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Dublin: -2°C Sunday 11 April 2021

Where else are abortion laws as strict as in Ireland?

We’re relatively unique in terms of developed countries.

ABORTION CAME BACK under the spotlight this week as the Dáil voted on Clare Daly’s bill to provide for terminations in circumstances where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

The bill was rejected by 104 votes to 20.

Ireland has one of the strictest abortion laws in the developed world, prohibiting terminations except when a woman’s life is in danger.

Daly predicted her bill’s fate, saying Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers would vote it down like “nodding donkeys“.

Members of the Government said they could not support the bill as the Attorney General had advised them it was unconstitutional. Only one Labour TD, Anne Ferris, defied the whip to support the proposed legislation.

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter said that a referendum on abortion in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest is the only way forward.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed in 2013. It legally gives a woman access to an abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to her life, including through suicide.

The subject of abortion became a national talking point following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar after she was denied a termination in 2012.

Savita Halappanavar vigil People attend a candlelit vigil in Dublin to mark one year since the death of Savita Halappanavar (2013). Source: Niall Carson

Global comparison

The US-based Center for Reproductive Rights monitors abortion legislation globally.

ireland africa abortion Source: Center for Reproductive Rights

In their most recent analysis, Ireland, along with 65 other countries, falls into the strictest category in terms of abortion – namely, it is prohibited in these countries or allowed in some in order to save the woman’s life.

Other counties in this category include:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • The Democractic Republic of Congo
  • Egypt
  • El Salvador
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Malawi
  • Nigeria
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Venezuela
  • West Bank & Gaza Strip

Abortion Protest in Dublin Pro-choice activists including TD Ruth Coppinger at Connolly station after they took a train from Belfast to Dublin to bring back abortion pills. Source: Brian Lawless

59 countries allow abortion to preserve a woman’s health. They include:

  • Algeria
  • Botswana
  • Colombia
  • Ghana
  • Israel
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Morocco
  • Namibia
  • Northern Ireland
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Rwanda
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Thailand
  • Zimbabwe

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Dublin abortion protest A pro-life demonstration in 2013. Source: Niall Carson

13 countries – including Cyprus, Finland, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India and Zambia – allow abortion on socio-economic grounds.

Abortion is permitted ‘without restriction as to reason’ in 61 countries*, including:

  • Albania
  • Australia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Belgium
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Ukraine
  • United States**
  • Vietnam

*Gestational limits vary in these countries


**More information on state-by-state legislation is viewable here.


A full breakdown of global abortion legislation is available here.

Read: “We can assure you, not a person on this earth wanted our babies to live more than we did.”

Related: Leo: We’ve no mandate for abortion referendum, Mick Wallace: That’s horseshit

Background: Woman jailed for miscarrying her baby is released

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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