Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Global abortion rights: two steps forward, one step back

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) NGO, only 35 percent of women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is available on demand. It says backstreet abortions lead to 39,000 deaths per year

Published: Sep 30, 2023 09:30:00 AM IST
Updated: Sep 29, 2023 10:49:28 PM IST

Global abortion rights: two steps forward, one step backDemonstrators march behind a banner reading 'Abortion is a fundamental right' as they take part in an abortion rights rally on the annual International Safe Abortion Day in Paris on September 28, 2022. Image: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Countries around the world take differing stances on abortion, with traditional Catholic bastions like Ireland and Mexico among those lifting bans in recent years, even as the United States abolished nationwide access.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) NGO, only 35 percent of women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is available on demand. It says backstreet abortions lead to 39,000 deaths per year.

In the wake of International Safe Abortion Day, Here's a look at where it is getting easier to terminate a pregnancy—and where it is getting harder:

Easing access

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

In September, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled to decriminalise abortion, bringing it in line with Argentina, which legalised abortion in 2020, and Colombia, Cuba and Uruguay.

Ireland, a longtime bastion of Catholicism, legalised abortion in 2018 following a resounding 'Yes' vote in a referendum that overturned a constitutional ban.

New Zealand, Thailand and the west African state of Benin have since followed suit.

Clamping down

Abortion remains banned in around 15 countries, according to the CRR.

El Salvador adopted a total ban on abortion in 1998.

Also read: Why India needs to address the silence around safe abortion

Honduras in 2021 hardened its total ban by writing it into its constitution.

In Argentina, a newfound right is already under threat—the frontrunner in next month's presidential election has promised to hold a referendum on banning abortion again if elected.

In Europe, Poland's constitutional court sparked protests in 2020 after ruling against abortion in cases where the foetus is malformed.

Abortion in the staunchly Catholic country is only permitted in cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger.

In Brazil and Chile abortion is only allowed in case of rape, risk to the mother and serious malformation of the foetus.

Brazil's Supreme Court is weighing whether to decriminalize abortion but in Chile conservatives are seeking to have an abortion ban written into the constitution.

Also read: Women's rights: The decline and the fight back

US U-turn

Last year, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court of the United States overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v Wade" decision that has enshrined a woman's right to a termination for half a century.

The court ruled that individual states can permit or restrict the procedure themselves.

Some 20 states, mainly in the south and centre, have since decreed bans or heavy restrictions on abortion.

States on the eastern and west coast have, by contrast, expanded access to terminations.

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