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A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997

Anika Rahman, Laura Katzive and Stanley K. Henshaw
International Family Planning Perspectives
Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 56-64
Published by: Guttmacher Institute
DOI: 10.2307/2991926
Stable URL:
Page Count: 9
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A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997
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Context: The legal status of induced abortion helps determine the availability of safe, affordable abortion services in a country, which in turn influences rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. It is important, therefore, for health professionals to know both the current status of abortion laws worldwide and the extent to which those laws are changing. Methods: Abortion-related laws in 152 nations and dependent territories with populations of one million or more were reviewed, and changes in these laws since 1985 were documented. Results: Currently, 61% of the world's people live in countries where induced abortion is permitted either for a wide range of reasons or without restriction as to reason; in contrast, 25% reside in nations where abortion is generally prohibited. However, even in countries with highly restrictive laws, induced abortion is usually permitted when the woman's life is endangered; in contrast, even in nations with very liberal laws, access may be limited by gestational age restrictions, requirements that third parties authorize an abortion or limitations on the types of facilities that perform induced abortions. Since 1985, 19 nations have significantly liberalized their abortion laws; only one country has substantially curtailed legal access to abortion. Conclusions: A global trend toward liberalization of abortion laws observed before 1985 appears to have continued in more recent years. Nevertheless, women's ability to obtain abortion services is affected not just by the laws in force in a particular country, but also by how these laws are interpreted, how they are enforced and what the attitude of the medical community is toward abortion.