File photo of Savita Halappanavar who died due to medical negligence in Ireland. (PTI Photo)
The death of Savita Halappanavar may have made Ireland the target of international criticism. A review of laws across the globe, however, indicates that the 'unusually restrictive' abortion law is not unique to the Catholic country. When it comes to termination of pregnancy, the world doesn't seem to be fair.
More than half of the countries for which information was available don't allow abortion even in the case of rape/incest, fetal impairment or economic and social reasons. Only 29% of countries allow abortion on request — when the woman is not required to justify the reason.
These numbers come from the UN's World Abortion Policies 2011, a wall chart that provides information on legal grounds of abortion for the 192 UN members and the the three non-member states. The UN department of economic and social affairs classifies abortion requests into seven permissible legal categories — to save a woman's life, to preserve her physical health, to preserve her mental health, rape or incest, fetal impairment, economic or social reasons and on request.
The most commonly permitted category is to save a woman's life and the data indicates that 97% of countries allow abortion when the life of the mother is endangered. However, in many countries the laws don't specifically define complications that are considered life threatening and hence it becomes extremely difficult for medical professionals to perform an abortion. Ireland is perhaps the best example.
Experts are now questioning countries, which also allow abortion on this ground but get far lesser media attention in case of similar mishaps. The Vatican, Malta, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile don't allow abortion even on this ground. Also, 54 countries, which are predominantly Latin American, Arab and African, allow abortion only on this ground. The list includes countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Qatar, Libya, Niger and Congo.
Similarly, more than 60% countries allow abortion to preserve a woman's physical or mental health. But, like the first category, the terms 'physical' and 'mental' health are defined in different ways in different countries. In many places, the definition is extremely narrow. It is simply a list of certain conditions, which allows room for interpretation and hence makes abortion complicated.
Most European countries, along with the US, Canada and Australia, allow abortion on all seven grounds. Overall, there are 57 such countries. In our neighbourhood, Nepal and China also allow abortion for all categories. India is among seven countries, which allow abortion for six of the seven legal categories. The list also includes the UK, Finland and Iceland. In these countries, abortion 'on request' is not allowed. The report also indicates that gradually the world is becoming lesser stringent in permitting abortion. Between 1996 and 2009, 46 countries extended the number of legal grounds for abortion. There were 11 countries including Japan and Iraq which restricted the grounds for abortion.
Source: Times of India