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Explained: Abortion laws around the world

Very often limits are placed on when an abortion is permitted, generally around gestational time limits. We take a look at some of the abortion policies in countries across the globe.

As of now, abortions are illegal or heavily restricted in at least 11 US states. (AP)

With the US Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that established a constitutional right to an abortion, the United States is now among the few dozen countries that have severely restricted access to the procedure.

Now, individual states will decide whether to permit or restrict abortions, the court ruled on Friday night. As of now, abortions are illegal or heavily restricted in at least 11 US states. In around 12 others, laws are already in place that will allow state authorities to swiftly ban or restrict access to the procedure, according to an NPR report.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, abortions are either banned entirely or permitted with certain restrictions in place. Very often limits are placed on when an abortion is permitted, generally around gestational time limits. We take a look at some of the abortion policies in countries across the globe.

What is India’s abortion policy?

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India’s Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy. An amendment in 2021 raised the ceiling for abortions to 24 weeks for special categories of pregnant women such as rape or incest survivors, that too, with the approval of two registered doctors.

There is no upper gestation limit for the procedure in cases of foetal disability as long as it is approved by a medical board of specialist doctors set up by the governments of states and union territories.

Which countries have altogether banned abortions?

Abortions are illegal in 24 countries, where about 90 million or 5 per cent of women of reproductive age reside, according to the global advocacy group, Center for Reproductive Rights. These include Senegal, Mauritania, and Egypt in Africa, Laos and the Philippines in Asia, El Salvador and Honduras in Central America, and Poland and Malta in Europe.

As per the hardline laws in some of these countries, women are imprisoned for getting abortions. In El Salvador, for instance, several women who have undergone abortions have been found guilty of “aggravated homicide”, including in cases of miscarriage.

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Malta is the only country in the European Union that bans abortions under all circumstances. Just last year, the country witnessed a massive pro-choice movement calling for the country’s centuries-old abortion laws to be reversed. Meanwhile, in 2021, Poland introduced a near-total ban on abortions, allowing the procedure only in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk.

In Africa, while the number of unintended pregnancies has dropped by about 15 per cent in the last three decades, abortions have shot up by about 13 per cent, according to data compiled by Guttmacher Institute. Many African nations have either banned abortions altogether, or severely restricted them. In Nigeria, the procedure is only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe and Botswana, it is allowed in cases of incest, foetal defects and rape.

Which are the countries that permit abortions, but with significant restrictions?

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Around 50 countries — including Libya, Indonesia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela — permit abortions if a woman’s health is at risk. Several others allow it in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.

For instance, Brazil allows abortion only in cases of rape or foetal disability. In such cases, the woman will need approval from one doctor and at least three clinical experts. A health ministry regulation in 2020 stated that doctors are required to report to the police anyone who seeks an abortion after being raped.

Where are abortions more easily accessible?

In Canada, Australia and much of Europe there are few restrictions other than gestational limits. While Canada has no law granting the right to an abortion, it is still permitted at all stages of pregnancy regardless of the reason for 34 years. In 1998, the country’s Supreme Court struck down a longstanding federal law banning abortions.

The court ruled that the law violated a woman’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person” that was enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Most European countries permit abortions within gestational time limits, which most commonly is about 12-14 weeks. But in many countries, there are a variety of exceptions that allow abortions to take place even later. For instance, in the UK, pregnancy can be terminated right up until birth in cases of foetal disability.

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Notably, many traditionally conservative Catholic countries in Europe and Latin America have expanded abortion rights following widespread protests by pro-choice groups and women’s rights activists.

Last year in Colombia, the Constitutional court voted to legalise abortion before 24 weeks of pregnancy after the case was brought before the court by the Causa Justa movement, which comprised human rights and civil society groups, The Washington Post reported. Before this, abortions were only allowed in the case of rape, nonviable pregnancy or if the life of the mother was at risk.

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Meanwhile, the Mexican Supreme Court last year voted to dismiss a state law that made it possible for authorities to arrest women for undergoing abortions, even in cases of rape.

One of the most remarkable shifts in abortion rights was witnessed in Ireland, where in 2018, the public voted to overturn the country’s restrictive abortion laws. Now, a woman can opt for abortion within 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, the law states that those who facilitate an illegal abortion can still be arrested, with a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

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In 2019, neighbouring northern Ireland became the last remaining UK nation to lift the ban on abortions.

New Zealand decriminalised abortions in 2020, extending the legal period to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Before that, two doctors had to approve an abortion, which was only done in very serious cases when the pregnancy posed a Serious danger” to a woman’s health.

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First published on: 26-06-2022 at 08:49:42 am
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