Abortion around the world. An overview of legislation, measures, trends, and consequences

Overview of a population question
By Agnès Guillaume, Clémentine Rossier, Paul Reeve

Abortion is a fertility regulation practice that women use in the absence of contraception or when contraceptives fail. Laws regulating this practice in different countries range from allowing it on request to restrictive access and even total prohibition. Where the right to abortion is established, it is frequently challenged. Debates around legalization are centred on the rights of women, the rights of the embryo, and the health consequences of unsafe abortions. But whether abortion is legal or prohibited, women around the world resort to it, with great disparities in the intensity of the practice and its health and social consequences. Levels of safety of abortions varies widely between countries and regions (safe, less safe, and least safe). They have improved with the spread of medical abortion, particularly in countries with legal limits on access, where they replace riskier methods. The available data are highly heterogeneous: from healthcare statistics in countries where abortion is legal, to survey data of varying levels of completeness, and including the use of sophisticated methods to estimate levels in countries where legal access is restricted.


  • abortion
  • legislation
  • women’s rights
  • measurement
  • abortion methods
  • consequences
  • women’s health
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