Abortion laws have been the centre of heated debate around the world, offending religious sensitivities and causing political meddling over women's reproductive rights and freedoms. A 2014 report by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organisation concluded that restrictive abortion laws do not decrease the number of abortions. And yet, in most countries, unless there is a threat to the pregnant woman's life, her feotus is abnormal, or in cases of rape, she cannot willfully abort.
In India, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, allows for abortions within 20 weeks of pregnancy, if there is threat to the woman's life or in cases of impaired feotal development. For cases beyond the limit, India's courts have had a shaky track record of granting few pleas and rejecting others. Most recently, the Supreme Court granted permission to a 26-year-old rape victim to have an abortion in the 24th week of her pregnancy, based on evidence from medical institutions stating that the feotus had anencephaly. On the other hand, last year, the Haryana High Court denied abortion to a teenaged rape survivor.
World over, abortion laws vary in its degree of restrictions
With exception of a few countries where it is completely banned, most abortions are allowed subject to a gestational cut off period until which a pregnancy can be aborted. In most countries, including France, Russia, South Africa and Vietnam, the cut off is 12 weeks. Singapore allows up to 24 weeks, while in Sweden it is 18 weeks.
Beyond this period, women have to seek legal permission from the state. Some countries require a medical professional's authorisation, while places like Saudi Arabia require authorisation from the spouse and parents too.
Canada, Peurto Rico, Guyana and Cuba have no law restricting or criminalising abortion.
In the US and Australia, laws are state-dependent
The United States is divided on the lines of pro-life and pro-choice, and each state has its own law. It is legal without restrictions in 24 states, including California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington DC. Indiana, Texas and 10 other states limit abortion to an 18- to 20-week period, while Florida, New York and nine others limit up to 20 weeks. Pro-life US states are also notorious for setting challenging standards for abortion clinics, which cause many of them to shut down.
In the Australian Capital Territory, abortion is legal, while in New South Wales it is a criminal offence. In other parts of Australia, the laws vary with different gestational limits and a strict requirement of doctors' approval.
Developing countries are still strict about abortion
Pro-choice activists around the world fight for a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue with her pregnancy. But there are some countries where it is illegal to go through an abortion even to save her own life. Chile, Malta, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have strict anti-abortion laws, sometimes making it difficult for women to even seek legal assistance. Similarly, it is illegal and punishable in Laos and the Philippines without exception.
In South America, Brazil allows abortion in cases of rape, while Peru and Colombia have reasonable exceptions. Mexico has similar laws. In Uruguay, which led the pro-choice movement in the Americas for 25 years, abortion is legal only up to 12 weeks.
Most Gulf countries, Iran, Afghanistan and Egypt included, prohibit abortion unless it is a threat to life. Saudi Arabia allows for abortion to save a woman's life and protect her health. But the social culture in this region stands in the way of safe, legal abortion options.
Legal in conservative China, restricted in liberal Europe
Other than sex-selective abortions, China grants fully legal, inexpensive abortion procedures. As for the rest of South East Asia, abortion is allowed in cases of threat to life or health, while it is allowed on demand in Japan and North Korea.
Europe, while generally considered liberal, has conservative abortion laws. In Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, it is legal only on grounds of health threats. In most other parts of the continent, abortion is allowed only up to 14 weeks. Netherlands is the only exception where there is no restriction on gestational period.