Abortion laws vary significantly across the EU

FRANCE 24 | Abortion laws vary across Europe.

With Ireland choosing whether or not to legalise abortion on Friday, FRANCE 24 takes a look at the legal status of abortion across the rest of the European Union.


Laws vary greatly across the EU’s 28 member states: a complete ban, allowing it only under certain conditions, putting legal restrictions on it, or allowing women free rein to choose whether or not to have an abortion.


Partial or severe bans

In Ireland, abortion is currently allowed only if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. The law was changed to allow this in 2013, in response to the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died because Ireland’s total ban prevented her from aborting the foetus during a miscarriage.

In just one country, Malta, such a total ban is still in force. Any woman who has an abortion can be put in prison, along with the doctor who performs it.

In Cyprus and Poland, abortion is only allowed in certain extreme situations such as rape or a major health threat to the mother. But even these limited rights to abortion have been under attack in Poland over recent years. In 2016, a bill proposing a complete ban on abortion was rejected by parliament. Then in 2018, another bill, proposing to ban abortions carried out because of foetal abnormality, was put forward in the legislature. According to Stop Abortion, the campaign group which drove this proposal forward in Poland, 96% of abortions carried out in the country fall into this category.

Legal restrictions

In the UK and Finland, women seeking abortions have to get official medical permission before proceeding. In the former, two doctors must certify that an abortion is necessary for medical or social reasons. In the latter, abortion is theoretically only permitted under certain conditions (if a woman is under the age of 17, older than 40, already has four children or faces social difficulties or health problems), but in practice an abortion can be obtained without great difficulty.

Few constraints

In the 22 other states of the EU, abortion is legal without prior authorisation, although the specific laws differ, especially in relation to time limits. In most of these countries, abortion is only allowed in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, but this cap varies from 10 weeks (in Portugal, for example) to 24 weeks (in the UK and the Netherlands, for example). That is while some countries, such as Germany, require a reflection period of a few days.

France, on the other hand, abolished this waiting period in 2015, before voting in 2017 to criminalise the online dissemination of false information seeking to dissuade women from choosing to have an abortion.

This article has been adapted from the original in French