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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Europe's terms for terminations
Republic of Ireland United Kingdom Portugal Spain France Belgium Netherlands Germany Denmark Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Russian Federation Switzerland Italy Slovenia Austria Czech Republic Poland Russian Federation Lithuania Latvia Croatia Hungary Slovakia Belarus Bosnia and Herzegovina Yugoslavia Romania Moldova Ukraine Albania Macedonia Bulgaria Greece Turkey

Abortion debates continue to rage across Europe - whether they should be allowed, encouraged, discouraged or be seen as part of family planning and a woman's human rights.

Ireland's narrow vote not to close a loophole allowing women abortions if threatening suicide maintains its current laws but the country still has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

This News Online guide shows the range of policies across Europe - from Ireland's ban to the "on demand" availability in many countries, though most impose their own criteria for the length of pregnancy that may be terminated as well as mandatory counselling and waiting periods.

Click on the map above or scroll down for the laws in each European country.

Data collated by The Alan Guttmacher Institute showed no direct correlation between the availability of terminations and the ratio per 1,000 pregnancies.

Ireland, with its strict laws, and the much freer Netherlands have the lowest proportion of abortions in Europe.

Albania: Allowed on demand since 1991 with counselling mandatory one week earlier. The UN estimated one in two pregnancies ended in abortion in the 1980s, when Albania had the second-highest maternal mortality rate in Europe.
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Andorra: Banned in law, but allowed in practice to save the life of the mother.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has criticised the laws of this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
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Austria: Allowed on demand in the first trimester after a medical consultation since a liberalisation of the laws in 1974.
In practice, the ability of a woman to pay for an abortion is an important factor.
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Belarus: Allowed on demand for the first 12 weeks and up to 28 weeks for health reasons.
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Belgium: Allowed for the first 12 weeks if the pregnant woman says she is in a "state of distress".
The law, introduced in 1990, also allows abortions up to 28 weeks if two doctors agree there is a health risk to the mother or child.
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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Allowed on demand in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion laws in the former Yugoslavia began to be liberalised in response to the high number of deaths associated with illegal terminations.
Bosnia still uses the former republic's 1977 law that dictates "it is a human right to decide on the birth of children".
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Bulgaria: Allowed on demand for pregnancies under 12 weeks since 1956. For more established pregnancies, abortion is only allowed if there is a danger to the mother or if the foetus is severely impaired.
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Croatia: Allowed on demand in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
As in Bosnia, Croatia kept the liberalised laws of the former Yugoslavia when it became independent.
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Pre-natal scan of baby
Scans showing abnormalities can be justification for an abortion

Cyprus: Allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health or in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
The laws were liberalised in 1974, replacing a code that abortions were only allowed to save life.
In practice, terminations for social and economic reasons are made.
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Czech Republic: Allowed on demand.
The number of abortions in the Czech Republic dropped by about two-thirds in the 1990s.
The Institute for Health Information in Prague said 32,500 women had their pregnancies terminated in the year 2000, compared with 107,000 in 1990.
The reason given was the increasing availability of the birth-control pill and other types of contraception.
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Denmark: Allowed on demand up to 12 weeks. In 1937 the law allowing an abortion only if the woman's life was in danger was relaxed to allow terminations in situations including rape, incest and foetal impairment.
Social reasons as legal grounds were added in 1956 and 1970 and the latest change was in 1973.
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Estonia: Allowed on demand up to 12 weeks.
The Estonian Government has cut the period when abortions may be performed for health reasons from 28 to 20 weeks.
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Finland: Allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health, for economic or social reasons or in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
Abortions must generally be performed in the first 12 weeks.
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France: Allowed on demand.
In 2001, the French government passed a law extending the period when a woman may have an abortion from 10 weeks after conception to 12 weeks.
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A baby in an incubator
In Germany, a bishop hoped to counsel women to keep their unborn children

Germany: Allowed on demand.
The last diocese to continue to defy the Vatican by counselling women wanting abortions gave up its resistance in March.
Bishop Franz Kamphaus does not support abortions but hoped to persuade women to keep their children if they were counselled.

  • German bishop capitulates on abortion
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    Greece: Allowed on demand.
    New legislation in 1986 allowed terminations, generally up to 12 weeks or longer in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.
    But the United Nations says the public is still not fully aware of the new laws and illegal abortions are still common.
    Many women also still turn to the private sector as public facilities are beset by delays and red tape.
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    Hungary: Allowed on demand since 1992, for pregnancies up to 12 weeks, after counselling.
    Before 1953 abortions were illegal except for health reasons.
    Laws were liberalised in 1953 and 1956 before being tightened again in 1973 when abortions had to be approved by committee.
    This restriction was removed in 1988 and while the 1992 law stressed respect for the foetus, it allowed abortions if the woman was distressed.
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    Iceland: Abortion allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health, for economic or social reasons in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
    The 1975 law requires women to have counselling both before and after the termination and to receive education on contraception.
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    Ireland: Only allowed to save a woman's life.
    Ireland has voted five times in the past 20 years on its abortion laws, most recently deciding to continue to allow women to have an abortion if they say they are suicidal - a loophole the government and Catholic Church wanted closed.

