Abortion Worldwide: Twelve Years of Reform

Article excerpt

"In light of Paragraph 8.25 of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, which states: '... All governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women's health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern ... In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe. In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion ...,' consider reviewing laws containing punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions."

--Beijing Platform for Action, para. 106(k) (1)

In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action expressly called upon governments to reexamine restrictive abortion laws that punish women. By linking women's health to abortion law reform, the Beijing Platform affirmed what has become increasingly clear to governments and advocates worldwide: removing legal barriers to abortion saves women's lives, promotes their health, and empowers women to make decisions crucial to their well-being.

While the Beijing Platform's directives on abortion are narrow, they provide vital support to advocates seeking abortion law reform in their countries. The Beijing mandate also reflects a global trend toward abortion law liberalisation--a trend that first gained momentum in the late 1960s and continues to this day. Currently, 70 countries, representing more than 60 per cent of the world's population, permit abortion without restriction as to reason or on broad grounds.

Twelve years after Beijing, advocates for abortion law reform can continue to point to the global commitment, declared in 1995, to stop unsafe abortion.

They can also highlight the examples of 17 countries that have removed legal restrictions on abortion in the last 12 years alone.

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National Abortion Law Changes Since 1995

The vast majority of legal reforms relating to abortion have broadened the circumstances under which the procedure is legal. Only a few countries have taken steps to legally restrict abortion or make it more difficult for women to have the procedure.

Liberalisations

1 Albania (1996): Abortion is legal without restriction as to reason during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. (2) The 1996 law confirmed a 1991 directive permitting abortion on the same grounds. (3) Prior to the reform, abortion was legal only to save a woman's life, to protect her physical and mental health, when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, and when the pregnant woman was under 16. (4)

2 Benin (2003): Abortion is legal to save a woman's life and protect her health and in cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment. (5) Previously, abortion was considered legal only to save a woman's life. (6)

3 Bhutan (2004): Abortion is legal to save a woman's life, in cases of rape and incest, and when a pregnant woman is "of unsound mental condition." (7) Previously, the law on abortion was unclear, although it was generally understood to permit the proce-dure only to save a woman s life. (8)

4 Burkina Faso (1996): Abortion is permitted to save a woman's life and protect her health and in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairment. (9) Previously, abortion was considered legal only to save a woman's life. (10)

5 Cambodia (1997): Abortion is permitted without restriction as to reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. (11) The previous law permitted abortion only to save a woman's life. (12)

6 Chad (2002): Abortion is legal to save a woman's life and protect her health, as well as in cases of fetal impairment. (13) Previously, abortion was considered legal only to save a woman's life. (14)

7 Colombia (2006): Following a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Colombia, abortion is now permitted to save a woman's life and health, and in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairment. …