Access to abortion still very unequal in the world

Abortion laws vary from country to country with sometimes significant restrictions, such as Poland where the Constitutional Court on Thursday gave the green light to a further tightening of the law by outlawing abortion in case of malformation serious fetus.

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Total ban

El Salvador passed draconian legislation in the 1990s that prohibited the termination of pregnancy in all circumstances, even if the woman’s life was at risk. Abortion is theoretically punishable by two to eight years in prison, but in practice judges consider any loss of the baby to be “aggravated homicide”, punishable by 30 to 50 years in prison.

According to non-governmental organizations, around 20 women are currently detained in El Salvador because of this law.

Malta, where Catholicism is the state religion, remains the only country in the European Union that completely prohibits voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion). The penalty ranges from 18 months to three years in prison.

Abortion is also illegal in Andorra – debate resumed in the principality at the end of 2019 -, and in San Marino, which are in Europe but not in the EU, as well as in the Vatican.

In the rest of the world, abortion is prohibited in some fifteen countries: Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal in Africa; Honduras, Nicaragua, Surinam, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in America; Philippines and Laos in Asia; Palau in Oceania.


In many countries abortion is subject to extremely restrictive conditions.

Thus, abortion is only accessible in case of danger to the life of the mother in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Uganda, South Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Paraguay and even Venezuela.

In Brazil, led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, access to abortion is also very limited, in cases of rape, risk to the mother or severe malformation of the fetus.

In 2017, Chile ended almost 30 years of a total ban on abortion, now authorized in cases of risk to the mother’s life, rape and non-viability of the fetus.

In Argentina, a bill legalizing abortion was adopted in 2018 by deputies, before being rejected by senators. The current law only allows abortion in cases of rape or a risk to the health of the mother. In 2020, the new center-left president Alberto Fernandez made a firm commitment to bring before parliament a new bill in favor of its legalization, delayed due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

In South Korea, the country’s highest court ordered in April 2019 the lifting of the ban on abortion, deemed unconstitutional, and requested an evolution, by the end of 2020, of the very restrictive legislation (abortion in case of rape, incest or threat to the health of the mother). The government introduced a bill in early October allowing abortion up to 14 weeks gestation, which angered anti-abortionists and also left abortion supporters unhappy.

A law that is sometimes recent, which remains under pressure

It is the women of Europe, North America and Oceania who benefit from the most liberal laws, sometimes acquired recently.

New Zealand did not decriminalize abortion until March 2020, which had previously been punishable by 14 years in the famously progressive country.

In Australia, the state of Queensland legalized abortion in October 2018, abolishing an 1899 law passed during the British colonial era. Only New South Wales, the most populous state in the country, continues to outlaw abortion.

In Ireland, abortion has only been legal since September 2018, following a landmark referendum to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion in the Catholic country. It was also liberalized in October 2019 in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK where it remained banned.

In the United States, where abortion was authorized by a Supreme Court ruling in 1973, the debate was revived by the presidential campaign. Democrat Joe Biden, who promised to enshrine the right to abortion if elected, has been accused by Donald Trump of supporting “late abortions.”

Abortion advocates fear a rollback of the Supreme Court, where Donald Trump has already brought in two conservative magistrates and has just appointed judge Amy Coney Barrett opposed to abortion, to replace feminist judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died in September.

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