturns Roe v. Wade, there will be no easy compromise.
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Author:Palese, C. Blair
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1987
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