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Court upholds abortions in first 12 weeks

WOMEN in Slovakia will still be allowed to get an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, but the law on aborting fetuses with genetic defects after the first trimester is still unclear.

WOMEN in Slovakia will still be allowed to get an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, but the law on aborting fetuses with genetic defects after the first trimester is still unclear.

Six years after it was asked to rule on the issue, the Constitutional Court decided on December 4 that it is not unconstitutional to perform abortions at a woman’s request in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The court said that the fetus is protected by the procedure a woman must go through if she wants an abortion, under the law: filing a request, receiving a medical examination, going through an interview with a doctor, receiving a second approval of the decision, and paying for the surgery.

The time limit of 12 weeks is connected with the physiology of the fetus.

The abortion decision has been one of the most-followed cases handled by the Constitutional Court in recent times. The motion to examine the abortion law was submitted in 2001 by 31 MPs, mainly from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). It was a reaction to the failed attempt to ban abortions in an amendment to the Slovak constitution in 2001.

The MPs who submitted the motion said that the act on abortions contradicts the sentence in the constitution that says that human life is worth protection even before birth. They argued that in Slovakia, it is legal to perform abortions within the first three months without giving any reason.

“Slovak law allows an abortion in the first trimester even in a case where parents know they will have a girl, and they decide for an abortion because they originally wanted a boy,” MP Daniel Lipšic of the KDH told the Aktualne.sk news website. “Here, it is a legal and legitimate reason protected by law.”

Lawyer Miroslav Abelovský argued against the appeal at the Constitutional Court.

“The law on abortions is fully in compliance with European legislation,” he said. He added that if abortion was deemed unconstitutional, it would interfere with a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.

Church and activists oppose ruling

Oľga Pietruchová, the head of the Slovak Society for Family Planning and Parental Education NGO, welcomed the court decision. It says something about the type of country Slovakia is, she said.

“It confirmed that Slovakia is still part of developed Europe, which respects a woman as being capable of deciding about her own life, and gives her the right of choice,” she told The Slovak Spectator.

“The opinion represented by the KDH is mainly supported by the religious point of view,” she added. “If it was accepted, it would not be in keeping with a state that is not connected with any ideology or religion.”

Allowing abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy is a standard practice in democratic states around the world, Pietruchová added. This option balances the rights of the woman and the unborn child, she said.

“There is no other option besides this time consensus,” she added.

The Catholic Church has traditionally fought against abortions – and two-thirds of Slovak citizens claim to be Catholic. Compared to other prevailingly Catholic countries, like Poland or Ireland, abortion rules in Slovakia are relatively looser.

The Catholic Church sees the Constitutional Court’s abortion ruling as diplomatic, but not good.

“We will use all means available to change the law in the future,” the spokesman of the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia, Jozef Kováčik, told the media.

Jana Tutková of the Centre for Bio-ethical Reform told the SITA newswire that the constitutional judges probably interpreted the constitution from a socialist perspective.

“The current constitution states that discrimination before birth is prohibited, regardless of whether it is in the first, second or third trimester,” she said. “We suspected the constitutional judges of being populists, just like our politicians, and this suspicion was confirmed today.”

The Centre for Bio-ethical Reform was recently condemned for its nationwide Right to Life billboard campaign, which put an image of a bloodstained, mutilated fetus on billboards across the country. The Council for Advertising ruled that the campaign was unethical.

The association sent DVDs of an abortion procedure to the constitutional judges before they made their decision, according to their website.

One private citizen, Andrea Mohoritová, came to the court to make a similar argument about abortion.

“If (the court) says it is in compliance with the Slovak constitution, I will consider it an accomplice in mass murders,” she said, as quoted by the Sme daily. “If the constitutional right of a child to property is protected, it is law and order that guarantees him or her the constitutional right. There is even more reason for the right to life to be guaranteed.”

Confusion over second ruling

The court did rule in favour of one KDH argument. It said a 1986 decree from the Health Ministry that allows abortions for health reasons in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy violates the Slovak constitution.

In its decision, the court said the deadline for making an abortion is a substantial issue that must be stipulated by law, not just by a decree. Until now, the Health Ministry decree has been used to set the deadline for abortions.

The court also stressed that its findings by no means cast doubt on genetic defects or other health issues as grounds for an abortion.

This part of the ruling caused some confusion. Abelovský said that after this part of the decree is abolished, there would be no limit to abortions performed for health reasons.

The law on abortions does not set a deadline for abortions when health or genetic reasons are concerned, he said.

“The Constitutional Court did not question the justification for performing abortions for genetic reasons even after this deadline (12 weeks),” he said.

Lipšic, who served as the legal adviser for the abortion adversaries, interpreted the ruling in a different way. He said that the deadline of 12 weeks will apply to abortions for genetic reasons, because of the other ruling.

“This is an absurd interpretation,” he told the ČTK newswire.

The Health Ministry’s main expert for medical genetics, František Cisárik, told the SITA newswire that if women aren’t allowed to terminate pregnancies after 12 weeks for fetuses that have serious genetic or health defects, it would cause enormous trauma and discrimination.

Almost all chromosome faults and many disabilities in fetuses are diagnosed after the 12th week in Slovakia, he noted. Only a few medical examinations could be made abroad, where some genetic faults can be diagnosed earlier.

Under the court’s ruling, about 12,000 abortions of healthy fetuses in Slovakia would be in compliance with the constitution, but a few dozen abortions of seriously deformed or handicapped fetuses would be a problem, he added.

“It is a serious, even horrible legislative anomaly,” he said.

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