Significant progress has been achieved in guaranteeing women’s access to abortion over the past few decades, with approximately 50 countries liberalizing their abortion laws. Some of this change has been gradual, allowing women to seek legal abortion only in life-threatening situations or when rape caused their pregnancy. However, a lot of these modifications have been transformational, removing all restrictions on abortion in favor of women’s reproductive freedom.
Nearly 90% of nations worldwide permit abortions, at the very least when the woman’s life is in danger. Most nations that permit abortion when a woman’s life is in danger also permit abortion for other reasons, such as when a woman’s health is at risk during pregnancy and in situations of rape or incest.
Here is the list of countries where abortion is permitted and those where it is completely prohibited, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that fights for reproductive rights worldwide.
Abortion Laws Worldwide: A Journey Through Thorns
Abortion laws worldwide have a complex and lengthy history. The regulation of abortion can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, where there were laws in place that allowed abortions but only under certain conditions.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church deemed abortion a sin and outlawed the practice. This perspective was largely adopted by many Western countries, leading to strict abortion laws that remained in place for centuries. However, other cultures, such as some indigenous tribes in the Americas, saw abortion as a common and accepted practice.
In the 19th century, laws surrounding abortion began to shift, particularly in Europe and the United States. The rise in the number of countries which allow abortion has gained considerable momentum. A significant factor was the emergence of the feminist movement, which saw abortion rights as a fundamental aspect of women’s autonomy and equality. In the United States, the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973 established the legal right to an abortion.
As of 2021, abortion laws around the world and access to abortion vary widely by country. Many abortion legal countries, particularly in Western Europe, allow abortion without significant restrictions. Conversely, some nations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, have laws that prohibit abortion entirely or only permit it in limited circumstances.
Despite ongoing controversy deriving from the dispute between the religious and cultural beliefs or allegedly moral values and fundamental human rights in many countries, advocates for abortion rights continue to push for the recognition of access to safe and legal abortion as a human right.
Abortion Laws by Country: A General Overview
Abortion laws vary from country to country, with most nations allowing the procedure under certain circumstances. Only 24 countries worldwide have a complete ban on abortion, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Over the past 50 years, there has been a trend toward the liberalization of abortion laws, particularly in industrialized countries. Globally, around 73 million abortions are performed each year, resulting in approximately 39 abortions per 1000 women, which remained a relatively stable rate from the 1990s to this day.
Between 1990-1994 and 2015-2019, countries with generally legal abortions (excluding China and India) saw a 43% decline in the average abortion rate. In contrast, countries with severe restrictions on abortion experienced an approximately 12% increase in their average abortion rate. Most industrialized countries allow abortions without restriction, while approximately 100 countries have some restrictions in place, usually allowing abortion only under certain circumstances, such as in the case of the physical or mental health of the woman being at stake or inconvenient socioeconomic conditions.
Access to safe abortion is recognized as a human right by international frameworks, including the UN Human Rights Committee and regional human rights courts. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo saw 179 governments committing to prevent unsafe abortions, while the WHO recognized unsafe abortions as a public health issue in 1967. The UN Population Fund has emphasized the importance of family planning in reducing maternal mortality and the number of abortions performed.
Abortion by Country: A Brief Comparison
As of 2022, abortion laws in the United States have been going through a series of significant changes. The landmark of the Supreme Court, the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion all across the country in 1973. Although each state still had its own specific set of abortion regulations, with some being more restrictive than others, abortion remained legal throughout the country. Nonetheless, on June 24, 2022, the then-current Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. As a result of this decision, each state can decide whether to legalize or prohibit abortion, resulting in a wider variety of state-level abortion laws than ever before.
30 states had already entirely banned abortion before the Roe v. Wade decision. Although the decision forced these states to legalize abortion, many enacted laws restricting abortion as much as possible. It was expected that these states would quickly move to re-ban abortion again, and such a prediction was fulfilled within a week by more than 20 states–mainly central and southern–following the Dobbs decision. Some of these bans were due to pre-existing laws that had been inactive due to Roe v. Wade but became active again after the ruling was dissolved. Furthermore, 13 states had already passed proactive “trigger laws” before the decision, which are anti-abortion laws intended to take effect inc case Roe v. Wade was ever repealed.
The new abortion bans are indicated to be more punitive and restrictive than those from the pre-Roe v. Wade era. For example, a Texas law (S.B. 8) enacted in 2021 authorized individual citizens to sue anyone found to have aided or performed an abortion, even if they had no connection to any of the parties involved. Texas’ pre-Roe v. Wade abortion laws doesn’t include this provision.
In Russia, abortion is permitted up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks in cases of rape, or if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life. Remarkably, Russia was the first country to legalize abortion for any reason in 1920.
