Denial of abortion in legal settings

J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care. 2015 Jul;41(3):161-3. doi: 10.1136/jfprhc-2014-100999. Epub 2014 Dec 15.


Background: Factors such as poverty, stigma, lack of knowledge about the legal status of abortion, and geographical distance from a provider may prevent women from accessing safe abortion services, even where abortion is legal. Data on the consequences of abortion denial outside of the US, however, are scarce.

Methods: In this article we present data from studies among women seeking legal abortion services in four countries (Colombia, Nepal, South Africa and Tunisia) to assess sociodemographic characteristics of legal abortion seekers, as well as the frequency and reasons that women are denied abortion care.

Results: The proportion of women denied abortion services and the reasons for which they were denied varied widely by country. In Colombia, 2% of women surveyed did not receive the abortions they were seeking; in South Africa, 45% of women did not receive abortions on the day they were seeking abortion services. In both Tunisia and Nepal, 26% of women were denied their wanted abortions.

Conclusions: The denial of legal abortion services may have serious consequences for women's health and wellbeing. Additional evidence on the risk factors for presenting later in pregnancy, predictors of seeking unsafe illegal abortion, and the health consequences of illegal abortion and childbirth after an unwanted pregnancy is needed. Such data would assist the development of programmes and policies aimed at increasing access to and utilisation of safe abortion services where abortion is legal, and harm reduction models for women who are unable to access legal abortion services.

Keywords: abortion; medico-legal; misoprostol; unintended pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion Applicants*
  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Adult
  • Colombia
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Nepal
  • Pregnancy
  • South Africa
  • Tunisia