European parliament debate on abortion reflected in Central Europe

Photo illustrative: Archives de Radio Prague

There were clashes over abortion in the European parliament this week. The source of the conflict was a report calling for abortion to be decriminalised in all of Europe. A majority of Parliamentarians supported the recommendation - which is not binding - but others, from countries such as Italy and Poland where abotition is restricted, argued that freedom of choice should not prevail over the rights of the unborn. The debate in the parliament in Strasbourg coincides with another in the Czech Republic and a court ruling on abortion earlier this year in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic a junior party in the coalition is calling for the consent of the father for every abortion and the consent of the parents before any woman under 18 can have an abortion. And in Slovakia earlier this year the constitutional court handed down a long-awaited verdict on abortions, six years after a complaint was filed by a group of parliamentarians. Here's how Michal Groch of Radio Slovakia International reported on that story earlier this year.

Six years after it received the complaint from a group of members of parliament, the Constitutional Court handed down a long awaited verdict on abortion legislation. The motion was compiled by 31 deputies, mainly Christian Democrats. The party member and the former Interior Minister Ivan Palko explained their initiative.

“It is one of the key issues for us. It is strongly related to civilization and demographic development. It is one of our main goals to restrict abortions as much as possible in the long term.”

The court ruled that the Abortion Act, which permits abortion at a woman’s request up to the 12th week of pregnancy without stating any reason does not contradict the Slovak Constitution. However, the newer Health Ministry directive, which would make it possible to abort pregnancy up to the 24th week if the foetus is genetically damaged, is not in line with the Constitution. The deputy of the Christian Democratic party Daniel Lipsic stated that they are only partially satisfied with the court’s decision.

“On one hand, the Constitutional Court has met our requirement when it comes to the 24 weeks period in case of genetic defect. On the other hand, the fundamental problem at which we pointed, was not sorted out. According to the court, the current legislative is in line with our constitution. If we would really stick to Slovak constitution, we would find that human life is to be protected in all evolution stages. The Constitutional Court stated that it is all right if the right to life in the first trimester does not have any protection against right to privacy. I believe that the text of the Slovak Constitution does not say this.”

The 24 weeks period regulations have thus been canceled and the court has decided that new rules must be implemented directly to legislature as the amendment. The parliament has 6 months to do that. The situation until then however, is very unclear. It is because abortions are going to be performed according to the law from 1986 which permits them right up until birth, which is obviously a bizarre situation. Therefore it looks as if it will be hospitals who will have the last word in this case. Lawyers’ opinions on the situation differ.

Christian Democrat Daniel Lipsic believes that during this period, women will not have the right to pregnancy termination after the 12th week even if the foetus is genetically defected. This is, however, in contradiction with the aforementioned law from 1986. Justice Minister Milan Harabin criticized members of parliament for the initiative, which, according to him, created a mess in the legislative system.

“As a Justice Minister, I believe that politicians should not interfere in this matter. It is up to the judicial bodies, in this case the Constitutional Court, to make a decision. The representative of the motion haven’t managed the initiative knowingly and he has totally lost in this case.”

It isn’t good that there isn’t a clear answer to such an important question. The search for the best way to proceed with this issue shouldn’t be allowed to take too long. Given the current composition of Parliament, however, the response is being sketched out in a very foggy manner. Such a situation certainly doesn’t help women who have to face one of the toughest decisions in their lives.