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Historical Overview of Abortion Laws Across the Globe

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Written by
Phillip Reed
  • Icon Calendar 18 May 2024
  • Icon Page 675 words
  • Icon Clock 4 min read
English (United States)
Academic level
Type of paper
Abortion Essay
Women's & Gender Studies
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Individual Essay Example

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Abortion involves pregnancy termination through embryo or fetus expulsion. It is a common health intervention and is considered safe when conducted per World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. Unsafe abortions may result in morbidities, maternal deaths, and mental health complications. Abortion laws have transformed over the years across the globe since there were no abortion laws before the 1800s, although after the enactment of pregnancy termination regulations, they were later abolished in some nations.

Non-Existence of Abortion Laws

Historically, there were no abortion laws, and women utilized traditional methods to do abortions. Throughout history, continents and people in different cultures had abortions before the introduction of medical abortions in the 1700s (Kristianingrum et al. 32). In this case, abortions were common even before the 1700s, although people paid little attention to the happenings. Women utilized herbs, physical trauma, ingestion of toxic substances, and massage with the help of a trusted person or healer to terminate unwanted pregnancies (Kristianingrum et al. 32). Women relied on non-medical approaches in abortions due to undeveloped medical systems. The non-existence of abortion laws led to an increase in deliberate abortions due to the lack of restrictions on pregnancy termination. Before the 1700s, there were unreliable pregnancy tests, and women rarely conducted assessments to determine whether they were pregnant. As a result, they realized they were pregnant at late stages, and if they deemed it unfit to keep the pregnancy, they would consult midwives and conduct abortions. Non-existence of abortion laws in historical periods before the 1800s led to massive abortions, which affected women negatively, contributing to its criminalization. 

Historical Overview of Abortion Laws Across the Globe

Criminalization of Abortion

In the 1800s, many regions formed abortion laws that restricted its conduct. Reagan states that abortion became more visible in the 1830s and 1840s (339). Non-restriction of abortion influenced women to have control of their birth rates, although some people condemned its practice. In the 1860s and 1870s, some nations eliminated common law permitting abortion, including Canada, and by the end of the 19th Century, North America, Europe, and England had passed laws criminalizing pregnancy termination (Reagan 340). Nations criminalized abortion to protect the lives of the unborn baby and that of the mother. Besides, lawmakers argued that they protected volatile subjects like married ladies. Criminalization of abortion aimed at ending pregnancy termination, although pregnancy termination continued. Therefore, abortions became noticeable in the 1830s contributing to the formation of laws prohibiting them.   

Legalization of Abortion

Deaths resulting from the criminalization of abortion led to a loosening of laws to save lives. In this respect, the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted and forbids the state power to control the liberty and lives of pregnant women (Paltrow et al. 5). In this case, nations have formed regulations that allow abortions, although there are limits on when pregnancy termination should be conducted. In this respect, different countries have different opinions on decriminalizing abortion. As a result, some nations still hold that abortion is illegal, whereas some nations do not have abortion-restricting laws. The adverse effects of unsafe pregnancy termination have contributed to decriminalizing abortion. Besides, the fighting for women’s rights has contributed to a change in abortion laws.


Different nations have held different positions on abortion laws, and the regulations differ from one state to another, although historically, there were no rules on pregnancy termination. Before the 1800s, abortions were being conducted, and no laws prevented the practice. Abortion prevalence influenced nations to form laws restricting pregnancy termination from the 1840s. However, adverse effects and the fight for women’s rights influenced some nations to decriminalize abortion.

Works Cited

Kristianingrum, Ika Ayu, et al. “Overcoming Challenges in Research on Self-Managed Medical Abortion: Lessons From a Collaborative Activist–Researcher Partnership.” Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, vol. 30, no. 1, 2022, pp. 32-38, doi: 10.1080/26410397.2022.2077282.

Paltrow, Lynn. M, et al. “Beyond Abortion: The Consequences of Overturning Roe.” The American Journal of Bioethics, vol. 22, no. 8, 2022, pp. 3-15, doi: 10.1080/15265161.2022.2075965.

Reagan, Leslie J. “Abortion Travels: An International History.” Journal of Modern European History, vol. 17, no. 3, 2019, pp. 337-352, doi: 10.1177/1611894419854682.

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