Abortion was well known in traditional Indonesian society, but later discouraged by religious groups and officially by the Dutch colonial authorities in 1918.

The penal code allowed for no exceptions, but in the early 1970s, the Chief Justice of the High Court advised medical professionals that a discreet 'understanding' would be allowed for abortions to preserve a woman's life or health.

Since the early 1970s, there had been continuous attempts to reform the abortion law, spearheaded by doctors and lawyers, as well as some womens' organizations.

As a result of this lobbying, the Government established a committee with members drawn from the Department of Health, Religion and Justice, the Police Service, the Attorney General's Office, academic institutions and associations of health professionals.

Their task was to draft legislation, and in September 1992, the Pregnancy Terminations for Health Considerations, was passed by a narrow margin.

The new Health law specified that in case of emergency (to save the life of the woman), it is permissible to carry out certain procedures. The abortion must be based on the guidance of a team of experts, requires the consent of the woman, or her husband or family - and must be carried out by an obstetrician/gynaecologist.

Although the law is restrictive, in practice it is not strictly enforced. Because Indonesia is spread out over 13,000 islands (6,000 of which are inhabited), where medical facilities can be remote or scarce, many rural women are said to use the services of traditional practitioners (dukun).