Which countries have the strictest abortion laws?


Here is a snapshot of abortion laws around the world.

On May 25, Ireland voted in a landslide to liberalise some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws. 

Ireland's prime minister Leo Varadkar described the vote as the culmination of a "quiet revolution" in the deeply Catholic country.

But abortion is still outlawed in around 18 countries around the world.

Here is a snapshot of the global situation based on information from the World Health Organisation and US-based Centre for Reproductive Rights.

Total ban

Predominantly Catholic Malta is the only European Union country to totally ban abortion, imposing jail terms of between 18 months and three years if the law is broken.

Abortion is also banned in Andorra, the Vatican and San Marino, which are in Europe but not the EU.

The world's abortion laws 2018.
The world's abortion laws 2018.

Globally there are total bans in Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Palau, Philippines, Senegal and Suriname.

In El Salvador, the internationally criticised criminalisation of those found to have terminated pregnancies has led to 27 women being jailed, some serving terms of up to 30 years.

While the United States legalised abortion nationwide in 1973, that has been under threat since Donald Trump became president with some Republicans seeking restrictions.

Iowa legislators have passed the strictest laws in the country, banning most abortions after a foetal heartbeat is detected.

Given that usually happens at six weeks, opponents say it would be too late to get an abortion by the time most women realise they are pregnant.

Other states have used different tactics to make access more difficult such as imposing waiting periods and onerous requirements on abortion clinics that make them unviable. 


Many countries allow abortions in cases where the mother's life is deemed to be in danger.

A partial list includes: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Laos, Lebanon, Myanmar, Oman, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.

In many countries, this exception is strictly interpreted. For example, in Paraguay, a 10-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather was denied an abortion unless she developed life-threatening complications.

A woman with a handkerchief with an embroidered uterus takes part in a march in favor of a bill to legalise abortions in some circumstances.
A woman with a handkerchief with an embroidered uterus takes part in a march in favor of a bill to legalise abortions in some circumstances.

Chile’s abortion policies have long been considered as some of the most restrictive in the world, but last year, its constitutional court approved a bill to allow women to access terminations if their life is in danger, if she has been raped or if a foetus will not survive.

Other countries also allow abortions only in cases of rape or threat to the mother's or baby's health, including Cyprus and Poland in Europe.

To the concerns of pro-choice groups, Poland's parliament rejected mid-January a draft bill that would have liberalised current abortion laws and sent for consideration a proposal to prohibit the procedure when foetuses are deformed. 

Poland already has the lowest recorded abortion rate in Europe at just two abortions per 1,000 live births in 2012.

India does not allow medical terminations after 20 weeks unless there is a threat to the mother's life, while South Korea also has restrictive laws, bucking the regional trend.

In Brazil, a bill is under consideration in Congress that would ban access to all abortions, even in cases of rape and women whose lives are in danger.

Widely allowed

Abortion has been accepted, without restriction, in most parts of North America, Europe and northern Asia as well as Cambodia, Guyana, Mozambique, South Africa, Uruguay and Vietnam.

Uruguay is an unlikely addition to this list and an exception in predominantly Catholic South America.

In 2012, its parliament voted to legalise terminations in any circumstances up to 12 weeks. Although, women must wait five days and consult a three-person panel.

In Australia, the law varies from state to state. While it's technically illegal in NSW and Queensland, it is lawful if a woman's mental or physical health is at risk. In NSW, that also includes financial and social stress. 

In the rest of the country, women can access a termination up to 14 to 24 weeks, however, Tasmanians now have to fly interstate after the state's last abortion clinic closed due to lack of demand and rising costs. 

Anti-abortion campaigners rally On the Day of the Unborn Child, after mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney in March.
Anti-abortion campaigners rally On the Day of the Unborn Child, after mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney in March.

Most EU countries allow abortion on demand up to 10 or 14 weeks of pregnancy, including France, Belgium, Denmark, and Greece.

The deadlines are pushed out for cases of rape or foetal abnormality.  

While Portugal has similar timelines, it has tightened its laws in other ways, requiring women to have counselling first and pay for the procedure.

The Netherlands has some of the most liberal laws, allowing abortion “virtually on request at any time between implantation and viability” according to the United Nations.

According to the World Health Organisation, Russia has the highest abortion rate in Europe with 551 terminations recorded per 1,000 live births in 2011. 

Dateline: Ireland's Abortion Debate


Source AFP - SBS


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