THE COST OF ABORTION

“The price of anything," Henry David Thoreau once said, “is the amount of life you exchange for it." As the Irish vote to decriminalize abortion and the Argentines ponder a similar move, we look at the economics of abortion around the world.

Women celebrate the result of Ireland's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


In what is rapidly becoming the Uruguay of the north, on May 25, 66.4% of Irish voters voted to repeal a landmark 1983 abortion ban.

In doing so, they reduced the number of European countries where abortion is heavily restricted to Poland, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, and a handful of Catholic microstates (Andorra, Malta, Monaco, and San Marino).
For a vote that came nearly three years to the day after the once staunchly Catholic country voted to legalize gay marriage, the recent referendum in Ireland marked another crucial turning point in the cultural revolution that's been shaping the continent for the past 50 years.

The outcome of the vote will not only affect Ireland, however. The UK, where an estimated 170,000 Irish women have terminated their pregnancies since 1980, is likely to notice the change too.

At the going rate of GBP900 per operation, not to mention travel and accommodation costs, the abortion industry generates millions of pounds for the British economy each year.

Add to this the approximately 700 Northern Irish women who travel to England, Scotland, and Wales for terminations each year (in addition to the 3,265 from the Republic, as of 2016), and 'abortion tourism,' as it's disparagingly referred to, constitutes a sizable chunk of British-Irish 'trade.'

Compassionate Tories?

However, part of this subset of the service industry already changed course in June 2017, when the UK government announced it would henceforth provide abortions free of charge to Northern Irish women in Scottish, English, and Welsh clinics.

For those on incomes of less than GBP15,300 a year, the government will also foot the bill for travel and accommodation.

A tonic to forestall a Tory rebellion from those members of the party dismayed by their coalition's reliance upon Northern Ireland's recalcitrant and conservative Democratic Union Party (DUP), the move bought Theresa May some time.

But now that the procedure's also legal in the Republic, Northern Irish women mightn't need to take her up on the offer.

Scrapping the Szlachtan yoke

Ireland, of course, has hardly been the only country in which women seeking abortions must go abroad.
In Poland, an estimated 80,000 women travel to Germany, UK, and the Netherlands each year to terminate pregnancies; even Denmark sends its fair share to neighboring Sweden and Britain, as neither of which have parental authorization laws.

Whereas Polish women can terminate a pregnancy domestically in the case of rape, incest, or fetal impairment—the third of which the Law and Justice party tried controversially and unsuccessfully to repeal in 2016—it is not only safer but also cheaper to go abroad.

The former can cost up to Zł4,000 (USD1,270), the same, safer, social-ostracism-free operation sets you back merely USD650 in Germany, USD325 in the Netherlands, and USD1,200 in Britain.

Of the 7,000 women who traveled to Britain for 'abortion tourism' in 2009, says Ann Furedi, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, “more than a thousand, maybe several thousands of them, were Polish," Reuters reported.

For life, and liberty, in Latin America

In a region where 97% of women have greatly restricted access to legal abortion, Latin Americans have long had to be creative, daring, and often dangerous to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Since only Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guyana, and Uruguay allow unrestricted access—all but the latter once non-Spanish imperial possessions at one extremity of the region—abortion tourism has been out of the question for all but the few who can afford to travel to Miami.

But certain exceptions exist. Though illegal in the rest of the country, in 2007 Mexico City legislators made the landmark decision to legalize abortion in the capital.

Since then, more than 175,000 women have traveled to Mexico City from all over the country to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Often accompanied by parents or loved ones, the mostly young women can abort at a public clinic for free or a private facility for roughly USD450.

But another means of inadvertently diverting cash and energy from the province to the capital, it still beats traveling to the US, where a similar procedure sets women back roughly USD700 in the first trimester alone, not to mention travel expenses.

Derechos de la Plata

Further south, Argentine women are close to winning the same rights as their counterparts across the river in Uruguay.

Though shot down multiple times in Argentina's congress, most recently in 2007, competing bills went before the floor for debate in early April—at least one of which, the National Campaign for Abortion Rights being championed by the #NiUnaMenos campaign, now has a fighting chance of passing.

Spurred on by huge protests on March 8 to mark International Women's Day, there is more pressure on congress now than at any other time in Argentine history.

Though it was the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage (in 2010), Argentina now lags behind neighboring Uruguay, where abortion has been legal since 2012.

However, mindful of its pioneer status in the region—and as if to prevent 'abortion tourism'—only foreigners with at least one year of residency can undergo the procedure.

What, then, have Argentine women done until now?

Of the estimated 500,000 illegal abortions undertaken each year, 40% of all pregnancies, most consist of a simple concoction of mifepristone, which stops the hormones necessary for pregnancy, and misoprostol, the “magic white pill" that “brings your period back." Originally designed to treat gastric ulcers, the latter also induces contractions.

Though pro-life center-right president Mauricio Macri has said he would not veto the bill should it pass congress, the cost of misoprostol has more than tripled, from USD40 a pill in late 2015 to USD170 by 2017, since his election.

You can make it in New York

For the country that practically pioneered abortion tourism, the tides have been turning in recent years.

With a wave of anti-abortion legislation sweeping the nation since 2011, access has grown more restricted for millions of women, and 73 clinics shut since that year alone.

As a result, vast 'abortion deserts' have now sprung up: well over 90% of women in Wyoming, West Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi now live in a county without an abortion clinic, and 20% of American women must now travel over 43 miles to access one.

As in the early 1970s, New York City is once again a center of abortion operations.

Though many also now travel to liberal oases such as Colorado and California, 13% of all abortions in the US were performed in New York alone in 2014, up from 10% in 2000.

Though overall abortions there are down 27% from 2000 (from 164,000-120,000/year), the mood still somewhat resembles that of July 1970–January 1973, the brief period after which New York City legalized abortion and before which Roe v Wade went nationwide.

During this time a vast 'abortion tourism' industry sprung up, bringing 350,000 women to NYC in 2.5 years alone to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Despite certain reforms in Europe and Latin America, hundreds of millions of women still have scant to no access to safe or legal reproductive health facilities, particularly in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. For every rare beacon that does—Tunisia, South Africa, or Uruguay—dozens more keep women on a tight reproductive rope.

At the end of the day, only liberals and communists have given women the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies: the rest must save up for New York, London, or Toronto—or visit their local pharmacy, should they have one.