Ban on abortion during early period of pregnancy is a violation of women’s rights

Inessa Sakhno

Over a period of about a month and a half during autumn 2016 in some countries the admissibility of abortion has been repeatedly opposed to public morality, and the woman’s right to choose was opposed to the right to live of the fetus.

In September 2016 many countries have witnessed various protests: in Poland people were protesting against proposed stricter abortion laws, in Russia once again public debates centered around the limits of women’s rights, while in the United States during the final debate of the presidential election campaign one of the candidates called on the government not to intervene in women’s decisions concerning abortions in order not to make her and her family’s decision even more difficult, because sometimes decision to make an abortion can be the only correct one in given circumstances. The position of the winner of the presidential elections will influence the subsequent selection of judges United States Supreme Court, and, accordingly, the decision-making practice, and will continue till the end of his presidential term.

Although Russian legislation on abortion is not the strictest by comparison to other countries, the rhetoric about women’s mission in life along with the propaganda of traditional family values has become particularly noticeable recently. Representatives of public authorities, including legislators, as well as other public and religious figures, come up with various initiatives to limit the possibilities for termination of pregnancy.

However, according to the statistical data there is a steady decline in the number of abortions in Russian Federation and it would seem that there is no need for additional restrictive measures, especially because the state in recent years was reducing financial and other assistance to children from large families and disabled children. According to the chairman of “Yabloko” party Emilia Slabunova, “when the state cannot provide decent living conditions for families with children”, the law should not interfere with family planning. Anti-abortion initiatives proposed by some legislators about a year ago have not been adopted, but now the ban on abortion, as well as contraception, is being discussed by members of the influential Orthodox clergy with the support of the newly appointed ombudsman for children’s rights. This time the proposal to tighten state control over the reproductive function of women and withdrawal of abortion from the list of operations provided freely as part of obligatory medical insurance programs is explained by excessive financial burden on the state budget, while previously the arguments centered on the necessity to solve demographic problems. But the availability of abortion on a strictly commercial basis would result in the loss of access to health care in this particular respect for the poorest and most vulnerable groups of population, who would be forced to resort to clandestine abortions, which will inevitably jeopardize the lives and health of women and girls. Such concerns were expressed by the representatives of the Russian Ministry of Health. Stricter conditions for termination of pregnancy, contrary to the expectations of the initiators of such draft laws, do not lead to creation of stable families – it is quite often that mothers try to get rid of children, who were born as a result of an unwanted pregnancy, and women themselves sometimes resort to suicide due to impossibility to have an abortion. By rejecting abortions, society creates a tense situation for those women who face the need to have an abortion, and this topic becomes a taboo for discussion, imposing guilt on women. One Russian activist, a woman, who came up with the artistic project “Silent rally” (she goes on public transport with posters devoted to various current social problems), said that for her the most difficult and terrible experience was when she tried to demonstrate a poster against the banning abortion, so tough and intolerant were the responses from the public.

In Poland, where legislation concerning abortion is already considered one of the strictest in Europe, the government has recently attempted to ban abortion even for medical reasons, but hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Polish cities in protest. As a result, Polish parliament was forced to drop the proposed inhumane amendments to the abortion legislation. However, the Polish government adheres to a hypocritical position: while according to the official statistics, every year in Poland just about 1,000 abortions are performed, the real figures, according to experts, can exceed 150,000 per year. These include clandestine abortions conducted outside of medical facilities by the same doctors, who work there, as well as termination of pregnancy made outside of Poland. So-called “abortion tourism” is thriving in Poland: women go to Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Holland, Austria and Britain to have their abortions made there. There was a case when a young woman, pregnant with twins, reported that one of the children was terminally ill, but she was refused an abortion, as the second child was healthy. Following that she had to apply to a Dutch hospital. Websites of many European clinics have been translated into Polish, and women can often schedule their visit to the hospital in Polish by telephone.

Most dramatic is the situation of girls and women who are financially unable to afford abortion abroad or clandestine abortion. The lack of opportunities for abortion results in attempts to perform do-it-yourself abortion using drugs or some sort of physical intervention. This is an extremely dangerous step, often entailing serious consequences, but women are forced to resort to such measures because of the lack of alternatives: the head physician of a hospital is in the position to refuse an abortion even if medical indications are present, or he/she can intentionally delay the period for issuing necessary certificates for abortion. There was a very indicative case, where the head physician of a hospital forbade abortion despite the child’s incurable illness, which lead to the death of the newborn baby. Hospital doctors did not give referrals to other specialists, who could send a woman for an abortion, and when the doctor at another hospital stated inevitability of death of the child shortly after birth, abortion was no longer possible. The child was born and soon died in agony, which lasted several weeks. Some medical experts have recognized this physician’s behavior as not only unprofessional, but also inhumane. The European Court of Human Rights has found violations of the Convention due to the failure to conduct abortions in Poland (“Tysiąc v. Poland”)

We cannot allow the tightening of laws concerning abortion, which will condemn mothers and children to suffering and death – neither in Poland, nor in Russia, nor in any other countries, where the rights of women who find themselves in a difficult position are being violated because of some unjustified demographic ideas or various economic factors.