Worldwide Abortion Legislation

by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 12 August 2005

Summary of prevelance of abortion policies

abortion policy
number of
number of
total population
of world
largest countries in category
abortion on demand, sometimes mandatory 3 01,412,800,000 21.9PR China, North Korea, Vietnam
abortion on demand 50111,200,600,000 18.6Canada, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, United States, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine
abortion for economic/social reasons and in hard cases* 14 21,417,500,000 22.0India, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom
abortion in some or all hard cases* 63 41,293,300,000 20.0Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand
abortion only to save mother's life or banned altogether 62 01,116,200,000 17.3Bangladesh, Columbia, Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, Philippines
(unknown) 131 10,800,000 0.2East Timor
(unpopulated territories) 023 0 0.0
(world totals) 193716,451,100,000100.0

* hard cases include to protect the mother's physical or mental health, in cases of rape or incest, or to eliminate unhealthy babies.

As summarized above, about one-fifth of the world's population lives where abortion is allowed only to save the mother's life (or banned completely), one-fifth where abortion is permitted only in some "hard" cases, one-fifth where it is allowed for broad economic or social reasons, one-fifth where it is available on demand, and one-fifth where it may be forced upon mothers.

According to United Nations data for 2001, three countries ban abortion under all circumstances: El Salvador, Malta, and the Vatican City. This is down from 16 countries in 1994 and 4 in 1999 (although 10 of the 16 listed for 1994 made exceptions in various circumstances; Chile was listed in 1999 but in 2001 is counted as making exceptions in some circumstances).

Of 193 countries examined, 3 ban abortion in all circumstances and 59 officially permit abortion only to save the life of the mother. Officially, 122 countries allow abortion to protect the physical health of the mother, 120 to protect the mother's mental health, 83 in cases of rape or incest, and 76 to eliminate an unhealthy child. Eleven countries allow abortion for economic or social reasons (besides those allowing abortion on demand): Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Finland, Iceland, India, Japan, Luxembourg, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the United Kingdom, and Zambia.

The United States is among 53 countries that allow abortion on demand, up from 42 in 1994. (Note that some of these countries may still place some restrictions, such as when during pregnancy abortions may be performed.) It is joined in the western hemisphere by Canada, Cuba, and Guyana. Ten countries in Western and Southern Europe do the same: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. This permissive stance on abortion is retained from the era of communism by the 15 former Soviet states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) and 11 nations of Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia. Asian nations still under communist rule do the same: Cambodia, PR China, Mongolia, North Korea, and Vietnam. The remaining nations allowing abortion on demand include Bahrain, Singapore, and Turkey in Asia; Cape Verde, Tunisia, South Africa in Africa, and Australia.

Three countries are reported as enforcing mandatory abortions in some circumstances. The People's Republic of China has been recognized as forcing mandatory abortions to enforce its "one child" policy. While the PRC government claims to have recently reformed the policy to eliminate such occurences, reports persist of forced abortions by local authorities. Early in 2003 the PRC placed official restrictions on abortions for sex selection. In Vietnam there are also reports of mandatory abortions in conjuntion with regulations on childbearing. North Korea is reported to force abortions for pregnant Korean women repatriated from abroad.

The greatest regional consistency in restricting abortion is in Central and South America. Several of these countries make exceptions to save the life of the mother and in the case of rape and incest--but not for the physical and mental health of the mother. In general, many bans on abortion are regularly circumvented in the courts and can also be avoided by traveling abroad--a common practice in Europe.

Sources include Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat, "World Abortion Policies 1999", on line, United Nations [].

Go to Worldwide abortion legislation, 2004 version.
Go to Worldwide abortion legislation, 2000 version.

updated from section V of "Global Abortion Summary," version 3
© 2000-2004, 2005 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 12 August 2005.
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