Published 16 March 2023 in Facts and figures
Ensuring access to safe, quality abortion services is a prerequisite for women’s empowerment and bodily autonomy. While abortion is not clearly mentioned in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both SDG 3 « Health and well-being » and SDG 5 « Gender equality » have targets aiming to ensure « universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services » (target 3.7) and « universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights » (target 5.6).
Adopted in 2015, the SDGs are not the first international instrument mentioning sexual and reproductive health and rights: in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) recognized the right of women to control their own fertility, including the right to choose if and when to have children. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995, also recognized women’s right to have access to safe and reliable sexual and reproductive health services.
Since then, many countries have passed laws that guarantee the right to abortion. Several types of legislation exist, authorizing or not abortion following various criteria:
The map below presents the state of legislation in the world in 2023:
In 2023, abortion was authorized on request in 74 countries and in 13 countries for broad socio-economic reasons. However, these figures must be considered with caution: in some federal states, such as the United States and Australia, legislation varies from one administrative region to another. The vast majority of countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but this period can be longer (e.g., 24 weeks in the United Kingdom). Abortion is permitted in 49 countries for health reasons, in 42 countries to save the mother’s life, and is strictly prohibited in 24 countries.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 41% of women worldwide live in countries with restrictive abortion laws. These restrictions have a significant impact on women’s lives: each year, the World Health Organization estimates that 39,000 women and girls die from consequences of unsafe abortions. However, even in countries where abortion is legal, barriers may still exist, such as high costs, waiting times, parental or marital consent requirements, and social stigma.
The issue of abortion remains highly political and controversial in many countries around the world. Despite certain developments, a setback in legislation has been observed in several countries around the world, notably in the United States following the reversal in 2022 of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court which constitutionally guaranteed this right.
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