Data on relation of abortion percentages to requirements for waiting period/counseling

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 27 October 2007

It is argued that non-trivial mandatory waiting periods accompanied by non-trivial mandatory counseling reduce abortion rates.

I. Comparison of Western nations

Data here is for nations of Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. Reason: completeness of statistics; eastern European nations also have complete statistics but abortion rates are affected by very different economic conditions.

Waiting period with counseling: Belgium (11.5%), France (18.4%), Germany (15.3%), Netherlands (12.7%)

Waiting period, no counseling: Italy (19.1%)

No waiting period, with counseling: Denmark (19.0%), Finland (16.4%), Iceland (18.6%) Norway (19.7%), Spain (13.8%)

No waiting period or counseling: Canada (24.2%), Sweden (25.8%), United Kingdom (22.8%), United States (24.3%) (see note below)

Average abortion percentages for these countries:

Waiting period with counseling, 14.5%
Waiting period, no counseling, 19.1%
No waiting period, with counseling, 17.5%
No waiting period or counseling, 24.3%

Alternately, the average abortion rates per 1000 women aged 15-44 for these countries:

Waiting period with counseling, 9.1
Waiting period, no counseling, 10.4
No waiting period, with counseling, 12.3
No waiting period or counseling, 18.0

Note: policies vary from state to state in the United States, with 28 states having no waiting period/counseling requirement, 6 states requiring counseling only, and 22 states requiring counseling and a waiting period of 24 hours or less.

The policy in Spain is less comparable since abortion is permitted only in limited circumstances; if Spain is excluded, and France is counted to have an insignificant counseling requirement, these average abortion percentages are:

Waiting period with counseling, 13.2%
Waiting period, no counseling, 18.8%
No waiting period, with counseling, 18.4%
No waiting period or counseling, 24.3%

II. Policies in listed countries:

Belgium: Waiting period 6 days, counseling required

A woman must receive "detailed information regarding the rights, assistance and benefits guaranteed by the law to families, unmarried and married mothers and their children, as well as regarding the possibilities offered by the adoption of the child, if born, and that grants her, at the physician's or her own request, assistance and advice on available resources to resolve the psychological and social problems posed by her situation. In addition, the physician or any qualified member of the health-care establishment must ensure that she is provided with information on contraception."(1)

Canada: No waiting period or counseling

Abortion on demand. (1)

Denmark: No waiting period

Woman must submit application for abortion and "be informed of the nature and risks of the procedure and of the possibilities for assistance if the pregnancy should continue to term." (1)

Finland: No waiting period

"Women requesting an abortion are to be given information on the significance and effects of the operation prior to the termination of pregnancy and are to receive information on contraception after the procedure has taken place." (1)

France: Waiting period 7 days, counseling required

Woman must be informed "about the risks involved and provide her with a guide to the rights and assistance provided by law to families, mothers and their children, as well as inform her of the possibilities for adoption should she decide not to terminate the pregnancy. The woman must consult an appropriate social worker or family counsellor about the interruption of the pregnancy..." (1) This applies to medical abortions using RU-486 as well. (9)

Germany: Waiting period 3 days, counseling required

A woman must receive "proper counseling," since 1995 informing her "that the unborn have a right to life" (1)

Iceland: No waiting period, counseling required

Woman must "receive counselling with regard to the social assistance that is available to her." (1) Counseling is also required "concerning contraceptive use before she leaves the hospital, and she must return later for a medical examination and further counseling." (1)

Italy: Waiting period 7 days

"Reflection period" of 7 days required except in "urgent" cases; for applications to agencies they "must examine possible solutions to the problem in consultation with the woman, must help her overcome the factors inducing her to terminate her pregnancy and must encourage suitable measures designed to support her." (1) Applications to physicians require the woman be informed "of her rights and of the availability of social welfare facilities." (1)

Netherlands: Waiting period 6 days

Woman "must be counselled by the physician to ensure that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is taken carefully and reached only if the distress in which the pregnant woman finds herself leaves her no other choice. This counselling is to include the provision of sound information on ways other than abortion of dealing with her distressed condition." (1)

Norway: No waiting period

Woman must be informed of the "medical nature and effects of the procedure and guidance regarding the assistance that society makes available to her." (1)

Spain: No waiting period

Woman must be informed of "the medical, psychological and social consequences of continuation of pregnancy and of its termination, as well as of the existence of social assistance and family counselling available to applicants." (1) Abortion is not available on demand, but is permitted only in cases to preserve maternal health/life (including mental health), rape/incest, or "foetal impairment". (1)

Sweden: No waiting period

Abortion on demand is permitted up to 18 weeks; after 12 weeks, the woman must "discuss the abortion with a social worker." (1)

United Kingdom: No waiting period or counseling

Abortion on demand in England, Wales, and Scotland; in Northern Ireland in practice abortion follows "informed consent." (1)

United States: No waiting period in most states, waiting period up to 24 hours in some states

As of 2005, of 50 states, 19 require counseling (generally trivial) and a 24-hour waiting period (Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin); 3 require counseling and other waiting periods (Arkansas, previous day; Indiana, 18 hours; South Carolina, 1 hour); 6 other states require counseling only (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Rhode Island). (6) These provisions are generally only a few years old.

