Abortion in Sweden

The Abortion Act (1974:595)[1]

Section 1
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).

Section 2
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).

Section 3
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.

Section 4
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).

Section 5
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).[2]

Section 6
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).[2]

Section 7
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).

Section 8
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).

Section 9
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.

Section 10
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.

Section 11
The proceeds of an offence under this Act shall be declared forfeited, unless this is manifestly unreasonable. Act (2005:294).

Abortion in Sweden was first legislated by the Abortion Act of 1938.[3] 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. [3]



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.[3][4]

The issue is largely settled in Sweden and the question of the legality of abortion is not a highly controversial political issue.[5]

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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[6]


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.[3]

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.[3]

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).[3]

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.[7]


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.[3]

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 .5 percent.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

Total live birthsLive births per 1000 women
(aged 15–44)
AbortionsAbortions per 1000 women
(aged 15–44)
Abortions per 100 known pregnanciesYear
107 30572.84 5623.14.01955
102 21968.42 7921.92.61960
122 80679.26 2094.04.81965
110 15069.816 10010.212.71970
114 48472.1 19 25012.114.3 1971
112 27370.6 24 17015.217.6 1972
109 66368.9 25 99016.319.0 1973
109 86468.8 30 63619.221.7 1974
103 63264.6 32 52620.323.8 1975
32 351 1976
31 462 1977
31 918 1978
34 709 1979
34 887 1980
30 838 1985
33 124 1986
34 486 1987
37 585 1988
37 920 1989
37 489 1990
35 788 1991
37 849 1992
34 170 1993
32 293 1994
31 441 1995
32 175 1996
31 433 1997
31 008 1998
30 712 1999
30 980 2000
31 772 2001
33 365 2002
34 473 2003
34 454 2004
34 978 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

See also


  1. "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.
  2. 1 2 Law about changing the Abortion Act, Lag om ändring i abortlagen (1974:595)(Swedish) Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 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.
  4. Socialstyrelsens meddelandeblad: Rättsliga rådets behandling av abortärenden m.m.
  5. Pew Forum: Abortion Laws Around the World
  6. 1 2 3 Lindahl, Katarina. "Aborter i Sverige [Abortion in Sweden]". Nationalencyklopedin (in Swedish). Bra Böcker.
  7. "Rapport om utländska kvinnors aborter i Sverige 2009". National Board of Health and Welfare. 23 February 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2011.

External links

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