Abortion in Sweden
If a woman requests termination of her pregnancy, an abortion may be performed if the procedure is performed before the end of the eighteenth week of pregnancy and it may not be assumed that it will entail serious danger to the woman’s life or health on account of her having an illness. Act (1995:660).
If a woman has requested an abortion or if the question of termination of pregnancy has arisen under the provisions of Section 6, she must be offered counselling before the procedure is performed. Act (1995:660).
After the end of the eighteenth week of pregnancy an abortion may be performed only if the National Board of Health and Welfare has granted the woman permission for the procedure. Such permission may only be granted if exceptional grounds exist for the abortion.
Permission under the provisions of the first paragraph may not be granted if there is reason to assume that the foetus is viable.
If an abortion in a case referred to under Section 1 is refused, the matter shall be immediately referred to the National Board of Health and Welfare for review. Act (1995:660).
Only a person authorised to practise medicine may perform an abortion or terminate a pregnancy under the provisions of Section 6.
The procedure must be performed at a general hospital or other medical institution approved by the National Board of Health and Welfare. Act (2007:998).
If it may be assumed that the pregnancy entails grave danger to the life or health of the woman, on account of her having an illness or bodily defect, the National Board of Health and Welfare may give permission to terminate the pregnancy after the end of the eighteenth week of pregnancy, regardless of how far the pregnancy has progressed.
If, due to illness or bodily defect of the woman, the termination of a pregnancy can not be postponed the procedure may be performed notwithstanding the provisions of the first paragraph and Section 5, second paragraph. Act (2007:998).
The decisions of the National Board of Health and Welfare regarding permission for abortion or termination of pregnancy under the provisions of Section 6 may not be appealed. Act (1995:660).
After an abortion or termination of pregnancy under the provisions of Section 6 the woman must be offered counselling. The person in charge at the hospital or health care facility where the procedure has been performed must ensure that such an offer is made. Act (1995:660).
Any person who, without being authorised to practise medicine, intentionally performs an abortion on another person shall be fined or imprisoned for a maximum of one year for illegal abortion.
If an offence referred to in the first paragraph is gross, a prison sentence of a minimum of six months and a maximum of four years shall be imposed. When assessing whether the offence is gross special consideration shall be given to whether the act was habitual or for profit or involved particular danger to the woman’s life or health.
An attempt to bring about an illegal abortion is punishable under Chapter 23 of the Penal Code.
The intentional disregard by a medical practitioner of the provisions of Section 4 or, subject to Section 6, second paragraph, of Section 3 or Section 5, shall be punishable by a fine or imprisonment of a maximum of six months.
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, stating that the choice of an abortion is entirely up to the woman until the end of the eighteenth week.
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.
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 legalized 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 to get an 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 liberalization 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 legalization. Since 1975, the total yearly number of cases has averaged between 30,000 and 38,000 abortions.
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 around 11 per 1,000 women in 2018, a halving since 2009.
Most abortions in Sweden are performed on women aged 25–29 years old, followed in order by the age groups 20–24 years old, 30–34 years old, 35–39 years old, 15–19 years old (teenage abortions), and 40–44 years old. 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.
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.
In 2018, 84 percent of the induced abortions were performed before the end of the 9th week of pregnancy and 57 percent before the end of the 7th week, compared to 55 and 10 percent respectively in 1994. The proportion of medical abortions constituted 93 percent of all abortions.
