Slovaks rally against proposed abortion restrictions

by Rosa Furneaux | @rosafurneaux | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 21 November 2019 18:41 GMT

Women sit on the Danube river bank in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 21, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny

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Slovakia currently allows abortion up until 12 weeks of a pregnancy but the government is under pressure to tighten the law

By Rosa Furneaux

LONDON, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Access to abortion is a human right and should not be subject to public opinion, the organiser of a campaign to block proposed restrictions in Slovakia said on Thursday, as a protest got under way.

Slovakia currently allows abortion up until 12 weeks of a pregnancy or 24 weeks if there is a health issue, but the government of the mainly Catholic country is under pressure to tighten the law.

Draft legislation being tabled in parliament would require women to obtain and view an ultrasound image of the foetus, a stipulation Amnesty International has said would be a first for a European Union country.

"We believe this is a human rights issue, and it should be treated like a human rights issue," said Paula Jojart, gender expert with campaign group Freedom of Choice, one of the organisers of a demonstration against the reforms in Bratislava.

"It should not be negotiated by the public polls or by public opinion," Jojart told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the Slovak capital.

The reforms, proposed by a centre-right party in the ruling coalition, are the latest step in a campaign to tighten restrictions on abortion in Slovakia, where thousands of people marched in September to demand a total ban.

Thursday's protests appeared to have attracted a much smaller number of demonstrators.

The proposed legislation is similar to that in some parts of the United States. Three states mandate abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and show and describe the image, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank.

"In countries across the world, we are seeing a sustained pushback on reproductive rights," said Barbara Jimenez Santiago, programme expert at Equality Now, an international women's rights group.

Abortions in Slovakia fell to 6,000 last year, from almost 11,000 a decade ago. A Focus agency opinion poll in September found 55.5% of people disagreed with restricting abortions while 34.6% supported the move.

Last month, Slovakia's parliament rejected four proposed amendments that would have restricted access to abortion beyond six or eight weeks of pregnancy or banned it outright. But Jojart said the latest proposals had cross-party support.

On Monday, more than 30 health and women's rights organisations called on Slovak legislators to reject the amendments in a joint letter, warning it would subject women to "harmful stigma, humiliation and degrading treatment".

The World Health Organization says use of routine pre-abortion ultrasound scanning is not medically necessary and is a potential barrier to access.

"This clearly seems to be an attempt to roll back the reproductive rights of women in Slovakia," said Monica Costa Riba, a women's rights expert at Amnesty International, a signatory to the letter.

(Reporting by Rosa Furneaux, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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