DESPITE protests, few Slovaks support outlawing abortions.
A chamber of Constitutional Court justices, who are considered the country's judicial elite and decide over national legal disputes, on April 10 heard representatives of a group of mainly Christian Democrat (KDH) MPs who argue that Slovakia's abortions law should be changed. They say the law is among the most liberal in Europe, and is in breach of the constitution by failing to guarantee the right to life for unborn babies.
"There are cases in which abortions should be allowed, such as when the mother's life is endangered, in cases of rape, or when there is a risk of genetic disorders. But I consider groundless abortions to be unacceptable," said KDH MP Peter Muránsky.
If the Constitutional Court rules that the law is in conflict with the constitution, the legislation will have to be dropped and a new law prepared.
Many observers, including women's rights organisations, see the debate as a route towards banning abortions in Slovakia altogether, and accuse the KDH of trying to implement Christian morality and ideology in the country's legal system.
They also warn that if abortions were made illegal, women would continue to seek the operation, either outside the country or illegally at home.
However, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic from the KDH, who represents the group claiming the law on abortions is currently unconstitutional, denied that their aim was to ban abortions.
"In no way is this debate about banning abortions. The [goal] is to find a balance between the [woman's] right to choose and the right to life for a foetus during its first 12 weeks," Lipšic said at a press conference on April 11.
In Slovakia it is legal to have abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy, and in cases when there is a serious health risk for either the mother or her child, abortions can take place up to the 26th week.
Opponents of the KDH say, however, that the debate about when life begins is medical and philosophical rather than legal, and that Slovak women have the right to decide about their own bodies.
Independent MP Miroslav Abelovský, who represents parliament in the dispute, said: "Here, the right of a woman to decide freely and autonomously whether she wants to keep her baby or not is in question.
"I think this right belongs to the woman and no one else, and I would consider it unconstitutional if the state involved itself in [the problem] with bans, taking away the right of a woman to decide over her own body."
Women's organisations such as the Pro Choice (MV) NGO insisted that no one could force a woman to keep a child if she did not want it, and pointed out that women's groups were not consulted prior to the court proceeding on the matter.
"There is no way in the world that a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant can be forced to keep a foetus," said Oľga Pietruchová from MV.
The Christian Democrats, however, thought stricter abortions legislation would force women to be more responsible in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Anna Záborská, a KDH MP, said she was sorry the whole debate on abortions had been narrowed down to a woman's right to choose.
"We know very well that it is not just about her body but that she is also making a decision about another life," she said.
Observers continued to voice their opposition to the KDH arguments, however, pointing out that the number of abortions has been falling steadily in this central European state over the last decade.
According to data from the State Health Institute, in 1988 nearly 50,000 abortions were carried out, while in 2001 the number fell to 18,000. The overall rate of abortions thus fell by more than 60 per cent in 13 years.
"This is a real success story," Vladimír Cupaník, president of a Planned Parenthood society told the daily SME.
MP for the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party Imrich Béreš added: "A woman clearly has the right to decide about her pregnancy, and considering how dramatically the number of abortions has fallen in Slovakia, it would not be reasonable to regress centuries and risk starting 'abortion tourism'."
Abortion tourism is a phenomenon in countries where abortions are illegal, such as neighbouring and strongly Catholic Poland.
Hundreds of thousands of Polish women are believed to travel to nearby countries every year to take advantage of abortion services there.
Women's groups and some female MPs said that having an abortion is a difficult decision for the vast majority of women, and that such a delicate subject should not be misused to score political points.
Opposition Smer party MP Monika Beňová said: "Abortions are a very private matter, and this [political] debate is very shocking, even traumatising, for women."
According to a 2001 survey, only 6 per cent of Slovaks said they would support a ban on abortions.
21. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová