When does human life begin, and a woman's reproductive rights end? Depending on a woman's location in the world, the answer can depend on her age, mental health, and socioeconomic status. Governments around the world have instituted a complex network of restrictions and exceptions in an attempt to negotiate the abortion question. Now, the Center for Reproductive Rights has compiled them all in an interactive map of the world's abortion laws.
Tool around CRR's map of the world, and you'll find countries coded red (abortion is banned except possibly to save the mother's life), green (abortion is not restricted based on the justification behind the procedure), and shaded somewhere in-between (exceptions exist based on a woman's health, age, or socioeconomic status). Click further and you'll find that many countries have instituted abortion restrictions and exceptions rarely discussed in the United States.
In Colombia, abortion is permitted to preserve a woman's mental health. In Ecuador, its legal in the case of a woman who has a mental disability. Finland bases the decision on certain "enumerated grounds," including the age of the mother and her ability to care for a child. In Saudi Arabia, spousal authorization is required to secure an abortion. China prohibits sex-selective abortion. A few jurisdictions—including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho—do not include specific exceptions to save the life of the mother, so a woman who undergoes the procedure would be forced to mount a "necessity" defense to a criminal inquiry. El Salvador has an absolute ban on abortion—all exceptions, even a "necessity" defense, have been wiped out with legislation.
When it comes to abortion access, the world is getting greener. In the past 20 years, dozens of countries have liberalized their abortion laws. But 25 percent of the world's population still lives in the red zone, and even countries with permissive abortion laws don't necessarily provide practical access to abortion. CRR legal fellow Johanna Fine points to India, where the government "permits abortions on a broad range of socioeconomic factors," but where the divide between abortion access in urban and rural areas is stark. "Many rural areas suffer from a lack of facilities and a lack of knowledge of the law in both providers and women," Fine says.
Or take the United States, where women have a constitutional right to abortion, but where states have implemented barriers like waiting periods, mandatory counseling requirements, and parental consent laws "specifically intended to make it much more difficult to get the procedure," Fine says. And individual states keep gunning to challenge abortion's constitutional framework: Mississippi is currently debating a law that would ban abortion, as well as several forms of contraception, outright.
CRR's map does not reveal these more practical considerations, but it does help expand our understanding of how the tension between fetal life and reproductive rights is resolved on paper. For women in countries where the law isn't widely available, that's insight is particularly crucial. "One of [the anti-abortion movement's] tactics is to spread misinformation about abortion laws," Fine says. "We want to provide factual, accurate, and non-biased information so that you can find the legal status of abortion in your country and compare to other countries around the world."