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Women’s rights in the spotlight as Slovakia seeks to tighten abortion laws

Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovakia’s move to tighten abortion laws has sparked a backlash among local and international activists, who fear the new legislation would further restrict women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Presented earlier this year by Anna Zaborska, an MP from the conservative wing of the ruling OLaNO party, the new amendment is only one of the latest attempts to tighten rules allowing women to terminate their pregnancy in Slovakia.

Last year alone, the former Slovak Parliament rejected six bills that would have imposed legal limits on abortions, presented by MPs from across the political spectrum, from the far-right LSNS to current governing partners Sme Rodina and OLaNO – including one spearheaded by current Health Minister Marek Krajci.

“Despite the number of declaratory Christians in Parliament, we have been unable to change the abortion law in 30 years”, Ms. Zaborska wrote on Facebook shortly before revealing her new plans, and a few weeks after the new Slovak Parliament, which has the largest Christian-conservative majority in years, took office.

MPs are currently debating a number of draft bills. The “softer ones”, including the legislation put forward by Anna Zaborska from OLaNO, would add a number of medical conditions and requirements to request an abortion on health grounds, restrict health professionals’ ability to publicly share information about abortions, and force women to divulge other private information to request the procedure.

While the authors of the text argue the amendments are meant to protect women and bring “real solutions and tool that are aimed at providing future mothers with enough time to decide”, civic organizations believe the new restrictions would introduce a de-facto ban for many women and put their health at risk.

Women’s rights organizations and citizens concerned the new bill would bring unnecessary and dangerous restrictions to women’s ability to terminate their pregnancy quickly voiced their concerns and took to the streets.

Experts also argue that given the low – and decreasing – number of abortions performed in Slovakia, the issue is mainly being politicized by some political parties trying to emulate a “conservative revolution” already underway in neighbouring Poland or Hungary.

The latest opinion polls show that only a minority of the Slovak population would be in favour of stricter abortion regulations.

Ombudswoman Maria Patakyova also leaned in on the issue, commenting that “the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to excessively interfere with women’s sexual and reproductive rights”, amid mounting reports that the public health emergency caused by the epidemic prompted some hospitals to stop performing non life-saving procedures, including abortions.

Ms. Patakyova’s annual report on the state of human rights in Slovakia, which included a warning against the growing attempts to restrict abortion laws, was rejected earlier this year by lawmakers following a tense parliamentary session.

Only this week, a group of over 100 international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, published an open letter urging Slovak lawmakers not to restrict abortion rights and expressing their “deep concern” for the legislative proposal which would “harm women’s health and well-being and contravene international public health guidelines”.

Abortions in Slovakia are currently legal, on request, until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Main photo credit: Amnesty International

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