Abortion in Iceland

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Abortion in Iceland has been legal in specific medical and social circumstances[1][2] since 22 May 1975. The abortion rate in Iceland is relatively high, in comparison to other Nordic countries.


Abortion in Iceland was legalized on a number of grounds on 22 May 1975. Although the law does not allow abortions to be performed on request, they are allowed in various medical and social circumstances. Medically, an abortion is lawful if a pregnancy threatens a woman's physical or mental health, if the fetus has a serious congenital defect, or if the woman is deemed incapable of caring for a child because of her age or mental disability. Social grounds for allowing abortion include: if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest; if the woman has had several children already with only brief periods between pregnancies; if the woman lives in a particularly difficult family situation; or if the woman's or her partner's ill health prevents them from being able to care for a child.[2]

Abortion is only legal if performed within the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, unless a pregnancy threatens the woman's health or the fetus has a deformity.[2] All Icelandic women who undergo abortions are required to receive counselling both prior to and following the procedure, including education about contraceptive use.[3]

The performance of an unlawful abortion carries a sentence of between five and seven years' imprisonment.[2]

In April 2017, the Government proposed making changes to abortion legislation in Iceland so that abortion would no longer be described as "fetus destruction" ("fóstureyðing"), but would instead be described as "pregnancy interruption" ("þungunarrof").[4]


A study published in 2003 found that over the period of 1976-1999, the abortion rate in Iceland rose by 133%, increasing from 9.4 abortions per 1000 women to 21.9 per 1000 women, with the highest regional rates in the Reykjavík area. The authors noted that Iceland's abortion rate was higher than in any of the other Nordic countries, a trend which they attributed to the limited sex education, early initiation of sexual activity, and less effective use of contraception in Iceland.[5]

As of 2010, the abortion rate in Iceland was 14.5 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 years.[6]

Landspítali offers pre-natal screening for chromosomal anomalies, and the high rate of pregnancy termination in response to positive results has led to the near-eradication of Down syndrome in Iceland.[7]


  1. ^ Lög um ráðgjöf og fræðslu varðandi kynlíf og barneignir og um fóstureyðingar og ófrjósemisaðgerðir (in Icelandic)
  2. ^ a b c d "Abortion in Iceland". United Nations. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Europe's terms for terminations". BBC. 2 June 2002. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "Fóstureyðingar verði þungunarrof - Vísir". visir.is. Retrieved 2017-04-09. 
  5. ^ Bender S; Geirsson RT; Kosunen E (2003). "Trends in teenage fertility, abortion, and pregnancy rates in Iceland compared with other Nordic countries, 1976-99". Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 82 (1): 38–47. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0412.2003.820107.x. PMID 12580838. 
  6. ^ "World Abortion Policies 2013". United Nations. 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  7. ^ ""What kind of society do you want to live in?": Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing". CBS News. August 15, 2017. Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.