Incensed by a proposal to tighten the abortion law, a 23-year-old waitress is shattering taboos in her mainly Catholic country
By Sophie Davies
Oct 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Ivana Gaziova had an abortion as a teenager, she didn't want to talk about it to anyone apart from her closest cousin. Six years on, a push to tighten Slovakia's abortion law impelled her to speak out.
Gaziova, a waitress from Bratislava, has gone public with her own story to campaign against the government-led proposal, which critics see as part of a trend towards more socially conservative policies in central Europe.
"We should all talk about it, it's just normal for you to decide what's going to happen with your own body... but girls feel guilty because they think society will judge them," Gaziova said.
Incensed by the centre-right government's proposal, which is due to be debated by parliament later this month, Gaziova, 23, has made a podcast, given newspaper interviews and started filming a documentary about her experience.
If approved, as is widely expected, the reformed law would still allow abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy but women would be required to present additional paperwork and state their reasons for seeking a termination.
Abortion clinics would also be banned from advertising and the mandatory waiting period before having the procedure would be doubled to 96 hours.
It is rare for women to talk publicly about abortion in Slovakia, a mainly Roman Catholic country that is largely conservative on social issues.
"Even in local Slovak media, there is almost a total absence of real-life stories about abortion, there is still stigma around abortion in society and it's still not a normalized issue," said Alexandra Demetrianova, a campaign coordinator at Amnesty International in Slovakia.
Gaziova, who also works as a dancer, said the lack of counselling or support services after her abortion had made it harder for her to come to terms with it and discuss it openly.
"I wasn't happy talking about the abortion at first... it just happened and then I returned to my normal life," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
She said her decision to seek a termination when she was 10 weeks pregnant was painful, but that she had not felt ready to become a mother so young. She was 17 and still at school at the time.
"I knew that I was doing the right thing because I wasn't able to take care of the child, but at the same time I didn't want to do it," she said.
'PERSONAL AND PRIVATE'
Last year, 7,153 abortions were carried out in Slovakia, compared to 6,000 in 2018. Abortions have nearly halved from nearly 11,000 a decade ago.
Christian lawmakers, who have proposed the tighter abortion controls, have said the reform will help women make the right decision.
But rights groups in the country of some 5.5 million people said, if passed, the legislation would contravene international human rights standards and put women's health at risk.
It is a "blatant attempt to restrict women's access to abortion care," said Adriana Lamackova, legal adviser for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organisation.
The draft legislation requires two separate medical opinions from different institutions, instead of one at present, a change opponents say could make it harder for women to get an abortion - especially poorer women in rural areas.
It also seeks to restrict the information that medical professionals can provide publicly about abortion services. Opponents said that would restrict doctors' ability to adequately inform women about the procedure.
Women would also have to state their reasons for seeking an abortion and disclose other private information, which would be transferred to Slovakia's National Health Information Centre, a government body.
"Requiring women seeking an abortion to state reasons for their decision – which is often a very personal and private matter – could deter women from seeking care within the formal health system," Lamackova said.
Niki Kandirikirira, director of programmes for Equality Now, a women's rights NGO, said "medically unnecessary and onerous regulations" would ultimately restrict abortion access.
Opponents said the push also reflects a trend towards more conservative social policies in parts of central Europe such as proposals to further tighten abortion rules in Poland and Hungary's ban on people changing their gender on ID documents.
"This is an anti-abortion, right-wing trend following in the footsteps of Poland and it is dangerous," said Marge Berer, coordinator of the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion.
"There is concern that if they manage to get some restrictions, they'll keep trying more, as Poland has," she added.
As the parliamentary vote draws nearer, Gaziova said she has been contacted on social media by dozens of women seeking advice and support about abortion.
With the help of a recent course of psychotherapy, she said she had made peace with her decision, and now hoped to help other women do the same.
"I have made a sort of safe space for them, and I'm very pleased to do that because it's something I would need in their position."
(Reporting by Sophie Davies; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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