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News 02 Oct 17

Activists Urge Macedonia to Scrap Abortion Curbs

A coalition of NGOs is calling on Macedonia's new government to scrap the curbs on abortion adopted by their previous right-wing government.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The law was pushed in 2013 despite street protests by human rights activists. Archive photo: BIRN

A coalition of rights NGOs, the Platform for Gender Equality, has urged Macedonia's new government, elected in May, to scrap changes made to the Abortion Law in 2013 by their conservative predecessors, which they insist undermined women's rights.

They want either a new law on terminations or amendments to the existing law as well as the urgent withdrawal of the Health Ministry's rulebook adopted in 2014.

This advises doctors on ways to dissuade women from having an abortion, by showing them pictures of their fetuses or in some cases by playing a recording of a heartbeat.

The law, which was pushed in 2013 by the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party, despite street protests by human rights activists, did not totally ban abortion in Macedonia.
But it made the procedure harder by introducing, among other things, a mandatory written request for abortion, which may be rejected, as well as a three-day period in which the woman should re-examine whether she really wants an abortion or not.

"We have testimonies from several women who say they had negative experiences with the new provisions and believe that with these procedures health workers violated their right to a free choice," Dragan Drndarevska, from HERA, an NGO that is part of the platform, said.

The activists want the government to permanently ban the broadcasting of the anti-abortion adverts commissioned by the last VMRO DPMNE-led government, and any other similar propaganda material.

The past government launched a campaign called "Choose Life" in order to promote the abortion curbs.

Instead, the activists want more money spent on sexual education and on raising awareness about modern contraception methods.

Gynecologist Gligor Tofovski also said the current provisions were wrong. "Spending 3 million euros on a campaign that goes against women's rights, stigmatizes women who want to terminate a pregnancy while at the same spending ten times less on saving and protecting the health of mothers and their children must not happen again," Tofovski said.

Tofovski said that although statistics noted a decline in the number of abortions since the current provisions were adopted, the number of illegal, unsafe abortions had likely increased.

The number of abortions among minors had also increased from about 100 in 2008 to 217 in 2015, Tofovski added.

The changes to the Law on Termination of Pregnancy were adopted hastily under a curtailed procedure in parliament that left no time for wider debate.

Protests were staged outside the parliament building in Skopje. But the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party, including its women MPs, insisted they were not restricting women's rights.

"The law is directed towards the protection and care of women and their reproductive and mental health,” then VMRO DPMNE MP Suzana Anova said in 2013.

The original law on abortion in Macedonia, dating from 1976, left key decisions on terminations to women and doctors.

The activists now hope that the new government led by the Social Democrats, SDSM, who opposed the changes in 2013, will at last restore the old provisions.

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