March 2023

"The first difficulty is time:" The impact of gestational age limits on reproductive health and justice in the context of cross-border travel for abortion care in Europe

De Zordo S, Mishtal J, Zanini G, Gerdts C. Social Science & Medicine. Mar 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.115760

Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data collected during a five-year multi-disciplinary European research project, in this article we show how restrictions on access to legal abortion, and particularly gestational age (GA) limits at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, negatively affect women and pregnant people living in European countries where abortion is legal on request or on broad grounds.

First, we examine why most European legislations establish GA limits and illustrate how abortion is framed in national laws and in the current national and international legal and political debates on abortion rights. We then show, based on research data we collected during our 5-year project and contextualized with existing data and statistics, how these restrictions force thousands of people to travel across borders from European countries where abortion is legal, delaying access to care, and increasing pregnant people's health risks. Finally, we explore, from an anthropological perspective, how pregnant people who travel across borders for abortion care conceptualize abortion access, and the relationship between the right to abortion care and the GA restrictions that limit this right.

Our study participants criticize the time restrictions established by the laws in their countries of residence as failing to meet pregnant people's needs, highlight the crucial importance of easy, timely access to abortion care even beyond the first trimester of pregnancy, and suggest a more relational approach to the right to access safe, legal abortion. Abortion travel is also a matter of reproductive justice because access to care depends on specific resources including finances, information, support, citizenship status, and social networks.

Our work contributes to scholarly and public debates about reproductive governance and justice, by shifting the locus of attention to GA limits and its impact on women and pregnant people, particularly in geopolotical settings where abortion laws are deemed liberal.