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Feature Maternal Health

Abortion round the world

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 15 November 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1018
  1. Hannah Brown, freelance journalist
  1. Cambridge
  1. hannah{at}

    In the recent UK debates about the upper time limit for termination of pregnancy, attention focused on the number of abortions since legalisation. But, as Hannah Brown reports, rates of abortions have been falling faster in Western countries than elsewhere

    Abortion is one of the most emotive and divisive of medical issues. The review of the 1967 Abortion Act by the House of Commons select committee on science and technology aimed to avoid complex ethical questions by sticking solely to scientific and medical developments. Nevertheless, the committee's cross party membership was irreconcilably divided when the final report was published last month. Two conservative MPs decided they could not with good conscience agree with the final conclusions—that women should not need the consent of two doctors for the procedure—claiming that they had been misled over survival rates and the extent to which fetuses can feel pain.

    Highly charged public discussions on abortion in the United States have also been given new impetus over the past few years, with speculation about the likelihood of a conservative dominated Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 legal ruling for Roe versus Wade. This decreed that women's right to terminate early pregnancies was enshrined in the 14th amendment.

    New estimates for the numbers of abortions,1 both legal and clandestine, worldwide, which were released last month as part of the Women Deliver conference in London, show that although the numbers of abortions have fallen considerably in developed countries, numbers in developing countries are going up.2 Because poor countries harbour some of the strictest laws banning the procedure, more abortions mean more complications from botched operations and more deaths.

    World abortion laws 2007: grounds on which abortion is permitted. The gestational age at which …

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