Sexual and reproductive health

Increasing transparency of abortion laws and policies: launch of a new online database

WHO and UN DESA Global Abortion Policies Database now live

screenshot of database

23 JUNE 2017: WHO and the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs have launched a new, open-access database of laws, policies and health standards on abortion in countries worldwide. The database aims to promote greater transparency of abortion laws and policies, as well as to improve countries’ accountability for the protection of women and girls’ health and human rights.

The database is being launched on two platforms:

Unsafe abortion

Women, including adolescents, with unwanted pregnancies often resort to unsafe abortion when they cannot access safe abortion. Around 22 million unsafe abortions are estimated to take place worldwide each year. Each year between 4.7% – 13.2% of maternal deaths can be attributed unsafe abortion.1

Counselling tent, Nepal
Marie Stopes International

Restrictive laws

In addition to a range of other factors, restrictive laws are a barrier to accessing safe abortion. The authors of an article about the new Global Abortion Policies Database, to be published in the July edition of the WHO Bulletin, state, ‘According to an analysis by the UN, the average rate of unsafe abortion is estimated to be more than four times higher in countries with more restrictive abortion laws than in countries with less restrictive laws.’

New database

The database allows comparative analyses of abortion laws and policies across countries, while at the same time viewing information and recommendations from WHO safe abortion guidance. The global picture for abortion laws and policies is complex. Individual countries’ laws and policies can be protective or punitive, specific or non-specific, and limiting or facilitating for access and service provision. The database can help to unpack the complexities and nuances of these laws and policies. The database does not address how laws and policies are applied in practice, and so database users interested in progressive policy reform to protect women and girls’ health and human rights are encouraged to use the information to generate evidence on how laws and policies are implemented.

By sharing abortion laws and policies from across the world, it is hoped that the database will improve transparency and encourage countries to hold themselves to account for protecting girls’ and women’s human rights to health and well-being.

The database includes information on a broad range of policy areas. These include: legal grounds and related gestational limits, authorization and service-delivery requirements, policies about who can provide abortion and where, when and how abortion services are permitted, and criminal penalties for women, girls, health-care providers and others. In addition to data on specific abortion policies, individual country profiles include sexual and reproductive health indicators, links to ratified human rights treaties, and links to UN Treaty Monitoring Body Concluding Observations and Special Procedure Reports, which address abortion.

Your views and updates welcome

Users of the new Global Abortion Policies Database are encouraged to provide feedback on the database, through the feedback form found on the websites. Policy and law updates are particularly welcomed and will be incorporated into the Database, pending receipt of an official source document.


  • Say L, Chou D, Gemmill A, Tunçalp Ö, Moller AB, Daniels J, Gülmezoglu AM, Temmerman M, Alkema L. Global causes of maternal death: a WHO systematic analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2014 Jun;2(6):e323-33.