Abortion in Sweden
Abortion in Sweden was first legislated by the Abortion Act of 1938. This stated that an abortion could be legally performed in Sweden upon medical, humanitarian, or eugenical grounds. That is, if the pregnancy constituted a serious threat to the woman's life, if she had been impregnated by rape, or if there was a considerable chance that any serious condition might be inherited by her child, she could request an abortion. The law was later augmented in 1946 to include socio-medical grounds and again in 1963 to include the risk of serious fetal damage. A committee investigated whether these conditions were met in each individual case and, as a result of this prolonged process, abortion was often not granted until the middle of the second trimester. As such, a new law was created in 1974.
The current legislation is the Abortion Act of 1974 (SFS 1974:595). This states that up until the end of the eighteenth week of the pregnancy the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman, for any reason whatsoever. After the 18th a woman needs a permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to have an abortion. Permission for these late abortions is usually granted for cases in which the fetus or mother are unhealthy. Abortion is not allowed if the fetus is viable, which generally means that abortions after the 22nd week are not allowed. However, abortions after the 22nd week may be allowed in the rare cases where the fetus can not survive outside the womb even if it is carried to term.
The issue is largely settled in Sweden and the question of the legality of abortion is not a highly controversial political issue.
Most abortions in Sweden are performed on women aged 20–24 years old, followed by the age group 25–30 years old, and teenage abortions (15–19 years old) constitute the third largest group. Before the age of thirty most women have not established a family life and abortion is more common amongst this age group, with multiple sex partners in the younger age groups parenthood is less desired and abortion more likely. The fact that most women in the younger age groups are still studying, combined with them being new on the labour market, influences the choice to perform abortion.
Consensus in Sweden is in favour of preventing unwanted pregnancies by the use of birth control and the primary goal is not to lower the amount of abortions, but rather the goal is that all children that are born should be wanted. The number of abortions statistically follows the number of pregnancies. In comparison with the other nordic countries Sweden ranks high in number of abortions and low in number of young parents, while the number of pregnancies in relation to total population is largely the same in all nordic countries.
The first law on legal abortions was passed in Sweden in 1938 when the law legalised abortion on a very limited scale, and only on serious medical consideration, after evaluation by the Royal Board of Health. From 1946 abortions could also be permitted on social medicinal grounds. During the 1960s a successive change in Swedish society took place and the general attitude towards sexuality, as well as abortion, became more liberal. This, among other things, led to an increase in the number of permitted abortions.
The current Abortion Act (SFS 1974:595 with later amendments in 1995 and 2007) entered into force on 1 January 1975. It permits abortion on the request of the pregnant woman until the 18th week and thereafter only in cases of severe indications of medical risk. After the 18th week abortions can only be performed after an evaluation by the National Board of Health and Welfare.
In 1989 the Board issued general advice on implementation of the law (SOSFS 1989:6). From 1 September 2004, these were superseded by new advice and policy (SOSFS 2004:4).
Since 1 January 2008, foreign women – including asylum applicants, non permanent residents, and those not registered in Sweden – are allowed abortion in the country. 132 such abortions were performed in Sweden during 2009. The National Board of Health and Welfare called this a comparably small figure in relation to the total number of abortions.
The National Board of Health and Welfare is the central national authority for social services, public health, and the health services in Sweden. Among the board's responsibilities are evaluation and monitoring of abortions performed in Sweden, as well as establishing norms by issuing provisions and general advice. The board is also responsible for the collection and publishing of official national statistics on abortions. Until 1995 reports were instead published by Statistics Sweden.
Statistical reports are published yearly and are based on data from all clinics and hospitals where abortions are performed. Data is collected on the age of the women, earlier pregnancies and abortions, the length of the pregnancy at the time of abortion, method of abortion, and where the abortion was performed.
One of the National Health Board's main purposes with these reports is to measure changes and trends over time. The statistics on legal abortions stretches back to 1955 and, starting from 1975, data on frequencies for different age groups are available. From 1985 the women's home municipality was also recorded.
The number of induced abortions performed in Sweden rose markedly on a yearly basis from the early 1960s, but soon leveled off following the liberalisation of the abortion law in 1975. It is not possible to tell whether the increase in the statistics after the Abortion Act of 1974 reflects actual circumstances, or just bias resulting from an increased will to report abortions after legalisation. Since 1975 the total yearly number of cases has averaged between 30,000 and 38,000 abortions. In 2009 37,524 abortions were performed in Sweden, compared to 38,053 the year before. Thus the abortion rate has decreased from 21.3 abortions per 1000 women 2008 to 20.8 in 2009, a decrease of 2.4 percent.
The number of abortions by age group were as follows: those performed on teenagers in 1975 were 30 in every 1,000 while those performed on women aged 20 to 24 years old was 27 in every 1,000. However, since 1977, the opposite has held true with fewer abortions being performed on teenagers than women aged 20 to 24. The number of abortions among teenagers was 22.5 per 1,000 women in 2009, this means that the abortion rate has decreased by 8.4 per cent since 2008.
Although abortion rates vary widely in Sweden, according to geographical region, the highest rate of teenage abortions is registered in Gotland and in the metropolitan areas of Stockholm and Gothenburg. The lowest incidences are in the counties of Blekinge, Kronoberg, and Jönköping.
Almost 78 percent of the induced abortions were performed before the end of the 9th week of pregnancy. The proportion of medical abortions continued to increase and constituted 86 percent of all abortions performed before the end of the 9th week of pregnancy.
|Total live births||Live births per 1000 women
|Abortions||Abortions per 1000 women
|Abortions per 100 known pregnancies||Year|
|107 305||72.8||4 562||3.1||4.0||1955|
|102 219||68.4||2 792||1.9||2.6||1960|
|122 806||79.2||6 209||4.0||4.8||1965|
|110 150||69.8||16 100||10.2||12.7||1970|
|106 013||60.6||36 045||20.6||25.3||2006|
|107 491||60.7||37 205||21.0||25.7||2007|
|109 373||61.2||38 053||21.3||25.7||2008|
|111 935||62.2||37 524||20.8||25.0||2009|
- "The Abortion Act (SFS 1974:595)" Unofficial translation provided by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Sweden. Promulgated 19 May 2005; with amendments up to and including Swedish Code of Statutes 2005:294; entered into force 1 July 2005; translated 1 February 2006.
- Law about changing the Abortion Act, Lag om ändring i abortlagen (1974:595)(Swedish)
- Official Statistics of Sweden: Statistics – Health and Medical Care: Induced abortions 2009 (2010) National Board of Health and Welfare. ISBN 978-91-86585-24-2.
- Socialstyrelsens meddelandeblad: Rättsliga rådets behandling av abortärenden m.m.
- Pew Forum: Abortion Laws Around the World
- Lindahl, Katarina. "Aborter i Sverige [Abortion in Sweden]". Nationalencyklopedin (in Swedish). Bra Böcker.
- "Rapport om utländska kvinnors aborter i Sverige 2009". National Board of Health and Welfare. 23 February 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
- Swedish Parliament – Abortion act (Swedish)