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News 10 Jun 13

Macedonia Adopts Controversial Abortion Law

Amid protests by activists and in the absence of opposition parties, the Macedonian parliament adopted new abortion legislation that critics say curbs women's rights.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

With almost no debate, 62 legislators from the ruling conservative VMRO DPMNE party-led majority in the 123-seat parliament voted to support the new law on Monday.

The controversial government-backed legislation was pushed through with a curtailed procedure that left no time for a wider public debate.

Only Ivon Velickovksi from the opposition Liberal party voted against. He was the only opposition legislator present at the session.

The main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, were absent from the vote in protest.

“The law is being adopted by ignoring the constitutional right of choice and other rights and freedoms. It is being pushed through in a shortened procedure without listening to the public that had negative remarks about the law,” SDSM legislator Oliver Spasovski told local media.

But the ruling majority, including the majority of women in it, defended the law that was submitted two weeks ago by the health ministry in what many saw as a surprise move.

“There are no restrictions on women’s rights,” insisted VMRO DPMNE legislator Suzana Anova.

"The law is directed towards the protection and care of the women and their reproductive and mental health,” she said.

As the MPs were voting, several hundred rights activists protested in front of the parliament building, urging the immediate withdrawal of the bill.

They carried banners reading “My Body, My Decision” and “I Am Not a Child Killer”.

Previously, 91 local and international rights groups, including the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and the Association for Health Education, HERA, had signed a joint letter to Macedonian lawmakers protesting about the proposed legislation.

Last week, health minister Nikola Todorov promised that he would make some concessions on the draft.

One of the concessions that he offered was to remove a provision that would put himself in charge of the formation of a commission that would decide on women’s requests for abortion.

But he insisted the draft was “liberal”.

“There will always be opposing opinions over which right is greater, the right of the woman to decide on her own or the right to life of the child in her womb,” Todorov said over the weekend.

The current law, dating from 1976, leaves key decisions on terminations to women and doctors.

But under the proposed changes, women will now have to file requests for abortions and will have to confirm that they attended counselling, informed the “spouse” of their intention to abort and met a gynaecologist.

The law would further prohibit women from having a second abortion within a year of the first one.

“These restrictive measures bring us back to the times when other people decided about women’s rights," said Liljana Poplovska, head of the small DOM party, the only governing coalition party that opposed the bill.

Ermira Mehmeti Devaja, a legislator from the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, was the only other woman from the ruling majority who publicly said that she would not support it.

Some see the move as a step towards a ban on terminations. In 2009, the government launched a media campaign against abortion, which was backed by the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

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