Until 1938, abortion was a crime in Sweden, except to save the mother's life, or protect her from serious consequences. The 1938 Abortion Act prohibited abortion on principle, but allowed it to be performed on a wide range of grounds.

An abortion for medical reasons could be performed at any time in the pregnancy, after the approval of two doctors. Abortions on other grounds required the approval of a health authorities board and had to be performed during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In 1965, a government committee reviewed the 1938 Abortion Act and proposed that a woman should have an unconditional right, without any time limit, to decide when to have an abortion.

The committee's recommendations were approved by the Swedish Parliament and became the Swedish Abortion Law of June 1974. For pregnancies between 12 and 18 weeks, the woman is required to consult a social worker. After 18 weeks, an abortion is legal provided approval is gained from the National Board of Health and Welfare.

Abortion is free of charge up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

In 1995, the Abortion Law was amended so that a woman can obtain an abortion between 12 to 18 weeks, without needing to see a social worker. An estimated 95% of the abortions are performed during the first 12 weeks.