Worldwide Abortion Legislation

by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 5 March 2011

Summary of prevelance of abortion policies

abortion policy
number of
number of
total population
of world
median abortion percentageregions with % datalargest countries in category
abortion on demand, sometimes mandatory 3 01,451,700,000 21.0 27.4 2P.R. China, North Korea, Vietnam
abortion on demand 54351,241,200,000 17.9 18.863Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, United States
abortion for economic/social reasons and in hard cases 12 81,423,200,000 20.5 16.2 9India, Japan, United Kingdom, Republic of China (Taiwan)
abortion in some or all hard cases 67111,624,800,000 23.5 10.413Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda
abortion only to save mother's life or banned altogether 59 51,187,400,000 17.1 3.0 5Bangladesh, Burma, Congo (Dem. Rep.), Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Philippines, Afghanistan
(unpopulated territories) 025 0 0.0 - -
(world totals) 195846,928,300,000100.0 17.492

Explanation: abortion policy (2007-2010) is primarily UN-reported abortion policy for 2007, supplemented by updated policies as recent as 2011 from other sources; "hard cases" include to protect the mother's physical or mental health, in cases of rape or incest, or in cases of possible fetal health issues. Median abortion percentage is unweighted abortion percentage for regions in that category with data within the last 20 years (usually within the last 5 years).

As summarized above, the world's population divides somewhat evenly into five categories of countries: where abortion is allowed only to save the mother's life (or banned completely), where abortion is permitted only in some "hard" cases, where abortion is allowed for broad economic or social reasons, where abortion is available on demand, and where abortion may be forced upon mothers against their will.

According to a United Nations summary for 2007 reviewing 193 countries, 6 ban abortions in all circumstances and 53 permit abortion only to save the life of the mother (although in some of these countries the bans may be circumvented in practice for some situations). Those identified as banning all abortions are Chile, El Salvador, Malta, Nicaragua, Timor-Leste, and Vatican City, and since 2007 the Dominican Republic has also enacted such a ban. This count compares to 4 countries in 2001, 4 in 1999, and 16 in 1994 (although 10 of those 16 made exceptions in various circumstances).

Regarding other "hard cases", officially, 128 of these countries permit abortion to preserve the mother's physical health, 123 to preserve her mental health, 93 in cases of rape or incest, and 88 in cases of fetal health impairment. These include the 66 countries that permit abortion in broader circumstances, such that 68 countries are identified as permitting abortion only for some or all hard cases.

Twelve countries allow abortion for economic or social reasons (besides those allowing abortion on demand): the Republic of China (Taiwan), Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Finland, Iceland, India, Japan, Luxembourg, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the United Kingdom, and Zambia.

Abortion on demand is permitted in 57 countries, although many of these countries place restrictions such as when during the pregnancy an abortion may be obtained. This figure is up from 53 countries in 2002 and 42 in 1994. These 56 countries include:

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:

© 2000-2005, 2011 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 5 March 2011.
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