|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|
|114 484||72.1||19 250||12.1||14.3||1971|
|112 273||70.6||24 170||15.2||17.6||1972|
|109 663||68.9||25 990||16.3||19.0||1973|
|109 864||68.8||30 636||19.2||21.7||1974|
|103 632||64.6||32 526||20.3||23.8||1975|
|98 345||60.9||32 351||20.0||24.7||1976|
|96 057||59.0||31 462||19.3||24.6||1977|
|93 248||56.7||31 918||19.4||25.4||1978|
|96 175||57.8||34 709||20.9||26.4||1979|
|97 064||57.6||34 887||20.7||26.4||1980|
|94 065||55.2||33 294||19.6||26.1||1981|
|92 706||54.0||32 602||19.0||25.9||1982|
|91 686||53.0||31 014||17.9||25.2||1983|
|93 508||53.9||30 755||17.7||24.7||1984|
|98 463||56.5||30 838||17.7||23.8||1985|
|101 740||58.1||33 124||18.9||24.5||1986|
|104 699||59.6||34 486||19.8||24.8||1987|
|112 080||63.7||37 585||21.4||25.0||1988|
|116 023||65.9||37 920||21.5||24.6||1989|
|123 938||70.5||37 489||21.3||23.2||1990|
|123 737||70.7||35 788||20.4||22.4||1991|
|122 848||70.6||37 849||20.0||22.0||1992|
|117 998||68.2||34 170||19.8||22.4||1993|
|112 257||65.1||32 293||18.7||22.3||1994|
|103 422||60.1||31 441||18.3||23.3||1995|
|95 297||55.6||32 117||18.7||25.1||1996|
|90 502||53.0||31 433||18.4||25.7||1997|
|89 028||52.4||31 008||18.3||25.8||1998|
|88 173||52.0||30 712||18.1||25.8||1999|
|90 698||53.6||30 980||18.3||25.4||2000|
|91 466||53.9||31 772||18.7||25.7||2001|
|95 953||56.4||33 365||19.6||25.7||2002|
|99 260||58.1||34 473||20.2||25.7||2003|
|101 018||58.8||34 454||20.0||25.4||2004|
|101 496||58.6||34 978||20.2||25.6||2005|
|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|
Sweden has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. As mentioned previously, the topic itself does not have much controversy among the society and majority of Swedish population supports the law and policies around it.
However, there are political debates surrounding the cut-off period for abortion as well as other abortion rights. Right-wing conservative parties like the Christian Democrats and Swedish Democrats have promoted a stricter ban on late abortions. The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education has responded by stating that a lot of political arguments stem from misinformation and lack of knowledge.
RFSU stands for abortion rights to all women, it is one of their main worldwide priority areas. They believe that in an equal and sustainable society individuals have a right over their own body, sexuality and reproduction.
Människorätt för ofödda (MRO) (Human rights for the unborn) is politically and religiously independent organization. They aim to promote right to life for those unborn by non-violent protests, showing pictures of fetuses as well as supporting pregnant women.
Ja till livet (Yes to life) is a non-profit organization which aims to influence the debate on human dignity within abortion, fetal diagnoses and elderly care. Their goal is to limit the abortions by showing that fetuses have a human value.
Some religious organizations have anti-abortion stand too. The Catholic Church believes that human life is created at the point of conception, thus abortion should not be permitted unless both mother and the child are in danger. A Catholic movement, Respekt (Respect), aims to promote human life from conception to death, meaning that they stand against abortions and euthanasia as well as other issues. Similar views are shared by Islam, where abortion is not permitted at any stage of pregnancy without a valid reason.
In 2014, a controversial lawsuit was launched by a midwife Ellinor Grimmark against the health authorities in Jönköping region because they refused to provide her with a job as she would not carry out abortions or prescribe contraceptives due to her religious beliefs. The case had financial support from a well-known Christian anti-abortion organisation in the US, Alliance Defending Freedom, which has interests in limiting abortion access in Europe. Grimmark's case was tried by the discrimination ombudsman as well as a district court in Sweden, both of which ruled against her. The same decision was reached in the Swedish Labor court after which Grimmark decided to proceed to the European Court of Human Rights.
- Due to a pause in data collection, figures for 2013 are unavailable.
- "The Abortion Act[permanent dead link] (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) Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- 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.[permanent dead link]
- 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.
- "Statistik om aborter 2018" (PDF) (in Swedish). National Board of Health and Welfare. 22 May 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- "Statistik om aborter 2018". www.socialstyrelsen.se (in Swedish). 22 May 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- Radio, Sveriges. "Sweden's road to abortion on demand - Radio Sweden". sverigesradio.se. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "DEBATT: KD – ni sprider myter om de sena aborterna". Aftonbladet (in Swedish). Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "RFSU". www.rfsu.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Om MRO | Människorätt för ofödda" (in Swedish). Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Ja till Livet-Om Ja till Livet". web.archive.org. 9 January 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Ja till Livet-Om Ja till Livet-Om föreningen". archive.is. 25 May 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Varför är katoliker mot abort? | Katolska kyrkan". www.katolskakyrkan.se. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "About us". respektlivet.nu/en. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Abort i islam". Islam.se – över 250 faktatexter om islam (in Swedish). Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Radio, Sveriges. "Support from US for Swedish anti-abortion midwife - Radio Sweden". sverigesradio.se. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Radio, Sveriges. "Swedish labour court rules against anti-abortion midwife - Radio Sweden". sverigesradio.se. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- says, Janja H. (14 April 2017). "Swedish midwife takes case to ECHR over anti-abortion discrimination". euractiv.com. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Swedish Parliament – Abortion act (in Swedish)