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Abortion Laws in Saudi Arabia More Forgiving Than in Alabama: Report

"We're not seeing right now in the Middle East and North Africa a desire to make laws more punitive and more restrictive for women who need abortions and providers. We are seeing that in the U.S."

Thousands of people attempt to march down Istanbul's famous Istiklal street during a rally for International Women's Day on March 8, 2019.

Thousands of people attempt to march down Istanbul's famous Istiklal street during a rally for International Women's Day on March 8, 2019. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Alabama women in need of abortion care can travel to Saudi Arabia for less restrictive rules if the southern U.S. state's recent anti-choice law is upheld in the courts. 

That's according to a new study by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which compared new laws in the U.S. to restrictions in Muslim-majority countries in southwest Asia and North Africa. All have more lenient laws around abortion than the Alabama law. 

Alabama's law, which was passed through the legislature last week and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, bans abortions in the state at every point in pregnancy and carries sentences of up to 99 years for doctors that perform the medical procedure. The bill followed similarly restrictive laws in Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and Georgia, though none of the other states went as far as the Alabama legislation. 

By contrast, there are a number of abortion exceptions in the countries Haaretz looked at, and, in the cases of Turkey and Tunisia, legal through the first trimester. 

Different definitions of "risk" appear to be in play in the countries as well. In Iran, for example, "some contemporary religious rulings support abortion in cases of rape, fetal impairment, or where there is risk to woman's life and health." Both Iran and Iraq also allow abortion in the case of rape and incest; in Saudi Arabia, the procedure is also allowed for women "to protect her physical and mental health."

The attacks on abortion in some U.S. states are out of step with the rest of the world, said Leila Hessini, vice president at the Global Fund for Women.

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"We're not seeing right now in the Middle East and North Africa a desire to make laws more punitive and more restrictive for women who need abortions and providers," Hessini told Haaretz. "We are seeing that in the U.S."

Haaretz noted that Alabama passed legislation banning sharia law—laws based in the Islamic faith—from the state in 2014, citing what critics of sharia describe as its hostility to women. 

In fact, the same person who drafted Alabama's anti-abortion bill—an activist named Eric Johnston who founded the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition—also drafted its anti-Sharia law in 2014, arguing that "Sharia law violates women's rights."

The report led historian Arash Azizi to comment on the backward direction being taken by many U.S. states.

"Abortion laws in many Muslim countries are far ahead of the laws in the United States," said Azizi. 

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