Legal status of abortion

Legal status of abortion

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):

  1. Abortion is permitted without restriction as to rea­son;
  2. 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);
  3. 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);
  4. 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
  5. Abortion is permitted only to save a woman‘s life, or the procedure is banned entirely.

Data Requirement(s):

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.