Barriers and facilitators of access to first-trimester abortion services for women in the developed world: a systematic review

J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care. 2015 Jul;41(3):170-80. doi: 10.1136/jfprhc-2013-100862.


Objectives: To identify the barriers and facilitators to accessing first-trimester abortion services for women in the developed world.

Methods: Systematic review of published literature. CINAHL, PubMed, Proquest, MEDLINE, InformIT, Scopus, PsycINFO and Academic Search Premier were searched for papers written in the English language, from the developed world, including quantitative and qualitative articles published between 1993 and 2014.

Results: The search initially yielded 2511 articles. After screening of title, abstract and removing duplicates, 38 articles were reviewed. From the provider perspective, barriers included moral opposition to abortion, lack of training, too few physicians, staff harassment, and insufficient hospital resources, particularly in rural areas. From the women's perspective, barriers included lack of access to services (including distance and lack of service availability), negative attitudes of staff, and the associated costs of the abortion procedure. Service access could be enhanced by increasing training, particularly for mid-level practitioners; by increasing the range of service options, including the use of telehealth; and by creating clear guidelines and referral procedures to alternative providers when staff have a moral opposition to abortion.

Conclusion: Despite fewer legal barriers to accessing abortion services, the evidence from this review suggests that women in developed countries still face significant inequities in terms of the level of quality and access to services as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Keywords: abortion; family planning service provision; reproductive health politics; service delivery.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First*