Where Are We Now? A Snapshot of Some of the World’s Most Egregious Abortion Laws

In August, Chile took a positive step on the long road to realizing reproductive rights. The government passed a law that permits abortion under three circumstances: if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk; if the pregnancy is the result of rape; or if the fetus will not survive. Previously, abortion in Chile was banned under all circumstances, as it is in several other countries in Latin America and around the world. While Chile’s new law is a victory—and representative of a trend in the liberalization of abortion laws globally over the past few decades—women’s reproductive rights continue to face severe and mounting threats across the globe.

Below is a quick glance at some of the most dangerous places in the world to access an abortion. Yet, even where abortion isn’t criminalized, a host of restrictions can limit women’s and girls’ access to safe abortion. And in many countries—including the United States—conservative groups are working to limit access further.

For example, in Poland last year, the ruling Law and Justice Party proposed a near ban on abortion, which could have potentially imprisoned women who sought abortions and doctors who provided them. Tens of thousands of women took to the streets over many days in protest, forcing the government to withdraw the bill. While that bill is dead, for now, the push by Poland’s government for more restrictive laws is not.

The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world to criminalize abortion in all circumstances with no clear exceptions. Of course, this does not mean that women do not get abortions. Instead, they go to providers who are not trained or equipped, and often perform the procedure in unsanitary conditions. As a result, every two in three women in the country who undergo an abortion experience a complication.

Ireland only permits abortion when there is a “real and substantial risk” to the pregnant woman’s life. In all other circumstances, abortion is criminalized and carries a 14-year prison sentence for women who have them. As a result, every year thousands of women travel to England to access abortion. In June, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled for the second time that Ireland’s abortion laws had subjected a woman to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment in denying her the right to abort a fetus with fatal abnormalities.

El Salvador has one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Until 1998, abortion had been permitted in cases where the pregnancy posed a risk to a woman’s life, in cases involving sex with a minor or rape, and cases of serious fetal deformities. But in 1998 a new penal code took effect banning abortion in all circumstances, and in January of 1999, the Constitution was amended to recognize life as starting from the moment of conception, bolstering the law even further. Since then, more than 150 women and girls—some as young as 12 years old—have been prosecuted.

While the above countries—and others—criminalize abortion to varying degrees, many other countries have liberalized their laws on abortion. Despite many battles still to fight, the global trend is moving in this direction.

The International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 affirmed reproductive health as a human right, changing the conversation and compelling many governments to modify their laws and policies. But, implementation of these laws is often weak and inconsistent. To improve reproductive health policies and ensure that existing progressive laws are put into effect, IWHC works with grantee partners in ten countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East that are working to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and fight restrictive abortion laws. These grassroots organizations are critical to holding governments accountable to their commitments to ensure all women and girls everywhere can make their own choices about their bodies and realize their human rights.

Learn more about the laws in specific countries here.

Photo: Beth Wilson

2 responses to “Where Are We Now? A Snapshot of Some of the World’s Most Egregious Abortion Laws

  1. Hi Ladies, thanks for this I just wanted to point out that Malta is another country that does not allow abortion under any circumstance, we have a total ban. Although we are at the forefront of many other human rights especially when it comes to LGBT rights we are way behind on reproductive health and reproductive rights. We could do with any help you could give us. I am the admin of a facebook group with of 23,000 members all women called Women for Women, however, we are not all pro-choice and many are very pro-life. We at least have managed to start the discussion about abortion and last year together with the Women’s Rights Foundation a local Ngo we managed to pressure the government to allow the Morning After Pill on the market and over the country, it was previously not even available either.

  2. Interesting about the mobile phone thing….kind of an amazing idea in an age where almost everyone has a cell-phone, especially in places where not everyone has access to a computer to readily look up things on the Internet. Or, they might feel embarrassed to look things up in say a library.

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