Bratislava, Slovakia – The Slovak parliament narrowly rejected this week a legislation that would have tightened access to abortion.
Slovak parliament rejects bill to restrict abortions
Submitted by conservative members of the ruling OLaNO party of Prime Minister Eduard Heger, the proposed bill was turned down by only one vote, with 67 lawmakers voting against it out of 134 MPs present in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament.
Last year, a similar proposal to restrict access to abortion for Slovak women was also rejected by one vote. The most recent proposal divided the ruling coalition, with the more liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party expressing its opposition to further tightening abortion laws.
Among other measures, Slovak women would have had to state their reasons for asking for an abortion. The mandatory waiting period before they could terminate their pregnancy at their own request would have been extended from 48 to 96 hours, except when a woman’s health or life is at immediate risk.
The bill also aimed to ban what it described as “advertising abortion” or related services, with many fearing such a measure would have significantly restricted women’s ability to access information from doctors, medical experts or clinics and hospitals.
“This law is not about preventing abortions, this law is for helping women on social and health issues,” argued Milan Vetrak, a conservative MP and one of the authors of the bill. “It creates room for women to make a decision and make the right one.”
But opponents are not convinced, seeing the latest move as part of a wider trend towards more socially conservative policies across Central Europe, with access to abortion turning into a key battleground.
“Unjustified and harmful hurdles”
“This will cause many women to miss the 12-week limit or, as they will feel anxious or under pressure and face administrative barriers, they may decide not to seek an abortion at a health facility,” commented Adriana Mesochoritisova from the Freedom of Choice initiative.
The proposal sparked protests in Slovakia before the vote, and over 100 organisations and NGOs publicly called for members of the Slovak Parliament to reject the legislation.
“Imposing unjustified and harmful hurdles to getting an abortion would endanger the health and even the lives of women and girls and pregnant people and violates their human rights,” Rado Sloboda, head of Amnesty Slovakia, warned ahead of the debate.
“We call on MPs to once again reject this bill in its entirety, and refrain from further dangerous and discriminatory attempts to limit sexual and reproductive rights in Slovakia.”
Under Slovak law, women can have an abortion up to the end of the 12th week of pregnancy, or until the end of the 24th week for health reasons. Activists nevertheless warn that several administrative obstacles and hurdles already de-facto limit Slovak women’s ability to access abortion.
State of abortion laws in Slovakia
A recent study by the organisation Freedom of Choice found that up to one third of hospitals and clinics in Slovakia refuse to provide legal abortions on the ground of conscientious objection.
While some welcome the possibility for doctors to refuse abortions due to their religious and personal beliefs, rights activists warn that the practice is being abused in some cases, with entire medical facilities – sometimes at the instigation of Catholic churches or local initiatives – rejecting abortions en masse.
The lack of publicly available information, the hefty price of the operation and difficult procedures also add to the hurdles faced by Slovak women wishing to terminate their pregnancy legally.
Changes to Slovakia’s abortion law will also be felt in Poland, as activists claims that hundreds of Polish women travel to Slovakia to get an abortion as a result of the near-total ban at home.
Approximately 7,500 abortions were performed by Slovak clinics last year (compared to nearly 11,000 about a decade ago), including almost 1,500 on non-residents.
Recent polls suggest only a minority (15-20%) of Slovaks are in favour of tougher abortion rules.