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What do abortion laws and reproductive rights look like around the world?

In India, having an abortion is permissible up until the completion of the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), passed in 1971, makes it legal for licenced medical providers to perform abortions in certain situations.

Abortion, abortion laws, reproductive rights, health news, healthcare news,
Laws are only one component of access to the process of abortion. (File)

By Dr. Sunitha Mahesh

The historic verdict from 1973 determined that the constitutional protection of the right to reproductive health extends to the choice of deciding on termination of pregnancy. It established approximately five decades’ worth of legal precedent in the US, yet it was never enacted into federal law. With approximately 50 countries easing their abortion restrictions, significant progress has been made in securing women’s access to abortion during the past few decades. A segment to this change has been incremental, allowing women to have a legal abortion only in life-threatening situations or in cases when pregnancy has resulted from rape. The guidelines of the MTP Act have been genuinely revolutionary, removing outright restrictions on abortion and supporting women’s reproductive freedom. Different countries in the world have their separate perspectives on the idea of abortion. However, ideologies are formed on the situations and historical events these nations went through.

World’s stance on the laws of abortion

Abortion may only be an option if a pregnant person’s physical health is at risk in countries where health is understood more narrowly, such as Zimbabwe, Morocco, or Peru. Other places, like Ghana or Bolivia, explicitly mention mental health in their laws, which can make abortion more accessible. Although there is no statute in Canada guaranteeing the right to an abortion, it is legal at all stages of pregnancy, for any cause, and has been legal for the past 34 years. Different countries have their own set of laws that permit abortions at different stages of pregnancy. For instance, In Germany, abortion is constitutionally prohibited and is subject to a maximum sentence of three years in jail under Section 218 of the penal code, which was first approved in 1872.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion is typically permitted throughout Europe upon request or for general social reasons, at least during the first trimester. Additionally, it is frequently allowed during pregnancy when it’s vital to preserve the health or life of the expectant mother. In some nations, abortions may be the sole option available to save the life of a mother in case of a medical emergency. On the other hand, abortion is not permitted in any situation in Malta, the sole member state of the EU. In fact, an anti-abortion movement has lately grown in Malta. In India, having an abortion is permissible up until the completion of the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), passed in 1971, makes it legal for licenced medical providers to perform abortions in certain situations.

Before their liberalisation in 2018, Ireland’s abortion restrictions had a significant impact on all facets of maternal healthcare. The pregnant woman’s desires could be disregarded by medical staff since they believed the fetus had the same rights as her. In 2014, despite the wishes of her family, a brain-dead pregnant woman was kept on life support for four weeks to defend the fetus’s right to life. Four years after Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalised, the England-based Abortion Support Network still assists about 60 women from Ireland each year. These initiatives are an integral aspect of reproductive rights, just as much as the legal framework is as such, even when laws change, their work is not done.

Understanding abortion beyond the laws

Laws are only one component of access to the process of abortion. It is more challenging and risky to undergo an abortion because of policies that target abortion facilities, and healthcare workers’ conscience objections. (Conscientious objection in the context of abortion treatment refers to when a medical professional or institution declines to provide abortion services or information out of respect for their conscience or religious beliefs.) Lack of regulation of conscientious objection can seriously restrict access to abortion services, stigma, and clinic protests. There are movements outside of the law to support people in getting access to healthcare and abortions by providing travel assistance or financial support, even in nations with less onerous legal frameworks.

However, abortion has been eliminated from the criminal code in states with the most liberal abortion legislation. As a fundamental human right, the right to safe and legal abortion is safeguarded by various national and international human rights constitutions. These laws provide the right to life, liberty, privacy, equality, non-discrimination, and freedom from harsh, inhuman, and degrading treatment as the foundation for safe abortion. Restrictive abortion regulations have been regularly denounced as violating human rights standards by human rights organisations.

Final thoughts

The federal government is thought to be the most effective defence against state abortion prohibitions. Even though the activist networks and organisations are sometimes dismissed as temporary fixes that won’t be necessary after restrictions are loosened, obstacles to abortion still exist even after laws are changed. Decriminalization allows for the legalisation of abortion while placing a higher priority on pregnant women’s health and safety. Therefore, a brief understanding of the subject can eliminate myths, and better reforms can be made while highlighting the necessities of women.

(The author is a Senior Consultant – Feto Maternal Medicine & Medical Director, Milann Fertility & Birthing Hospital, JP Nagar, Bangalore. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of

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