Rome Over the past 10 years, more than a dozen countries have made it easier to get abortions, and women from Mexico to Ireland have mounted court challenges to get access to the procedure.
The trend contrasts sharply with the United States, where this week South Dakota's governor signed legislation that would ban most abortions in the state, launching a bitter new battle that activists seem ready to take to the Supreme Court.
Abortion is far less divisive in the rest of the world.
Most European countries have legalized abortion, with limits, for years and the issue rarely makes news. Many Latin American countries ban abortion or severely limit it. In the Middle East, Islamic law forbids abortion, although most countries allow it if the mother's life is endangered. Asia is a mixed bag, with the procedure banned in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, but common in China and India.
Nevertheless, the question is not entirely settled: Court cases in Mexico, Poland, Colombia and Ireland have sought to broaden access to abortion.
On the other side, there are new Vatican-backed efforts to call into question Italy's liberal abortion law, and women's rights activists say they fear a new tightening of Poland's law, already one of Europe's strictest.
The Bush administration has also blocked non-governmental organizations overseas from receiving U.S. aid if they even discuss the possibility of abortion in family planning programs.
Those efforts, and the debate over whether the right to life or the right to an abortion takes precedence, mean the matter is far from resolved.
"I think we are going to see an increased debate globally," said Yuri Mantilla, international government affairs director for Focus on the Family, a lobbying group. "We have a clash of world views in terms of international law."
Each year, 46 million women worldwide have abortions, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank. About 60 percent live in countries where abortion is broadly permitted. Twenty-five percent live in nations where it is banned or allowed only to save a woman's life. The rest live in countries where abortion is allowed to protect a woman's life or health.
The World Health Organization says 19 million women - nearly all in the developing world - have "unsafe" abortions each year, done by someone unskilled or in a place with poor medical standards. Of them, 600,000 die from complications.
As a result, rights activists have hailed legislation in 15 countries over the past 10 years that have relaxed abortion restrictions.
Among them, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali changed restrictive laws and now allow abortions to save a woman's life or health in cases of rape, incest and fetal impairment, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York.