News – Article

Safe abortion in Europe: time for a reality check

Statement and Call for Action
Back to archive
28 September 2023 Tags: Europe, family planning, Safe abortion, SRHR, women's rights, World Safe Abortion Day

Many people assume everything is OK with abortion in Europe. And it’s true that most of the countries in the region have very good laws and services compared to the rest of the world. But we still have a long way to go to make safe abortions universally accessible to everyone who seeks them. In many European countries, even those with good laws on paper, access in practice is far from perfect. This is a call to European leaders to stop the criminalisation of women. Stop jeopardising their health and safety. And stop ignoring their free will and right to choose.

Much has improved over the last years with strong national advocacy campaigns, feminist-run clinics, and active support from a long list of political parties, human rights bodies and the World Health Organization. But changing more harmful laws and policies in some European countries is a slow process. We are going through a period where anti rights movements are posing a serious threat to accessing safe abortion.

A patchwork of safe abortion laws and practicesSilent struggles

Most European countries allow abortion on request in the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy – although not without any regulatory, practical or medically unnecessary obstacles. Access to second and especially third trimester abortions, however, can be very limited and hemmed in with conditions, restrictions and requiring third party approval (doctors, parents), even though later abortions are so few and needed in the most desperate of situations. 

In several countries, abortion is still in the penal code, which permits legal systems to prosecute individuals for having abortions and adds to stigma and discrimination. 

Moreover, there are still countries where most or all abortions are illegal, including Malta, Andorra and Poland, and where women who seek abortions outside the law – especially the growing numbers using medical abortion pills but not under a clinician’s control. Women having abortions, and advocates for abortion rights are being prosecuted too, most egregiously in Poland, but also in Andorra, Malta and England. 

Silent struggles

Almost invisibly, thousands of women are still having to travel within and between countries to get abortions, often supported by under-resourced organisations and collectives instead of being supported by their State.  

The pandemic years made many things more difficult. Medical abortion pills were scarce in some countries and still are – and some countries still do not even allow abortion pills at all (e.g., Slovakia, Hungary). Travel across borders for abortions, especially later abortions, obviously became more difficult. On the other hand, some countries have approved the use of telemedicine and self-managed abortion with pills up to some point in the first trimester. It has now become a permanent option in countries such as France and the UK and is well-established as an option within the care pathway in Ireland.

What needs to happen?  

The European Safe Abortion Networking Group, a group of national, regional and international SRHR organisations based in Europe, has issued a statement on World Safe Abortion Day and calls for 7 important legal and service-related changes and improvements to be made across Europe. From complete decriminalisation of abortion in all countries to universal access to safe abortion, read the full statement and call to action, signed by 44 organisations.

Image used in banner and article: Bruna Borges Alves for IPPF x Fine Acts, via The Greats

Want to stay in the know?

Join our network and stay up to date.

Follow us or get in contact


Read our latest articles, studies and columns on sexual health and rights.

All news

Uw browser (Internet Explorer 11) is verouderd en wordt niet meer ondersteund. Hierdoor werkt deze website mogelijk niet juist. Installeer Google Chrome of update uw browser voor meer internetveiligheid en een beter weergave.