Sweden During the Time of Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Ever since its enactment, the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade has been frequently debated as anti-choicers fiercely battle to overturn the decision, while pro-choice activists fight to maintain women’s rights to abortion. Even though legislature in some other countries may not be as famous or as controversial as Roe, they are equally important to women’s choices and reproductive rights.

Growing up in Sweden, we will focus on Sweden’s present abortion law, which was put into place two years after Roe. The first law concerning abortion in Sweden was presented in 1938 when women were allowed abortion on specific grounds, namely due to health reasons (when the woman’s life was in danger); if the woman became pregnant during rape; if a minor was taken advantage of sexually; or if the parents were likely to pass on a disease or disorder that would render the child with severe difficulties. However, parts of the law were based on eugenics–for example, if the mother availed of abortion due to “unfitting genes,” she was also sterilized.

The current abortion law was passed in 1975 and is the one most closely related to Roe, both in time and content. This law states that a woman can have an abortion without naming the reason until week 18. After that she will need to consult with the National Board of Health and Welfare in order to obtain permission to end her pregnancy. After week 22 the child is believed to be able to survive outside the mother’s body (parallel to the concept of viability in Roe) and abortion is no longer allowed. There is no age limit in regards to abortion, but if the woman is under 18 years old, it is recommended that she consults with her parent/parents or guardian.  The abortion discussion in Sweden is, according to our own experiences, almost non-existent and abortion rights are rarely questioned. A woman’s right to abortion is seen as fundamental to her right to her own body.

Overall, we are content with Sweden’s abortion laws and are glad that the laws based on eugenics have been replaced with less discriminatory laws. At the same time, discriminatory laws against transgender people have continued to prevail. According to the current law, enacted in 1972, a transgender person wanting to transition can only do so if the person is a Swedish citizen over the age of 18 and if he or she undergoes sterilization, thereby removing all chances of biologically having children.

The law has been hugely criticized by both Swedish and international trans rights groups and humanitarian groups and is said to violate human rights laws. As pleased as we are with the abortion laws, it is difficult to comprehend how an old and outdated eugenics-based law is allowed to continue discriminating against parts of the population.

It is, however, promising that the Swedish government has decided to take the issue seriously. It has called the “sterilization rule” discriminatory and has proposed its revocation sometime in July 2013. We hope that the proposition is successful and implemented as soon as possible since we firmly believe that reproductive equality should be extended to all women and men.

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