Many governments struggle to strike a balance between the rights of pregnant women and the rights of unborn fetuses. As the following summary of abortion laws and practices in 30 countries gay laws around the world, this often leads to complex policies governing when and under what circumstances a woman may legally have an abortion. An overview of the abortion debate in America. The constitutional dimensions of the abortion debate.
Polls conducted in 2009 found fewer Americans expressing support for abortion than in previous years. Abortion is as controversial abroad as it is in the United States. A breakdown of 17 major religious groups’ views on abortion. Since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that existing abortion restrictions were unconstitutional, abortion has been legal for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. Provincial health insurance plans cover the cost of abortions performed in hospitals but do not consistently provide funding for abortions performed in free-standing clinics.
Access to abortion services in Mexico varies from state to state. Some states allow abortion only in instances when the mother’s life or physical health is at stake, in pregnancies involving possible fetal abnormalities or in cases of rape. Abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. Under federal regulation, hospitals require a formal determination that a pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest before performing an abortion. Many women in Brazil illegally use the drug Cytotec to induce miscarriage, and the government estimates that more than 200,000 Brazilian women are hospitalized annually as a result of botched abortions.
In 1967, the Chilean Health Code formally legalized abortion when it was necessary to save the mother’s life. The measure was reversed in 1989 by then-President Augusto Pinochet, who made abortion illegal in all circumstances. Pinochet’s law is still in effect. April 2008, Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal suspended the program. Abortion was illegal in all circumstances until May 2006, when Colombia’s highest court ruled that the procedure can be performed in cases in which the mother’s life or physical health is in danger, in cases of rape or incest, or in pregnancies involving fatal or life-threatening fetal abnormalities. This decision has been the object of strong protests by abortion opponents but remains in effect. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador in all cases, even when doctors consider the procedure to be medically necessary.
Moreover, the government vigorously enforces the ban. In October 2006, the Nicaraguan National Assembly effectively banned abortion in all circumstances after voting to disallow exceptions to its already restrictive abortion laws. Previously, abortion was legal only in cases of rape or cases in which three doctors agreed that the mother’s life was in danger. There were six legal abortions in 2002, the last year for which figures are available. Health experts estimate the number of illegal abortions in Nicaragua to be more than 30,000 a year. Although a 1995 law makes abortion illegal, neither doctors nor women are prosecuted if the mother is a victim of rape and the procedure is performed within 12 weeks of conception.
A similar waiver exists in the first trimester for cases in which the mother has received counseling to encourage carrying her baby to term but still wants an abortion. After the first trimester, abortion is available only to preserve the life or mental or physical health of the mother. Abortion is freely available in Great Britain due to a broad interpretation of the Abortion Act of 1967, which permits abortion for a variety of reasons if certified by two physicians. Within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, these reasons may include: to save the life of the mother, to protect her physical or mental health, to terminate pregnancies involving fetal abnormality, or for social or economic reasons. Since 1986, abortion has been freely available in Greece during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In cases involving a minor, or in instances of rape or incest, the procedure is legal through the 19th week of pregnancy. Abortions also can be obtained through the 24th week of pregnancy in cases of fetal abnormality. Despite liberal abortion laws, the advertising of abortion services is illegal. Later court decisions established an exception to save the mother’s life. In 1983, a constitutional amendment strengthened the country’s abortion restrictions by establishing a fetus’s right to life, equating it with a woman’s right to life. Abortion law in Spain legalizes the procedure at any point during pregnancy in cases in which the mother’s life or physical or mental health is at risk. Abortion is also allowed within 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and within 22 weeks of pregnancy in cases of fetal impairment.
In 1991, Spain’s high court set a case-by-case precedent for determining whether abortion could be sanctioned. In 2006, nearly 100,000 abortions reportedly were performed in Spain. Since 1974, abortion has been legal in Sweden in all circumstances within the first 18 weeks of pregnancy. After this point, abortions are only permissible to save the life or physical health of the mother, or if approval is granted by the National Board of Health and Welfare. To date, abortion has not been a politically controversial issue in Sweden. In 1955, when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, abortion became freely available during the first trimester of pregnancy.
In 1982, it was legalized within the first 28 weeks of pregnancy when required for broad health reasons. Five years later, abortions within the first 28 weeks were legalized for certain nonmedical reasons, including imprisonment of the mother, imprisonment of her husband, or divorce or rape. According to a law passed in 1993, abortion is legal in Poland throughout pregnancy to preserve the life or physical health the mother. During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, abortion is also allowed in circumstances of rape, incest or fetal abnormality. In March 2007, the Council of Europe ordered Poland to compensate a Polish woman who had suffered a retinal hemorrhage after being denied an abortion despite doctors’ knowledge that carrying the baby to term would jeopardize her health.
Russia reportedly leads the world in the total number of abortions performed each year, which currently exceeds the country’s annual number of live births. Abortion is freely available during the first 12 weeks of gestation as well as at any point during the pregnancy in cases involving a risk to the life or health of the mother or severe fetal abnormalities. Slovenia’s abortion laws stem from a statute enacted in the former Yugoslavia in 1977 that made abortion available through 10 weeks into a pregnancy. Abortion was also allowed in cases that threatened the mother’s life or cases that involved severe fetal abnormalities. The 1977 law is still in effect, and abortions are free under Slovenia’s health care system. Abortion is legal in Nigeria only to preserve the mother’s life, but health specialists report that large numbers of procedures are performed both in the predominately Christian South and the predominately Muslim North. Nigeria are caused by unsafe abortions.
Legislation based on an 1810 penal code makes abortion illegal in Senegal except to save the mother’s life. For a woman to qualify for an abortion, two physicians must concur that her life is in danger and one of these physicians must be on a court-approved list. These restrictions have attracted the attention of the U. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has expressed concern over the health risks posed to women by the lack of access to legal abortions. Since 1996, abortion has been available without restrictions in South Africa within the first trimester of pregnancy if the mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, if the pregnancy compromises the mother’s social or economic situation, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. After the 20th week of pregnancy, abortion is available if the life of the mother or health of the fetus is at risk. Formal authorization and certification is required in all of these circumstances, a process that some abortion rights advocates say drives many women to seek illegal abortions.