US Politics

Which countries have the strictest abortion laws?


Here is a snapshot of abortion laws around the world.

NSW looks to be the final Australia state to decriminalise abortion, putting it in line with a host of other countries.

The introduction of the legislation comes less than a year after Queensland removed abortion from its criminal code in October 2018.

That historic vote saw Queensland join Tasmania, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory as locations where abortions are legal on request. In South Australia, abortions were technically legalised in 1969 when termination is necessary to protect the life or physical/mental health of the mother.

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. 

If the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 does pass both houses of NSW Parliament, Australia will join countries such as Ireland.


On 25 May, 2018 Ireland voted in a landslide vote 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.

New Zealand is now moving to overhaul its abortion laws, to treat abortion as a health issue and a woman's choice - rather than a crime.

Abortion remains an offence in NZ and a woman can only legally get an abortion if two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would result in danger to her mental or physical health.

Abortion in Cyprus was fully legalised in March 2018. It can be performed on request up until the 12th week of pregnancy and until the 19th week in rape cases.

According to the latest figures 26 countries around the world prohibit abortion all together.

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.

How the world stands on abortion.
How the world stands on abortion.
The Centre for Reproductive Rights

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

In Djibouti, abortions can only be performed to "preserve health", according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

By contrast, 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.

Previously Laos allowed abortions in certain cases, but have since banned the procedure. 

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.

Alabama's governor signed some of the toughest abortion laws in the US in May, providing for a near-total prohibition, even in cases of rape and incest.

The move was widely condemned and abortion activists have vowed to challenge the latest move by conservatives to reverse a 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to it.

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,Lebanon, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, 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 Poland.

To the concerns of pro-choice groups, Poland's parliament rejected a draft bill last year 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 and rape cases, while South Korea also has restrictive laws, bucking the regional trend. Abortions are allowed in the case of rape, incest or impairment. 

In Brazil, abortions are only allowed to save the woman's life or in cases of rape. However, provisions do allow for additional grounds.

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.

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. 

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch