In Ukraine, women can have abortions on request up to 12 weeks of gestation. Certain circumstances allow for abortion between week 12 and 22. These circumstances are established by law and include fetal impairment, rape, matter of life and/or health of the pregnant woman, and if the fetus or woman has a disease that qualifies for late-term abortion. If a woman applies for late-term abortion she can receive counseling and only OB-GYNs can legally perform an abortion at this stage. Minors need parental consent if they are under the age of 14.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union from 1922-1991. Abortion rates were very high these years and it was not uncommon for women to have several abortions due to lack of contraceptive methods. Larusa tells the story of how she had over 20 abortions during her fertile years and did not think twice about it then, because of the normality of it. However, as she has aged, she has though more about her abortions and how it has affected her; she has also come to realize that it was her husband who made the decisions for her. After Ukraine gained independence, the abortion rate in the country remained very high, mainly due to a lack of public awareness and ineffective family planning services.
According to official statistics the number of abortions in Ukraine was 4 times higher than the number of abortions in USA in 1995. In 1999, at least 40% of all Ukrainian women aged 15 to 44 had an abortion at least once in their life, and 18% did it twice. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health showed 72.8 to 100 nationwide abortions to successful births ratio in 2003.
The number of abortions per capita has declined significantly with availability of modern contraceptives. However, the ambiguous quality of available contraceptives, high price and uneven supply, as well as low level of sexual literacy, still keep abortion one of the main methods of birth control in Ukraine. Moreover, Ukraine is behind other countries in the post-soviet region (Russia, Moldova, Kazakhstan) in terms of the prevalence of modern contraceptives. This increases the risk of unintended pregnancy and terminations.
The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to acknowledge the legality of abortion in 1921. Thus, the history of legal abortions in Ukraine begins with decrees by Vladymyr Lenin, who considered the right to abortion to be one of the basic rights of women, who should always be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
With Joseph Stalin coming to power the attitude of the Soviet government to abortion changed and "On the prohibition of abortion" decree was signed on June 27, 1936. It put a strict ban on the artificial termination of pregnancy in all cases, except for a number of exceptional circumstances: a threat to the mother’s life during childbirth, hereditary diseases, and so forth. Women were fined up to 300 rubles for having illegal abortions outside of state health facilities, and medical workers performing illegal abortions faced sentences of one to two years. This decision was dictated by the desire to promote population growth after catastrophic events such as the Soviet famine of 1932-33 and was based on an assumption that increasing population stimulates economic development.
The Soviet Ministry of Health decriminalized abortion practice again on November 23, 1955 after Stalin’s death, despite the prevailing ideology considering childcare as the main mission of Soviet women. New legislation allowed abortions in health facilities to be performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion performed outside of state health facilities continued to be prosecuted.
In 1982, a new decree of the USSR government allowed abortions for up to 28 weeks of pregnancy if they prevented undesirable consequences for a woman’s health.
On December 31, 1987, a decree expanding the range of non-medical indications allowing the interruption of an unwanted pregnancy, was issued. Pregnancy from rape, disability of the unborn child, divorce during pregnancy and other reasons were among those indications.
In recent years Ukraine has seen an increase in pro-life public sentiment, especially among the religious part of society. Some crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) have also been established in Ukraine, information centers that provide abortion-seeking women with faulty information and attempt to dissuade them from having an abortion. Some of these CPCs have ties to American organizations that work all around the world with the goal to persuade women from having abortions. However, the number of abortions has reduced insignificantly, yet the birth rate in Ukraine remains much lower than two children per woman.
From time to time (especially during election campaigns), the abortion debate resurfaces and transforms into legislative initiatives. The anti-abortion bills cause consolidation of Ukrainian women's organizations, which unite in their political fight against anti-abortion legislation.
Written by: Tilla Solli for The Women's Museum of Norway
Information collected by the Gender Museum in Kharkiv, Ukraine
Civil Code of Ukraine. (2003). Retrieved May 13, 2021, from
Instruction on Artificial Termination of Pregnancy. (2006). Retrieved May 13, 2021, from
Kozak, T. (2020, March 18). With help from American activists, Ukrainian women are being misled about abortion. OpenDemocracy. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/ukrainian-women-misled-abortion/
World Health Organization. (2017, May 7). Global Abortion Policies Database, Country Profile: Ukraine. Database. Accessed May 9, 2021, from https://abortion-policies.srhr.org/country/ukraine/