Context: Women's lack of access to legal abortion is a major contributing factor to high rates of worldwide maternal mortality and morbidity. This article describes changes in the legal status of abortion in countries around the world since 1998.
Methods: The complete texts of new abortion legislation, most often obtained directly from government Web sites, were reviewed to determine changes. Background information was, where possible, also based on a review of complete legal texts. Other sources include the International Digest of Health Legislation (published by the World Health Organization) and Abortion Policies: A Global Review (published in 2002 by the Population Division of the United Nations).
Results: Since 1998, 16 countries have increased the number of grounds on which abortions may be legally performed; in two other countries, state jurisdictions expanded grounds for abortion. Two countries have removed grounds for legal abortion. Other countries maintained existing indications for abortion but adopted changes affecting access to the procedure.
Conclusions: The worldwide trend toward liberalization of abortion laws observed in 1998 has continued. Recognition of the impact of abortion restrictions on women's human rights has played an increasing role in efforts to provide access to abortion.