III. Abortion data by nation

Countryabortion %sourceabortion ratesource
Belgium11.5 (2001)(2)7.0 (2001)(2,3)
Canada24.2 (2002) (7,8)15.4 (2002)(7)
Denmark19.0 (2001) (2)14.3 (2001)(2,3)
Finland16.4 (2002)(2)10.8 (2002)(2,3)
France18.4 (1997)(2)13 (1997)(9)
Germany15.3 (2002)(2)7.8 (2002)(2*)
Iceland18.6 (2002)(2)14.7 (2002)(2*)
Italy19.1 (2002)(2)10.4 (2002)(2*)
Netherlands12.7 (2002)(11)8.7 (2002)(11)
Norway19.7 (2002)(2)14.8 (2002)(2*)
Spain13.8 (2000)(2)7.1 (2000)(2,3)
Sweden25.8 (2002)(2)19.6 (2002)(2)
United Kingdom22.7 (2002)(2)16.1 (2001)(2)
United States24.3 (2002)(4,5)20.9 (2002)(4)

Note: abortion percentages are derived from stated abortion and live birth data. Most abortion rates are derived from stated abortions and female population aged 15-44. Source with * indicated female population figure is for previous or following year.

IV. Comparison of U.S. states

Policies in U.S. states vary, as noted above. Using compiled data on state-level abortion percentages (10), the following average rates are observed:

No. of statesAbortion %,
by residence
Abortion %,
by occurrence
No counseling or waiting period22+DC*18.519.9
Counseling, no waiting period622.723.2
Waiting period2213.613.5

States (and the capital district DC) are listed by policy status in 2005. The third column gives average abortion percentage for all abortions by residents (including out-of-state abortions, if known); the fourth column gives average abortion percentage by state of occurrence (including those by out-of-state residents).

It should be noted that the state-level data used here do not comprise a uniform set. The latest available state-level data is used, which may be state agency data, CDC data, or AGI data. Also, there may be overlap for a few states regarding implementation of waiting period/counseling legislation and the data available here.

The first U.S. state to implement a mandatory waiting period was Mississippi, with the law going into effect in 1992. An AGI study (12) compared abortion rates for Mississippi counties in two groups: those with the closest provider in state and those with the closest provider out-of-state. Results were (assuming negligible third-trimester abortions to derive first-trimester rates):

Abortion rates for women with closest provider in state:

First trimester10.58.8
Second trimester0.81.1

Abortion rates for women with closest provider out-of-state:

First trimester6.46.7
Second trimester0.80.9

The data imply a reduction in overall abortion rates from 11.3 to 9.9 due to the mandatory waiting period, but this accompanied by a slight increase in the abortion rate for second trimester abortions.


  1. United Nations Population Division, 2002, Abortion Policies: A Global Review, on line, UNPD [].
  2. Council of Europe, 2004, Demographic Yearbook 2003, on line, Council of Europe [].
  3. Council of Europe, 2003, Demographic Yearbook 2002, on line, Council of Europe [].
  4. Finer, Lawrence B., and Stanley K. Henshaw, 18 May 2005, "Estimates of U.S. abortion incidence in 2001 and 2002," on line, Alan Guttmacher Institute [].
  5. Hamilton, Brady E., Joyce A. Martin, Paul D. Sutton, 23 Nov. 2004, "Births: preliminary data for 2003," National Vital Statistics Reports, 53(9), on line, Centers for Disease Control [].
  6. Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1 May 2005, "State policies in brief: mandatory counseling and waiting periods for abortion," on line, Alan Guttmacher Institute [].
  7. Statistics Canada, 11 Feb. 2005, "Induced abortions," in The Daily, on line, Statistics Canada [].
  8. Statistics Canada, 2005, "Pregancy outcomes-1974-2002," on line, Statistics Canada [].
  9. Jones, Rachel K., and Stanley K. Henshaw, May/June 2002, "Mifepristone for early medical abortion: experiences in France, Great Britain and Sweden," Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 34(3), on line, Alan Guttmacher Institute [].
  10. Johnston, Wm. Robert, 2005, "Percentage of pregnancies aborted in the United States-by states," on line, Johnston's Archive []; data compiled from state health/statistical agencies, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
  11. Statistics Netherlands, April 2004, Statistical Yearbook of the Netherlands 2004, on line, Statistics Netherlands [].
  12. Joyce, Ted, and Robert Kaestner, Jan./Feb. 2000, "The impact of Mississippi's mandatory delay law on the timing of abortion," Family Planning Perspectives, 32(1):4-13, on line, Alan Guttmacher Institute [].

© 2005, 2007 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 27 October 2007.
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