International abortion laws: The map that shows the state of abortion worldwide

The recent case of a 10-year-old girl made pregnant by her stepfather has refocused attention on abortion rights internationally

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The case of a 10-year-old girl raped by her stepfather in Paraguay but denied an abortion has thrown attention back on the rights of women worldwide – but where is it possible to have an abortion?

The graph below shows the scale of female access to abortion, from the worst six countries (in dark red) to those with the most liberal rules on abortion (in light yellow).

The data is drawn from World Health Organisation statistics (2011) which ranks nations under five categories from best to worst.

Under the worst (1), women are denied abortion for any reason. In 18 countries women and girls are allowed abortions only if the mother’s life is in danger (2), but this is not codified and instead relies upon an easily removed “legal principle”.

In the third bracket (3) – which Paraguay falls under – abortions are explicitly allowed only in order to save the mother’s life. But as the recent case demonstrates, often societal pressures mean the legal protection does not translation to physical rights.

Under the fourth bracket (4) abortion is explicitly allowed to save a mother’s life – and also should certain other criteria be fulfilled. The UK falls into this bracket, allowing abortions to take place as long as they are signed off by two doctors.

Finally (5) allows abortion in all circumstances. The US falls into this bracket, but as we have seen individual states have fought hard to curtail the availability of abortions. Also nations in this bracket (such as Tunisia or Bahrain) may appear as positive examples of access to abortion but the reality can often be very different.

Campaigners, such as the Centre for Reproductive Rights or Amnesty International’s My Body My Rights campaign, say that although there have been strides towards global liberalisation of abortion in recent years the trend has slowed.