In the most restrictive nations, women who terminate their pregnancies face lengthy jail terms

Women in England and Wales have had the right to seek an abortion since 1968, but more than 50 years on, many women around the world do not have the same choice.

A 2017 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health laws, found that 42% of women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is either banned or only allowed in specific circumstances.

The most common legal grounds for abortion worldwide is to protect the life of the mother, followed by serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Around half of the countries in the world allow abortion in cases where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, and a similar proportion recognise serious foetal abnormality.

However, in a few countries, abortion remains the ultimate taboo.

Which countries have the strictest abortion laws?

All but a handful of countries allow an abortion to be performed when the life of the mother is at risk. The exceptions are Malta, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic

Strongly Catholic Malta is the only European country to have a total ban on abortion, and a survey carried out last year by Malta Today suggests that liberalisation is a long way off.

Overall, 95.2% of those surveyed were opposed to abortion by request – known as elective abortion – even if it were restricted to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Less than half said that abortion should be allowed to save the life of the mother.

El Salvador’s harsh anti-abortion laws have come into the international spotlightin recent years, due to high-profile cases of women imprisoned for terminating their pregnancies, some of whom claimed to have actually suffered a miscarriage.

Unsurprisingly, abortion is also totally banned in Vatican City – however, given that the Holy See’s 800-strong population is overwhelmingly made up of Catholic clerics, this prohibition is largely theoretical.

Where is elective abortion legal?

At the other end of the scale, 63 countries and territories permit women to terminate their pregnancies at their request, although usually with some conditions – most commonly, a time limit on when the procedure can be performed.

Canada is the only Western nation where a woman can seek an elective abortion at any time in her pregnancy, although in practice only a handful of terminations occur during the third trimester, HuffPost reports.

What about the UK?

In all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland, women can freely obtain an abortion up to 24 weeks into their pregnancy. Terminations can be performed after this limit in exceptional circumstances, such as to save the life of the mother or due to a severe foetal abnormality.

Office for National Statistics and Department of Health and Social Care figures show that in 2017, 192,900 abortions were performed in England and Wales, compared to 679,106 live births.

Figures like these are often used to claim that more than 20% of all pregnancies are terminated. However, The Journal points out that this statistic is misleading as it does not take into account the thousands of pregnancies which end in miscarriage every year.