Comparative law is the study of the laws and legal systems of different nations in order to deepen understanding of a particular nation’s laws. This field was systematically developed by French and German scholars in the late nineteenth century. In Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon uses the methods of comparative legal scholars to explain the distinctive elements of American laws regarding abortion and divorce. As she explains in the introduction, she also adopts the perspective taken in Plato’s Nomoi (388-368 b.c.e.; Laws, 1804) that law is educational in purpose so that she can illuminate the differences between American and European law. Although Glendon does highlight provisions of abortion and divorce laws of European nations, in particular France and Germany, she does so largely to put American law in contrast and specifically to demonstrate that American law has embraced an extreme individual rights position on the legal spectrum.
Chapter 1 demonstrates how the laws regarding abortion in the Western world changed dramatically in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Of the twenty nations compared by Glendon (Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, France, West Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States), the great majority abandoned strict abortion laws dating from the nineteenth century and adopted more permissive ones. Although these countries widely allow abortion, the United States goes furthest in content and characterization in its abortion laws. Only American law rejects any effort to preserve the fetus before viability and severely restricts regulation after viability. In social policy, the United States provides almost no direct social benefits to mothers, married or unmarried. In constitutional law, although legislation protecting fetuses is permitted in countries...
(The entire section is 814 words.)