  • New confusion in an old debate
  • Abortion issue unlikely to rest
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    Pro and anti-abortion posters in Ireland
    Recent referendums in Ireland and Portugal have been very close

    Italy: Allowed on demand.
    In 2001, a government minister sparked a row when he suggested women who dropped plans to have an abortion should be paid more than $400 a month for a year.
    Rocco Buttiglione also said fathers should be legally involved in the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
    He was heavily criticised and his views were compared to the anti-women policies of the Taleban in Afghanistan.
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    Latvia: Allowed on demand for any reason if approved by a committee.
    Latvia kept abortion laws liberalised during the Soviet era.
    A lack of contraceptives and knowledge of their use has contributed to the relatively high rate of abortions.
    A 1995 survey found that, by the age of 25, 30% of women had had an abortion.
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    Liechtenstein: Allowed to save the life of the woman or to preserve her physical or mental health, under a 1987 law.
    Publicly offering abortions is illegal and a doctor who performs an unauthorised termination can be jailed for one year.
    Back to map

    Lithuania: Allowed on demand. Lithuania has kept the laws it had when it was a Soviet republic.
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    Luxembourg: Allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health, for economic or social reasons in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
    Agreement for the law to be liberalised was reached narrowly in parliament in 1978.
    But the UN says there remains a reluctance among doctors to perform abortions, partly because of the country's religious conservatism.
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    Macedonia: Allowed on demand since 1977.
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    Malta: Banned. The government and bishops on the island objected strongly to moves in 2000 to perform abortions on a ship in international waters off Malta.
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    Moldova: Allowed on demand since 1956. Moldova did have the sixth-highest rate of abortions among the Soviet republics, but that rate has declined in the last decade, according to the country's Family Planning Association.
    The World Health Organisation says many women, however, still use abortion as part of their family planning.
    Back to map

    Monaco: Only allowed to save a woman's life.
    The United Nations deems the law in Monaco to be one of the most restrictive in Europe.
    Women inducing their own abortion are subject to a fine and up to three years in jail while doctors or others helping her may receive harsher penalties.
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    Netherlands: Allowed on demand since 1981.
    Since November 1984, women in the Netherlands have been able to obtain abortions free of charge under the government-sponsored national health insurance system.
    Foreigners may have abortions in the Netherlands, but they have to pay.
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    Norway: Allowed on demand since 1978, following relaxing of the laws from 1964.
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    Pope John Paul II
    The Catholic Church's influence remains strong in some part of Europe

    Poland: Allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health or in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
    Abortion was expected to force its way back onto the political agenda in Poland after the victory of the Democratic Left in the 2001 elections.
    The country adopted strict anti-abortion laws in the early 1990s reversing the policy of the Communist years.
    Even though abortions are still legal in many cases, women say hospitals routinely refuse to carry them out.

  • Poland set for abortion battle
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    Portugal: Allowed to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health or in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
    Portuguese Prime Minister Jorge Sampaio told the BBC in February that it was time to change his country's laws on abortion.
    Tens of thousands of illegal "backstreet" abortions are believed to be carried out every year.
    Portugal's voters upheld the current laws by 51% to 49% in the last referendum held in 1998.

  • Abortion debate reopened
  • Trial of nurse reignites debate
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    Romania: Allowed on demand.
    The World Health Organisation reported that the number of abortion-related deaths rose sharply in 1966 after the tightening of a previously liberal law and dropped after 1989 when abortions were again legalised.
    The Romanian Government has said it wants to cut the number of abortions by having wider use of contraception.
    Back to map

    Russia: Allowed on demand.
    The Russian Government has been trying to reduce the number of abortions by encouraging other methods of family planning.
    Back to map

    San Marino: Only allowed to save a woman's life.
    Back to map

    Slovakia: Allowed on demand.
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    Silhouette of a pregnant woman
    Many countries only allow abortions in the first trimester

    Slovenia: Allowed on demand.
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    Spain: Allowed since 1985 to save a woman's life, to preserve her mental or physical health or in the cases of rape or incest or foetal impairment.
    Courts paved the way for a change in the law in the 1970s with fewer prosecutions and shorter sentences for illegal abortions.
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    Sweden: Allowed on demand.
    An absolute ban on abortions was lifted in 1938 when terminations were permitted for health or humanitarian grounds.
    Laws in 1946 and 1963 broadened the categories for allowing abortions and under the 1974 act, a woman is entitled to an abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
    Sweden has encouraged earlier abortions and the vast majority are now carried out before the 12th week of pregnancy.
    The country says illegal abortions have been eradicated.
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    Switzerland: On 2 June 2002, the Swiss voted in a referendum to legalise abortion by relaxing what had been one of the strictest laws in Europe.
    Swiss women are now allowed a termination in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
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    Turkey: Allowed on demand. But Turkey requires the consent of the woman's partner for an abortion, which must be before the 10th week of pregnancy.
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    Ukraine: Allowed on demand.
    Though Ukraine has extended family planning services, it acknowledges a lack of contraception still leads many women to undergo abortions.
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    United Kingdom: In England, Scotland and Wales, abortion is allowed to save a woman's life, for health, economic or social reasons. In Northern Ireland, the woman's health must be at risk.
    The difference between the British mainland and Northern Ireland occurred in 1967 when the Westminster parliament let the then Ulster authority decide not to adopt the new laws.
    Hundreds of women each year cross the Irish Sea to get abortions in England.

  • Q&A on abortions in Northern Ireland
  • Abortion law to be reviewed
  • Myths of abortion
    Back to map

    Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro): Allowed on demand.
    Abortion laws in Yugoslavia began to be liberalised in response to the high number of deaths associated with illegal terminations.
    In 1977, the republic passed a law stating "it is a human right to decide on the birth of children".
    Back to map


    Graph showing proportion of abortions per 1,000 pregnancies

    Back to text

  • See also:

    05 Mar 02 | Europe
    09 Mar 02 | Health
    03 Oct 01 | Europe
    13 Jun 01 | N Ireland
    13 Jun 01 | N Ireland
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