Abortion Rights Around the World

Pro choice abortion protest signs

Trigger warning: The post contains mentions of abortion, rape, and incest

Abortion has been practiced in Britain since the late 60s. Safe, legal and free abortions are widely available in England, Scotland and Wales. In fact, Britain has some of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. But how does it compare to the rest of the world?

Abortion in Europe


Europe is fairly liberal when it comes to abortion laws, although it does include Malta which doesn’t allow abortions at all. Also there’s the Vatican (for obvious reasons) but nobody was really expecting that to be at the forefront for liberal reproductive rights.

Europe has the highest amount of countries that provide abortion on request. Thirty-two to be exact. It also happens to have the lowest maternity mortality rates out of all of the continents. It’s almost as if access to abortion saves lives.

The UK has the most liberal laws, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where a person can only procure an abortion if the pregnancy endangers their life. It doesn’t matter if the person seeking an abortion is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, if they are a child themselves or even if the baby has a fatal fetal abnormality. Unless the pregnant person is dying, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland.

What’s more, if a pregnant person travels to mainland UK to terminate the pregnancy, they can be given a life sentence.

In the Republic of Ireland, a person may have an abortion if their life is at risk. However this is very much a grey area for health care professionals, due to the manner in which the law is worded.

In recent years the Repeal the 8th movement has been receiving huge support. There have been petitions, marches, strikes, art collectives and all manner of peaceful protests. The aim of which are to provide safe, legal abortions to the state.



A pregnancy can be terminated legally in every single African country, if the woman’s life is at risk. South Africa, Tunisia and Cape Verde are the most liberal out of these states, allowing abortions under any circumstances. That’s right. Only 3 out of 54 countries allow abortions by request.

Even so, South Africa, despite being the most progressive of states, has so many barriers to legal abortions that people are still risking their health and their lives in order to terminate their pregnancies.

The two year MAMA programme (Mobilizing Activists Around Medical Abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa) was launched in September 2016 , stemming from NGOs and community activists. The MAMA network aims to champion sexual & reproductive rights, removing stigma, spreading information and providing safe and free access to contraceptives and abortion pills.



As with Africa, every single Asian country allows pregnancies to be terminated if they are a risk to the mother’s life. Seventeen of those allow abortions by request, however that isn’t quite the full story when it comes to Turkey.

Turkey may seem like a super hip-happening liberal country, however when you look a little deeper, things don’t quite add up. It does have some of the more liberal abortion laws in Asia, but it only allows terminations up to 10 weeks. There are also reports that abortion is being phased out dramatically in state hospitals.

The Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAF) is a network that works towards reproductive and sexual rights in Asia. It aims to remove the stigma of abortion and ensure that safe, legal abortions are freely available across the continent.



The Oceania region allows abortion if the pregnancy is a danger to the life of the woman, but only Australia alone allows abortion on request. Abortion is permitted in New Zealand for any medical reason, mental or physical, to the women or fetus.

Central America


Mexico decriminalized abortion in 2007, but only in Mexico City, thus leaving abortion in other Mexican states heavily restricted, if available at all. In some areas, even suffering a miscarriage can lead to a murder conviction. Organizations like Las Libres provide accompaniment, support and access to justice.

Central America is also home to El Salvador and Nicaragua, who have a total ban on abortion. El Salvador has the strictest reproductive rights laws in the world. Pregnancies must be brought to term even if the women’s life is in danger, or the foetus will not survive. In fact, a person can face up to 40 years in prison just for suffering a miscarriage.

Nicaragua isn’t quite as strict as El Salvador, but it has refused medication to patients as they would terminate the pregnancy.  The citizen’s coalition Las Queremos Vivas has stated that some hospitals do perform therapeutic abortions under the radar, however anyone found to be assisting or involved in terminating the pregnancy can face up to 12 years in prison.

South America & Caribbean


Like many of the Central American countries, the Dominican Republic sentences those who suffer miscarriages to jail time. Granted, it also prosecutes doctors who botch abortions. In 2014, a law was passed that granted abortion on the grounds off rape, incest, risk to life and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Then the High Court overturned it and reinstated the ban on abortion. However, abortions are available if the pregnancy will most likely result in the death of the woman and all other avenues have been exhausted.

In Chile, there is still a blanket ban on abortion, although this may not be the case for much longer. President Michelle Bachelet introduced a bill in 2015 that would relax the abortion laws, to allow the procedure in certain circumstances.

The bill was approved by Chile’s Health Commission in 2016, but still needs to go through the constitutional commission and the High Chamber, so there is still quite some way to go.

North America

Thanks to an epic Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade 1973, abortion is legal in the United States, although accessibility varies depending on which state you are in.

There are a number of movements in the USA that are fighting back against the oppression of women’s rights, from Amnesty International to the Silver Ribbon campaign. Even state lawmakers are standing up against the defunding of Planned Parenthood by the federal government.

Canada decriminalized abortion in 1988 and there have been no legal restrictions since. It is one of the few countries that has free and safe access, with little to no restrictions.

Image provided by Kate Ausburn.

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