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News 29 May 13

Macedonia's Planned Abortion Curbs Draw Protests

Government move to restrict abortions prompts protests from rights groups, some of whom fear the curbs are intended to pave the way towards a complete ban on terminations.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Carrying banners reading “My Body, My Decision”, and “I Am Not a Child Killer”, several hundred people protested in front of the Macedonian parliament on Wednesday, urging legislators to reject a new draft law restricting abortion.

If adopted, women seeking an abortion beyond the tenth week of pregnancy will have to submit a written request that must be approved by the Health Ministry.

The current law from 1976 leaves key decisions on abortions to doctors.

Women will now have to confirm that they attended counselling, informed the father of their intention to abort and met a gynecologist.

For the first time, doctors who do not comply with these provisions will face a jail term.

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

The right-of-centre government of Nikola Gruevski surprised many by submitting the draft to parliament through a shortened procedure on Tuesday.

“A draft tackling the basic human rights of women must not be passed in a shortened procedure,” an association of rights-related NGOs, including the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said.

The change would additionally "bureaucratize the procedure for women… and put the minister indirectly in charge of deciding on abortions”, the protesting NGOs said.

“Medical doctors should be left to decide on this matter as this is within their area of expertize,” Neda Korunovska, from Reaktor, an NGO, said.

Despite objections from opposition Social Democrats, parliament voted on Wednesday to put the bill up for discussion in the current session.

“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 government party that opposed the bill.

"This provision will not increase the birth rate. That needs to be done with stimulants, not restrictive measures,” she said.

Health minister Nikola Todorov said the new law differs little from the old one, insisting that it will be beneficial for women.

“The law does not prohibit the abortion, it only restricts it in cases when the health of the woman is threatened”, Todorov told a press conference.

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

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