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International safe abortion day: still a vulnerable right worldwide

An activist in favour of the legalization of abortion demonstrates outside the Rio de Janeiro Legislative House in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 08, 2018.   -  
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Strictly banned in some countries, heavily restricted in others, access to abortion, which is World Day this Thursday, remains a fragile right in the world.

According to the NGO Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), only 35% of women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion is authorized on simple request. According to the same source, clandestine abortions cause 39,000 deaths per year.

Here is an overview of the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) around the world:

A new right in many instances

Over the past 30 years, more than 60 countries have changed their legislation to facilitate access to abortion, according to the CRR.

Latest decision to date: at the beginning of September, the Mexican Supreme Court declared “unconstitutional” the crime of abortion which appeared in the Federal Penal Code.

In Ireland, abortion has only been legal since 2018, after a historic referendum. It was also liberalized in 2019 in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where it was still banned.

New Zealand only decriminalized abortion in 2020. In Australia, New South Wales became the last state to decriminalize abortion in September 2019.

In Thailand, abortion was decriminalized in early 2021 and abortions were fully legalized in 2022 up to 20 weeks.

Also in Asia, the highest court in South Korea ordered the lifting of the ban in 2019.

In Africa, Benin authorized abortions in 2021 while in 2022, the president of Sierra Leone gave the green light to decriminalization.

On the South American continent, the right to abortion has seen progress in Colombia where, at the beginning of 2022, abortion is legalized, whatever the reason, before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Prohibited or very limited

Abortion remains prohibited in around fifteen countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, according to the CRR.

El Salvador adopted draconian legislation in 1998 which prohibits all abortions, even in cases of danger to the health of the mother or child and provides for penalties of up to eight years in prison.

In Europe, the total ban remains an exception (Andorra and Vatican).

In Malta, where abortions were previously prohibited, a minimum authorization was passed in June, in the event of danger to the life of the mother and when the fetus is not viable.

As in Malta, in several countries abortion is only authorized to save the mother: this is the case in Nigeria, Libya, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Paraguay or Venezuela, according to the CRR.

In Brazil and Chile, access to abortion is limited to cases of rape, risks for the mother or serious malformations of the fetus.

But in these two countries, the legislation could evolve. In Brazil, the Supreme Court is currently considering a request for decriminalization, while in Chile, the draft new constitution could lead to a total ban.

The American case

The United States offers very mixed rights on abortion since the Supreme Court revoked, in June 2022, the famous Roe v. Wade who, since 1973, guaranteed the right of American women to have an abortion.

This decision left each State free to authorize them or not.

Result: around twenty states, mainly located in the south and center of the country, have decreed bans or strong restrictions. On the contrary, states on the east and west coasts of the country have adopted new guarantees to protect the right to abortion.

Tightening of bans or restrictions

In some countries, bans or restrictions on access to abortion have been tightened in recent years: Honduras, which prohibits abortion including in cases of rape or incest, serious malformation of the fetus or when life or the health of the mother are threatened, approved in January 2021 a constitutional reform making any change in legislation more difficult.

In Poland, the Constitutional Court banned abortion in October 2020 in the event of serious malformation of the fetus. This is only authorized in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

The rules for abortions have been tightened in Hungary: since September 2022 a woman wishing to have an abortion must be confronted with the “vital functions” of the fetus, such as listening to its heartbeat.