Why Does America Lag Behind the World on Unborn Life?

The first inalienable right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is the right to life. Yet America, which enshrines that right in our founding document, does a worse job of protecting unborn life than most other countries. The Supreme Court now has a chance to begin ending this injustice and ensuring that America lives up to its promise.  

We’re both shocked at how far the U.S. falls short in protecting life. We’ve spent the better part of our careers striving to change that. One of us (Ambassador Haley) has also seen how life is devalued across the rest of the world. With so much war, poverty, and hardship around the globe, it’s urgent that America set the standard for upholding this fundamental right.   

But new research shows nearly every European country is outdoing us when it comes to protecting unborn children and their moms. Americans might be surprised to learn that the extreme, no-limits abortion laws of the United States are virtually unknown in Europe. Here, abortion is legal at any stage of pregnancy, including when an unborn baby has a heartbeat, can feel pain, and even when he or she can survive outside the womb. By contrast, the Charlotte Lozier Institute found that 47 out of 50 European countries limit elective abortion to 15 weeks or earlier.  

There’s a reason Europe has such common-sense abortion policies.   

While some Washington politicians struggle with answering the basic question, “Is a 15-week-old-unborn baby a human being?” science has steadily revealed the humanity of children in the womb. By six weeks, they have a heartbeat and a developing brain and spinal cord. By 10 weeks they have arms, legs, fingers and toes, and they can kick and jump. By 15 weeks, they have fully formed noses, lips, eyelids and eyebrows – and by that point, if not earlier, they can feel pain. So can mothers: Abortions are more dangerous for women with every week of a pregnancy.  

European abortion laws align with these deeply human realities much better than America’s. In France, abortion is limited at 12 weeks. The same goes for Switzerland and all of Scandinavia, where abortion is limited to well before the third trimester of pregnancy. Austria and Italy have limits at approximately three months, while Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Romania, and Spain have 14-week limits. Not a single European country allows abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Besides the U.S., only seven countries (including China and North Korea) allow such a barbaric policy. That’s not company we want to be in.  

The United States needs to catch up. And that’s where the Supreme Court comes in.  

As soon as October, the justices will hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that limits abortions after 15 weeks. This law is soundly within the global mainstream, yet to date, the Supreme Court has blocked states from following the science and protecting unborn children and mothers. The Mississippi case is the best chance in nearly three decades to right that wrong and protect the right to life.  

Americans overwhelmingly agree that laws like Mississippi’s should be allowed to stand. About two-thirds of people say abortion should be limited after the first trimester in a recent poll, while 80% said the same about the second trimester. We don’t have to wonder where this consensus comes from. The advance of technology has illuminated the beauty of unborn life more than ever. Ultrasound imaging makes it easy for parents to see their child before he or she is born. Thanks to medical breakthroughs, premature babies can now survive as much as six weeks earlier than in the 1970s. Doctors are even able to treat the tiniest patients right in the womb.  

These incredible developments help explain why Mississippi passed its law, and why so many other states are following suit. Across the country, lawmakers have introduced hundreds of pro-life bills, with about 90 new laws protecting unborn children and their mothers enacted this year alone. This progress is incredible, and it reflects the American people’s common sense on life.  

Yet lasting progress is being blocked by the Supreme Court. By overturning its previous rulings and allowing Mississippi’s law to stand, the justices will unshackle states to advance pro-life laws and protections for the unborn and their mothers, reflecting the deepest values of their people and the highest ideals of our country.   

America should be leading the world in defending the unborn – the most precious and vulnerable among us. It’s wrong that our country is behind so many others. The time has come to make it right, and uphold the right to life at America’s heart.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

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