Legal status of abortion
The legal restrictions that establish the circumstances under which a woman can legally terminate a pregnancy.
Five possible degrees of restrictiveness of abortion laws can exist for a given country (CRLP, 1999):
- Abortion is permitted without restriction as to reason;
- Abortion is permitted on socioeconomic grounds (such laws allow consideration of a woman‘s economic resources, her age, her marital status, and the number of her living children);
- Abortion is permitted to protect a woman‘s mental health, as well as her life and physical health (interpretation of —mental health“ may vary across countries, but it may encompass, for example, the psychological distress suffered by a woman who is raped or the severe strain caused by socioeconomic circumstances);
- Abortion is permitted to protect a woman‘s life and physical health (such laws may permit abortion on health grounds that may require the threatened injury to health be either serious or permanent); and
- Abortion is permitted only to save a woman‘s life, or the procedure is banned entirely.
Text of existing laws
Penal codes, health codes, as well as reports of international law organizations that monitor the status of abortion
The purpose of this indicator is to measure the degree to which a woman has access to safe abortion care and postabortion care in a given country.
Abortion laws are just one factor, albeit an important one, which influence access to care. Various policies and the manner in which they are implemented, for example, may be more critical factors than the law(s). (See the following indicator, Policy status of abortion). Furthermore, although almost all countries have at least one legal indication (reason) for abortion, induced abortion services may be unavailable to the extent allowed by law.
policy, postabortion care
An estimated 20 million unsafe abortions occur each year and claim the lives of approximately 47,000 women annually (Ipas, 2011). The great majority of deaths from abortion occur in countries where abortion is either illegal, or where abortion is legal, but the status and access uncertain enough (such as in India) that women still resort to unsafe abortion. Maternal mortality has been identified as a compelling gender equity and human rights issue, and reduction of maternal mortality is called for in the action plans of numerous international conferences and conventions. It is difficult to reduce maternal mortality without attention to the toll that unsafe abortion takes. Where abortion is illegal, access to high-quality postabortion care, which includes providing family planning counseling and methods, is critical.