No evidence to support abortion landslide claims
One after another between 1986 and 1993, the central and eastern European and Baltic countries altered their laws to restrict abortion to specific conditions, circumstances and contingencies. In a short eight-year period 10 countries introduced new laws with specific gestational limits and some relatively narrow grounds for termination such as rape and incest only. The debate on abortion in these countries was joined by the re-emerging Catholic or Christian Orthodox institutions which were functioning openly for the first time in decades.
In the case of Romania, abortion had been legalised in 1957 but was somewhat restricted in 1966. Under the tyrannical regime of Ceausescu, abortion was severely restricted in the 1984-85 period as his regime adopted a pro-natalist policy which obliged women to procreate, monitored maternity hospitals, demanded explanations for lack of offspring, and filled up orphanages with children whom parents could not support.
The restrictions on abortion were eased in 1989 and amended again in 1996, but while abortion rates have fallen in many east European countries, this is not the case for Romania, where the practice of substituting abortion for contraception unfortunately lingers.
The situation in Europe is extremely fluid in relation to the legalities of abortion. Estonia narrowed rules for minors seeking an abortion in 2009 in the same year that France enlarged the scope of social security refunds for abortion. In 2011 Hungary inserted in its constitution a right to life of the foetus, but transposing it into law has been extremely problematic. This was not helped when the public authorities used EU funds to print posters of a foetus and were strongly reprimanded by the European Commission and criticised by some members of the European Parliament. In Poland a 2011 parliamentary proposal to overturn their abortion law was defeated by a margin of only five votes.
The changing laws and rules have generated a new European geography of abortion movement. Just as Irish women go to Britain seeking terminations, some Polish women travel to the Czech Republic; women from Germany sometimes go to the Netherlands and Spanish women go to France. National figures on abortion rates, such as those from the UK, are enlarged by women and girls moving into those countries specifically to terminate a pregnancy.
There is no inevitable landslide towards abortion regimes in Europe. That is the story the data tells us.
Dr PAULINE CONROYis a social policy analyst who has written on abortion since 1983. This article is part of a longer paper published by the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington