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WORLD | 30-12-2020 10:44

A look at abortion rights around the world

After Argentina became one of only a handful of South American nations to legalise the process, here's a snapshot of the global situation.

Abortion laws vary around the world, with some countries having outright bans while others maintain highly restrictive laws. 

After Argentina became one of only a handful of South American nations to legalise the process, following hours of debate in the Senate, here is a snapshot of the global situation:

Total ban

In El Salvador, the courts have handed down lengthy jail sentences, some of up to 30 years, to women who have lost their babies, including through abortion.

Predominantly Catholic Malta is the only European Union country to ban abortion totally, imposing jail terms of between 18 months and three years if the law is broken.

Abortion is also banned in Andorra, the Vatican and San Marino, which are in Europe but not members of the European Union.

Globally there are total bans in Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Laos, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Philippines, Palau, Senegal and Suriname.


Many countries allow abortions in cases where the mother's life is deemed to be in danger.

A partial list includes: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar, Paraguay, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.

In Brazil the law only allows terminations in cases of rape, risk to the life of the mother or if the foetus is missing part or all of the brain.

In 2017, Chile ended nearly three decades of a strict ban when then president Michelle Bachelet signed into law legislation to decriminalise abortion in certain cases.

In 2019 South Korea's Constitutional Court ordered the country's decades-old abortion ban to be lifted in a landmark ruling and ordered the law to be revised by the end of 2020. 

In October the Seoul government submitted a draft law allowing abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, to the ire of pro-lifers, while not satisfying abortion campaigners either.

The same month in Poland the constitutional court ruled that abortions due to birth defects were unconstitutional – a decision that would impose a near-total ban on terminations.

The ruling has not yet been published officially, meaning it does not apply, but doctors have been cancelling scheduled abortions for fear of falling foul of the law.


Women from Europe, North America and Oceania benefit from the most liberal legislation, in some cases acquired only recently.

Argentina's landmark bill legalises voluntary abortions at any stage up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Previously, terminations had only been allowed in two instances: rape, and danger to the mother's life. 

New Zealand only decriminalised abortion in March 2020. Up to then it was punishable with a 14-year prison term.

In Australia, the state of Queensland legalised abortion in 2018, abolishing an 1899 British colonial-era law. Only New South Wales, the country's most populous state, continues to ban abortion.

In Ireland abortion has only been legal since 2018, following a historic referendum which did away with the constitutional ban on abortion in the Catholic country.

It was also legalised in 2019 in Northern Ireland, the only part of the United Kingdom where it was prohibited.

In the United States abortion was legalised nationwide in 1973 but it has remained a contentious issue. US President-elect Joe Biden during the 2020 race promised to enshrine the right to abortion in law if he was elected.

Campaigners for abortion rights fear a step backwards in the Supreme Court which US President Donald Trump in October tilted firmly to the right, picking his third conservative judge, Amy Coney Barrett, who is deeply opposed to abortion.


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