the rest of the world on abortion

U.S. compares with the rest of the world on abortion rights


The past 50 years have been characterized by an unmistakable trend toward the liberalization of abortion laws, particularly in the industrialized world.

the rest of the world on abortion rights..

Each year, around 73 million abortions take place worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. This translates to about 39 abortions per 1,000 women globally, a rate that has stayed roughly the same since 1990. Notably, rates have diverged between countries with fewer restrictions and those with more: Between 1990–94 and 2015–19, the average abortion rate in countries with generally legal abortion (excluding China and India) declined by 43 percent.

Almost 90 percent of abortions in countries with liberal abortion laws are considered safe, compared with just 25 percent of abortions in countries where abortion is banned. According to the WHO, approximately 5–13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide are due to complications from unsafe abortions, the vast majority of which occur in developing countries.

the rest of the world on abortion

By contrast, in countries with severe restrictions on abortion, the average abortion rate increased by around 12 percent.

As nations around the globe have expanded the grounds on which people can access reproductive health services, the quality and safety of abortion care have improved, as has maternal survival. However, the safety of abortion procedures diverges widely between countries where abortion is generally legal and countries with high restrictions on abortion.

However, there remains strong opposition to abortion among some constituencies. And in recent years, a number of countries, particularly autocracies, have pushed back against the expansion of women’s and reproductive rights. Abortion opponents in the United States won a major victory in June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion.

What does abortion law look like around the world?

Although the legal status of abortion varies considerably by region, a large majority of countries permit abortion under at least some circumstances; globally, two dozen countries ban abortion entirely. Most industrialized countries allow the procedure without restriction.


Around 100 countries have some restrictions, typically permitting abortion only in limited situations, including for socioeconomic reasons, risks to the physical or mental health of the woman, or the presence of fetal anomalies. However, legal language concerning exemptions for fetal impairment is often vague, resulting in uncertainty for medical professionals about whether performing certain abortions is legal.

Access to safe abortion has been established as a human right by numerous international frameworks, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, and regional human rights courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 179 governments signed a program of action that included a commitment to prevent unsafe abortion. The WHO first recognized unsafe abortion as a public health problem in 1967, and in 2003 it developed technical and policy guidelines that include a recommendation that states pass abortion laws to protect women’s health. According to the U.N. Population Fund, addressing the unmet need for family planning would both considerably reduce maternal mortality and reduce abortion by up to 70 percent in the developing world.

What have been recent trends?

The global trend in abortion law has been toward liberalization. Since 2000, 38 countries have changed their abortion laws, and all but one—Nicaragua—expanded the legal grounds on which women can access abortion services. Since 2020, Argentina and Thailand legalized abortions, with certain gestational limits; Mexico decriminalized abortion, as did South Korea; and New Zealand eased its abortion restrictions.

the rest of the world on abortion rights…

Most recently, Colombia made abortion legal on demand up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, the latest sign of a growing “green wave” in Latin America. Although most countries have taken steps to expand grounds for abortion, some—including Honduras and the United States—are enacting policies to tighten restrictions.

How does the United States compare?

The Supreme Court’s decision on June 24, 2022, to strike down Roe v. Wade, overturns almost 50 years of precedent that conferred a constitutional right to receive an abortion. In the 1973 Roe decision, the Court held that the Constitution guarantees the right to choose to have an abortion, though it permitted regulations after the first trimester of pregnancy.

With Roe, the United States became one of the first countries to liberalize its abortion laws, along with several Western European nations. In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey reaffirmed the right to an abortion but permitted additional restrictions, such as waiting periods and parental consent requirements.

the rest of the world on abortion rights..

READ MORE: Biden supports filibuster exception to protect abortion access

For decades, states have introduced and implemented various laws regulating abortions. Some states passed laws to protect abortion access, while others imposed more onerous regulations on abortion providers and sought to prohibit abortion at earlier points in pregnancy. This led to the closure of more than 160 clinics and left a handful of states with only a single abortion provider.

In recent years, many states have passed increasingly strict abortion laws, such as in Oklahoma, where the governor signed legislation to ban all abortions after six weeks, except in cases of life-threatening pregnancies. The law resembles one passed in Texas in 2021; both also allow private citizens to sue anyone they suspect of providing or facilitating an abortion.

Roe’s reversal allows the thirteen states that have so-called trigger laws to either ban abortion automatically or within 30 days. While all of these state laws exempt abortions in cases of life-threatening pregnancies, many do not exempt pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates have praised the Supreme Court’s decision, while Democratic lawmakers and abortion advocates have condemned it.

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