Academic journal article International Family Planning Perspectives

Developments in Laws on Induced Abortion: 1998-2007

Academic journal article International Family Planning Perspectives

Developments in Laws on Induced Abortion: 1998-2007

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: Women's lack of access to legal abortion is a major contributing factor to high rates of worldwide maternal mortality and morbidity. This article describes changes in the legal status of abortion in countries around the world since 1998.

METHODS: The complete texts of new abortion legislation, most often obtained directly from government Websites, were reviewed to determine changes. Background information was, where possible, also based on a review of complete legal texts. Other sources include the International Digest of Health Legislation (published by the World Health Legislation (published by the World Health Organization) and Abortion Policies: A Global Review (published in 2002 by the Population Division of the United Nations).

RESULTS: Since 1998, 16 countries have increased the number of grounds on which abortions may be legally performed; in two other countries, state jurisdictions expanded grounds for abortion. Two countries have removed grounds for legal abortion. Other countries maintained existing indications for abortion but adopted changes affecting access to the procedure.

CONCLUSIONS: The worldwide trend toward liberalization of abortion laws observed in 1998 has continued. Recognition of the impact of abortion restrictions on women's human rights has played an increasing role in efforts to provide access to abortion.

International Family Planning Perspectives, 2008, 34(3): 110-120

Women around the world seek abortions for similar reasons, (1) but their ability to terminate a pregnancy legally varies dramatically by where they live. In one country, abortion services may be provided free of charge by the government and available closed to home, while in another, providers may face criminal sanctions for offering such services. Where abortion is legally restricted, women are more likely to resort to untrained providers or undergo the procedure in unsanitary conditions. Maternal mortality related to unsafe abortion, therefore, is generally high where abortion is severely restricted. (1)

This article provides an update to a global review of abortion laws by Rahman, Henshaw and Katzive, published in 1998. (2) It briefly describes abortion laws around the world and discusses all major national legal changes in each region since the previous survey, as well as a number of smaller changes that merit mention. In addition, because international and regional human rights bodies have increasingly addressed abortion as a human rights issues, this article includes a brief discussion of major developments in this area. Finally, the article discussed major trends in global abortion law reform.

Although abortion is a medical procedure, its legal status in many countries has been incorporated in penal codes, which have historically characterized abortion as a crime. Over time, the majority of these criminal bans have been amended to specify circumstances in which abortion carries no legal penalty, such as when a woman's life or health is in danger. Today, most countries, even those with relatively liberal laws on abortion, still have penal code provisions outlining the circumstances in which abortion is a crime. Increasingly, these penal code provisions have been supplemented or replaced by public health statues, court decisions, and other laws and regulations that address the provision of reproductive health care. Characterzing a country's abortion law, therefore, may require reference to multiple legal sources.

Our analysis of recent changes is based on a review of the complete texts of new abortion legislation, most often obtained directly from government Web sites. Background information was, where possible, also based on a review of complete legal texts. In some cases, translations and other information were obtained from sources such as the International Digest of Health Legislation (published by the World Health Organization); the Annual Review of Population Law Web site; and World Abortion Policies. …

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