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Slovakia - in sixth vote - backs abortion rights

by Molly Millar | @mollyamillar | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 5 December 2019 18:43 GMT

Demonstrators march during an anti-abortion protest rally demanding a ban on abortions in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 22, 2019. REUTERS/David W. Cerny

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The legislation in overwhelmingly Catholic Slovakia would have been the first of its kind in the European Union

By Molly Millar

LONDON, Dec 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Slovakia narrowly defeated a bill on Thursday that would have forced women seeking an abortion to see images of their unborn child - and hear its heartbeat - in the country's sixth vote on reproductive rights this year.

The legislation in overwhelmingly Catholic Slovakia would have been the first of its kind in the European Union, raising fears among human rights organisations of setting a precedent in nations pursuing a conservative social agenda.

"Women's rights in Slovakia are still at risk, but this vote sent a strong signal to reproductive bullies that coercion will not be acceptable," said Irene Donadio from the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

The bill lost by four votes, with 59 out of 124 lawmakers present voting in favour, mirroring division in the country at large.

An opinion poll in September said 55.5% of people disagreed with restricting abortions while 34.6% supported the move.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Bratislava, calling for a total ban on abortion, with activists on the other side quick to declare Thursday's tight vote a big win.

"Today's vote is a victory for women and for reproductive rights," said Monica Costa Riba of Amnesty International.

There has seen a string of attempts to roll back abortion rights in the central European nation, which has relatively liberal laws compared with countries such as Poland and Malta.

"This bill that was rejected today is the sixth regressive legislative proposal seeking to restrict access to abortion care," said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "We urge Slovak lawmakers to bring an end to these attacks on women's health and well-being."

Abortions are legal before 12 weeks, and for health reasons up to 24 weeks. Some 6,000 abortions were performed last year, against 12,000 in Norway, which has a similar sized population.

There is a mandatory waiting time of 48 hours before a woman can have an abortion, which the bill would have raised to 96.

The World Health Organisation says there are no medical grounds for women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion.

"[The bill] proposed restrictions that were not medically justified or with any health-related value, and would have made abortion care punitive and degrading," said Marge Brerer, director of publications and meetings at International Campaign For Women's Right to Safe Abortion.

Under the bill, women would have to listen to the heartbeat of their unborn child where possible. It also proposed banning advertising of medically supervised clinics, leaving women to seek out unregulated alternatives.

(Reporting by Molly Millar; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, 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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