Abortion in Switzerland

Abortion in Switzerland is legal during the first trimester, upon condition of counseling, for women who state that they are in distress. It is also legal with medical indications – threat of severe physical or psychological damage to the woman – at any later time.[1] Switzerland is among the developed nations with the lowest rates of abortions and unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion was legalized by popular referendum in 2002, after its criminal prohibition had ceased to be observed in practice for some time. In 2014, Swiss voters rejected an initiative to remove the coverage of abortions by the public health insurance system.

Persons performing illegal abortions are subject to payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to five years. A woman who procures an illegal abortion is subject to a payment of a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to three years.[2]

Legal history

Up until 2002, abortion was – technically – legally available in Switzerland only with restrictive medical indications. A constitutional amendment to legalise abortion in the first trimester was narrowly defeated in a popular referendum in 1977. However, in 1978 and 1985, initiatives for constitutional amendments aiming at making abortion harder to obtain were also defeated by a wide margin at the ballot box.

The criminal prohibition on nonindicated abortions essentially ceased to be enforced towards the end of the 20th century. Abortions could be easily obtained through the cooperation of physicians, especially in the more urban cantons. In March 2001, the Swiss Federal Assembly enacted an amendment to the penal code providing for the first-trimester-rule as outlined above.

Conservative parties and interest groups collected the 50,000 voters' signatures required to force a popular referendum on the amendment. The vote was held on 2 June 2002, with 72.2% of Swiss voters supporting the change in law.[3]

Legal abortions are now covered by the mandatory health care insurance scheme. Insured women can opt out from this coverage,[4] but this does not reduce their insurance fees. A popular initiative started by conservative groups to suppress the coverage of abortion costs by the public health insurance system[5] was rejected by about 70% of Swiss voters on 9 February 2014.[6] Another initiative intended to prohibit abortions altogether failed to gather the required 100,000 signatures in 2014.[7]


In 2005, 15% of all pregnancies in Switzerland were terminated by abortion. The abortion rate was 7 out of 1,000 women aged 15–44 in the country, or 6 out of 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. 95% of abortions took place within the first trimester, and about half of the women who had an abortion also had Swiss citizenship.[8] As of 2010, the abortion rate was 7.1 abortions per 1000 women aged 15–44, including abortions on women not residing in Switzerland.[9]

The Swiss abortion rate dropped from around 12 per thousand in the 1970s, when data first became available, to around 8 in the 1990s. It has remained stable at around 7 during the 2000s.[10] In 2013 the rate had dropped still further to 6.4 per 1000.[11] This remarkably low rate compared to countries such as the UK (17.5), France (15) or the U.S. (16) has been attributed to a low rate of unwanted pregnancies due to widespread sex education, wide use of contraception (including morning-after pills available without prescription) and Switzerland's relatively high socioeconomic level.[12]

See also


  1. Swiss Penal Code , SR/RS 311.0 (E·D·F·I), art. 119 (E·D·F·I)
  2. Swiss Penal Code , SR/RS 311.0 (E·D·F·I), art. 118 (E·D·F·I)
  3. Full vote results by canton: http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/pore/va/20020602/can487.html
  4. (German) See the Federal Council's reply to the parliamentary motion 06.3060 Zisyadis
  5. "Initiative populaire fédérale 'Financer l'avortement est une affaire privée - Alléger l'assurance-maladie en radiant les coûts de l'interruption de grossesse de l'assurance de base'". Swiss Federal Chancellery. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  6. Misicka, Susan (9 February 2014). "Abortions to remain covered by health insurance". Swissinfo. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  7. Blumer, Claudia (7 July 2014). "Initiative für Abtreibungsverbot scheitert". Berner Zeitung. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  8. (German) Swiss Federal Statistical Office, press release of 27 March 2007
  9. "World Abortion Policies 2013". United Nations. 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  10. Wm. Robert Johnston. Historical abortion statistics, Switzerland. Accessed March 28, 2007.
  11. Abortion statistics, Switzerland Accessed Jan 13, 2015.
  12. O'Dea, Clare (2 October 2012). "The secret of Switzerland's low abortion rate". Swissinfo. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
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