Even though a general prohibition was reintroduced in 1936, it was lifted again in 1955, and access to abortion has been available ever since. According to data from 2010, Russia had the highest rate of abortions per capita compared to any other country in the world.
In Canada, abortions are legal and can be obtained without the need for a legally justifiable reason, so long as they’re performed within the gestational limit set by the province or territory, which ranges from 12 weeks to 24 weeks and 6 days.
Most abortions were prohibited before 1988, but the Canadian Supreme Court reversed the relevant laws. Abortions are included in the coverage of the Canadian national healthcare system and are free of charge if performed in a regular hospital. However, patients may be required to pay medical costs if the procedure is performed in a private clinic.
In Germany, abortions are legal within the first trimester of pregnancy, provided the woman undergoes mandatory counseling at least three days before the procedure. In cases of certain conditions or medical emergencies, the counseling requirement can be waived.
Abortions beyond the first trimester are generally prohibited unless the woman’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk to her physical or mental health. The law also allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions on moral or religious grounds, but they’re required to refer the patient to a willing practitioner.
In Cuba, abortion is legal and available on demand for free through the public healthcare system. It’s legal to have the procedure within up to ten weeks of gestation.
Women seeking abortions are required to receive pre-abortion counseling, and minors must obtain parental consent or judicial authorization. The government promotes family planning and access to contraception in an effort to reduce the need for abortions.
Countries That Allow Abortion
Although gestational limits may vary, below are the countries that allow abortion. Note that in some countries, parental or spouse authorization is required.
|Armenia||Czech Rep.||Kazakhstan||Northern Ireland||Switzerland|
|Australia||Dem. People’s Rep. of Korea||Kosovo||Norway||Tajikistan|
|Belarus||France||Lithuania||Republic of North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia)||Turkey|
|Bulgaria||Germany||Moldova||Sao Tome & Principe||The United States*|
|Cape Verde||Guyana||Mozambique||Slovak Rep.||Vietnam|
*The Roe v. Wade decision, which established the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States, was overruled by the US Supreme Court on June 24.
In some countries, such as France, abortion is covered by most health insurance plans. Also, in most countries, there are organizations that offer support to women who are considering or have had abortions. These organizations can provide information about the procedure, help women find a qualified doctor, and offer emotional support.
Countries That Allow Abortion on Socioeconomic Grounds
Some countries permit abortion depending on the woman’s social or economic situation and taking into account the potential effects of pregnancy and childbearing. These countries are:
|Fiji||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|
Countries That Allow Abortion When the Woman’s Life Is at Risk
The laws of the nations in this group allow abortions when a woman’s life is in danger. For instance, abortion is prohibited in Brazil, with the exception of situations involving rape, dangers to the mother’s life, or anencephaly, a condition in which the fetus lacks part of the brain or skull. In such circumstances, the lady requires consent from a physician and at least three more clinical specialists.
|Antigua & Barbuda||Côte d’Ivoire||Kiribati||Micronesia||Solomon Islands||Timor-Leste|
|Bhutan||Gambia||Malawi||Oman||Sri Lanka||United Arab Emirates (UAE)|
|Brunei Darussalam||Indonesia||Marshall Islands||Papua New Guinea||Syria||Yemen|
Countries That Prohibit Abortion
There are 24 nations in the world where abortion is totally outlawed. In Europe, these are Andorra and Malta, in Central America, El Salvador, and Honduras, in Africa, Senegal and Egypt, and in Asia, the Philippines and Laos. 90 million (5%) of all women of reproductive age reside in nations that outlaw abortion completely.
The laws of the countries in the below group forbid abortion in any situation, even when the woman’s life or health is in danger.
|Andorra||El Salvador||Madagascar||San Marino|
|Congo (Brazzaville)||Honduras||Mauritania||Sierra Leone|
|Egypt||Laos||Philippines||West Bank & Gaza Strip|
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there is little to no correlation between global abortion rates and the legality of abortion worldwide. Abortions may, will, and do happen whether they are legal or not. However, the safety of those abortions is impacted by their legality. The illegal or “homemade” abortion choices that women who do not have access to a legal abortion regularly choose are typically far riskier, riskier, and less successful than legal options carried out by qualified medical professionals in a clinical setting would be.
According to the reports by The Center for Reproductive Rights, 970 million women, or 59% of women of reproductive age, reside in nations with lax restrictions on abortion. Despite the fact that the majority of women reside in nations where they have access to abortions, 41% of women don’t. 700 million women of reproductive age are impacted by the inability to obtain safe and legal abortion services.
Source: The Center for Reproductive Rights