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How is Abortion Regulated Around the World?

Access to abortion can depend on where in the world you live. While many countries enable women to access the care they need legally, others can make it harder to have a termination, even for medical reasons. Some countries have very strict requirements, while a small number do not allow women to have abortions for any reason, not even in order to save their own lives.

Abortion Laws in the UK

Abortion is legal in the UK up to 24 weeks, or later if there is a medical need to have the procedure. In order to obtain an abortion in the UK, women must have the consent of two doctors and they must meet one or more of the criteria set out by the Abortion Act of 1967. Most women will meet these criteria which cover a range of medical and psychological reasons as doctors can take family, social and financial circumstances into consideration.

In addition to having access to legal abortion care, women in the UK also have plenty of choices for how they want to receive that care. Women can choose to see their GP first or go directly to an abortion clinic. Women can also receive free care through the NHS or go to a private clinic such as 132 Healthwise. It is also possible to have different kinds of abortion, including the abortion pill and surgical abortions, depending on your needs.

Access to Abortion Around the World

The UK has excellent access to medical services, including family planning and abortion care. The regulations in the UK are stricter than in some other countries, where women can simply ask for abortions without having to get a doctor’s consent or meet specific criteria. However, access to abortion in the UK is still much easier than in some other parts of the world. Some countries only allow abortions in extraordinary cases or not at all.

  • 96% of all countries allow abortions in order to save the mother’s life
  • 50 countries only allow abortion if the mother’s life is at risk
  • Only six countries do not allow abortion under any circumstances: Malta, Vatican City, Chile, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
  • 58% of countries allow abortion on request (usually with a time limit), including most countries in Europe
  • Ireland was the last country in Europe to ban abortion except to save the mother’s life. Since 1 January 2019, abortion has been available on request up to 12 weeks, with later abortions available for medical reasons.

Illegal Abortions

Access to safe, legal abortions isn’t always available to women in many parts of the world. Some countries have very strict laws that make it impossible (or nearly impossible) to access abortion care, even when there is a medical need for the procedure. However, this doesn’t mean that women never have abortions in these countries.

The abortion rate is often high in countries with stricter regulations, because women in these regions often lack access to family planning services and contraception too. Women who can’t access safe abortion services often end up turning to illegal or “back-street” abortionists, who don’t always have the correct equipment or safe hygiene practices. Unfortunately, many women are still dying or being left with severe complications after having illegal or unsafe abortions. Improving access to contraception and medical care (including abortion) could have a big impact on the wellbeing of women and their families.

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