Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Czech Republic: Abortion Services Not 'Abortion Tourism' For EU Citizens

Published on RHRealityCheck.org (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org)

Czech Republic: Abortion Services Not "Abortion Tourism" for EU Citizens
By Anna Wilkowska-Landowska
Created Dec 23 2008 - 8:00am

Recently, the Czech Republic cabinet unanimously approved a new bill that would extend abortion privileges and other health services to all European Union (EU) citizens. Opponents of the bill claim that the new regulations will enable "abortion tourism" from the other European states where termination of pregnancy is significantly restricted.

The European Union rules state that all participating member states should provide the same services and care to all EU citizens that local citizens receive. Even so, the bill is strongly opposed by deputies of the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), a junior governing party, who have concerns the Czech Republic will become an "abortion tourism destination" for EU citizens. Christian Democratic Union ministers in the cabinet, who approved the bill, are strongly being pressured to withdraw the bill before it is submitted to the Parliament by deputy party members, according to Ceske Noviny newspaper [1]. As a reason for their opposition, the KDU MPs gave their "conscience objections" to the bill's provision enabling EU citizens to undergo abortion in the Czech Republic.

The bill is part of the crucial and controversial package of reform legislation promoted by Health Minister Tomas Julinek. Apart from abortion, the bill deals with rules of assisted fertilization, sex change, sterilization and other specific treatments.

The Christian Democrats have had long term reservations about the planned provisions on abortion. They have campaigned steadily in previous months against the abortion bill, as well as another that would loosen restrictions on in-vitro fertilization. The party had proposed abortion restriction legislation in April, which included a stricter time limit on health-related abortions and heightened consent requirements. The Christian Democrats proposed to limit abortions on "health grounds" to the 18th week of pregnancy and proposed to allow fathers to have a say in whether a child is aborted, although the father's opinion will not be a "veto." They also proposed to raise the age at which parental consent is required from 16 to 18 years old.

Under current Czech law, unrestricted abortion is allowed until 12 weeks gestation, and with "medical indications" until 24 weeks. Fetuses diagnosed with serious abnormalities can be legally aborted at any gestational age. Abortion was legalized under the communist regime in 1957. The only restrictions beyond these say that abortions must be spaced at least six months apart and the pregnant woman must be at least 16 years old, unless she has the permission of her parents.

The opponents also say the bill makes abortion rules excessively liberal, and that the Czech Republic might become an abortion tourism destination. The "abortion tourists" would most likely come from neighboring Poland, where abortion is permitted only in cases of rape, significant fetal abnormality, or the presence of a serious health threat to the mother. Abortion was made illegal in the country after the collapse of communism in 1993. Though coming to the Czech Republic for abortion care has been illegal until now according to Czech law, Polish women seeking abortion have traveled to the Czech Republic for the procedure.

It is important to add that in spite of very liberal abortion legislation, the number of abortions in the Czech Republic has been constantly dropping since the collapse of the communist regime in November 1989. In 1970 almost 148,000 children were born and 72,000 abortions were performed. In 2006, there were 25,400 abortions for a total population of 10,228,744 in the country. Last year, in 2007, over 114,000 children were born and 25,414 abortions performed.

"The reason for high abortions during communist times is that contraception was not available, and the abortion law was very permissive," said Radim Uzel, executive director of the Czech Family Planning Association.

Despite the Czech Republic having one of the lowest birth rates in the world - well below the replacement rate of 2.1, at 1.22 - the citizens of the Czech Republic continue to strongly favor abortion. A new public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center CVVM [2] among residents of the Czech Republic in June 2008 finds more people are inclined to favor keeping abortions legal. The poll found about 75 percent of Czech citizens want abortions to stay legal, an increase of about three percent from the poll conducted in 2007. Some 15 percent said abortions should be limited to only legitimate health reasons, another 6 percent said abortions should only be allowed if the mother's life is threatened and one percent want all abortions made illegal.

The Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic [3] reported that women who already have children were more likely to get an abortion. Some 35 percent of those obtaining abortions already have two children, for example. That figure is consistent with most other European countries.

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