New Report: Global Trend of Expanding Legal Abortion Services Continues

(PRESS RELEASE) More than 30 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion services in the last 20 years—a trend that has marked incredible progress to improving women’s rights and lives, including significantly reduced rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion—according to a new report released today by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Abortion Worldwide: 20 Years of Reform documents a clear global trend to expand access to safe and legal abortion services since the adoption of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action—an agreement made by 179 governments worldwide in 1994 to affirm reproductive rights as human rights and strengthen their commitment to women’s health and well-being by addressing unsafe abortion. Today’s report was released alongside the Center’s updated World’s Abortion Laws map—one of the most comprehensive resources on abortion laws across the globe.

Despite this trend, a handful of countries, including El Salvador and Japan, have taken steps to legally restrict abortion. The report also takes note of other burdensome restrictions on women’s access to abortion in countries like the United States—where abortion services are legal and constitutionally-protected, but more than 200 laws impeding women’s access to abortion have been enacted since 2011. 

Restrictive abortion laws across the globe result in 22 million unsafe abortions annually—killing nearly 50,000 women each year.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Globally, the trend over the past two decades has been toward reducing restrictions on abortion and expanding woman’s access to safe, legal reproductive health care. But thousands of women are still dying from unsafe abortion each year—most in countries with harsh restrictions, or even outright bans, on legal abortion services.  

“Until access to the full range of reproductive health care is unequivocally supported by governments worldwide—including access to safe, legal abortion—women will not be able to participate in society with the fullest measure of equality, dignity, and autonomy.

“We call on the international community to join us in the fight to eliminate these restrictive abortion laws and ensure that access to safe and legal reproductive health care services is treated as every woman’s fundamental human right.”    

Abortion Worldwide: 20 Years of Reform provides an overview of international and regional human rights standards on abortion and identifies trends in abortion law reform within each of the world’s regions since 1994.

The ICPD Programme of Action has provided the framework for advocates worldwide to address unsafe abortion and promote abortion access as a human rights imperative. Since its adoption, 35 countries have expanded the grounds for legal abortion—evidence of the progress and uphill battle to secure recognition of women’s reproductive rights as human rights.  

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the ICPD Programme of Action, the Center also updated its World’s Abortion Laws map that visually compares the legal status of abortion across the globe.

Key highlights from the report include:

  • Africa: Thirteen countries, including South Africa, Kenya, and Rwanda, have eased legal restrictions on abortion, and no countries have tightened restrictions for legal abortion since 1994.
  • Asia: Seven countries, including Cambodia, Nepal, and Indonesia, have liberalized their abortion laws. Only Japan has imposed legal restrictions on abortion since 1994.
  • Europe: While the majority of countries in the region already permitted abortion on broad grounds, in 1994 5 countries, including Spain and Luxembourg, further liberalized their laws to permit abortion without restriction as to reason.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: Six countries have expanded the grounds under which abortion is legal, including Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Uruguay. However, flouting the liberalizing trend, both El Salvador and Nicaragua amended their penal codes to ban abortion under all circumstances in 1998 and 2006 respectively.