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Where is the worst place for abortions?

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, GlobalPost looks at abortion rights around the world.

weeks, it is legal if there are extenuating circumstances, such as socio-economic or health reasons, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

The annual number of abortion-related deaths dropped by 91 percent in the years that followed. But access is a serious and some say worsening problem.

South Africa has a shortage of state facilities able to provide abortion services, and for many women government clinics aren't readily accessible, making it easier to get an illegal procedure.

Advertisements for dodgy clinics are rife in the townships and downtowns of big cities. A significant number of women aren't even aware that abortion is legal.

South Africa is the only country in southern Africa, and one of only three on the entire continent (along with Cape Verde and Tunisia), where abortion is legal without restriction as to the reason. Zambia permits abortion on socio-economic grounds, though there, too, unsafe abortions remain common, and a major cause of maternal death.

Erin Conway-Smith in Johannesburg

The earliest known description of an abortion is said to come from an ancient Egyptian medical text, which outlined a procedure where the female inserted into her vagina a type of plant coated with honey and dates. But today, a procedure like that is punishable by law.

Egypt’s penal code bans abortions in all circumstances, while allowing flexibility in certain — and sometimes difficult to prove — circumstances of “necessity.”

A doctor can abort if the woman’s life is in danger, but must write a detailed report explaining the circumstances. If a woman’s health is at risk, the treating doctor is required to obtain written approval from other specialists in order to carry out the procedure.

The legal obstacles have led some doctors to stop performing abortions for fear of criminal prosecution, leaving Egyptian women to seek out alternative methods — some dangerous and some self-induced. A woman herself can be imprisoned for up to three years for performing an abortion on her on fetus.

Rights groups are fighting back to have abortion decriminalized and for the government to carry out a nationwide survey on the number of unsafe abortions. There is currently no national database. But a government survey in 2005 said at least 1 in 5 births in Egypt are unplanned.

Still pro-choice advocates in Egypt face an uphill battle against religious officials who are growing in prominence under Egypt's new Islamist government. The country’s premier religious institution, Al Azhar, has declared abortion “an intervention against God’s will.”

Erin Cunningham in Cairo


China is, in many respects, the world leader in abortions. It was the first country to legalize mifepristone — the abortion pill — in 1988.

Abortions are cheap (around $88) and widely available. And Chinese clinics perform more abortions per year — at least 13 million in 2011 — than anywhere else on Earth.

Compared to the US, there is relatively little cultural opposition to the practice. But what is controversial is the policy that lies behind it. The one-child policy, which restricts most couples to having only one child, has led to numerous instances of forced abortions, particularly in the Chinese countryside.

Last June, the case of a seven-month-pregnant woman who was held down and forcibly given an abortion because she could not pay the $6,300 fine sparked outrage across China, leading to calls from academics and officials to abandon the one-child policy.

Yet change still does not seem imminent. Wang Xia, the head of China's family-planning commission, said that restrictions on having children will not be abolished anytime soon. "The policy should be a long-term one,” she said.

Benjamin Carlson in Hong Kong

India legalized abortion in 1971. Prior to that, abortion doctors could be sentenced to up to three years in prison, while women undergoing abortions could do as much as seven years of hard time.

Currently, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy act, no girl under the age of 18 may seek an abortion without the permission of a parent or guardian. An adult woman may seek an abortion up to 12 weeks after conception if her doctor deems that taking the pregnancy to term presents a risk to the life of the mother or the threat of grave injury. Pregnancies that are the result of rape or the failure of contraception both qualify as