ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Dec 22 2014

Recently Aljazeera featured a long article about the reality of Poland's restrictive anti-abortion law and the sad reality of reproductive rights which Polish women face. Poland has one of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. It is a crime to terminate a pregnancy in the eastern European country except in three circumstances: cases of foetal abnormality, risk to the health and life of the mother, and rape or incest. Despite these exceptions, in reality access to abortion, where the law permits it, remains extremely limited. According to the official numbers there were 701 abortions in year 2012 (latest data available) what in a country of almost 40 million citizens serves more as an indication of the scale of the problem than as a fact.

Source: Aljazeera

Dec 19 2014

Outcome document of the Beijing +20 Regional ECE Review Meeting which took place in Geneva on November 6-7 is now available online HERE.

Dec 16 2014

Late October the Macedonian Minister of Health adopted “Rulebook on the content and manner of counseling for the pregnant woman prior to the termination of pregnancy” which instructs doctors how they should counsel those who are seeking an abortion. The document seems to be however more a guide on how to apply psychological pressure on women to change their minds and neglects the right of the woman to make a free choice on her own body.

The document, written in line with the government’s socially conservative policies that aim to portray abortion as a murder, is signed by Health Minister Nikola Todorov, and will soon be distributed to medical facilities and become obligatory for doctors. Medical professionals said that the most disturbing part of the text specifies that “during counselling (…) dynamic ultrasound images are shown [to the pregnant woman] along with description of the offspring, and she is played the heartbeat of the offspring”. The text further instructs that “the doctor should inform the woman of all the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the offspring at that gestational age”.

H.E.R.A. - the Association for Health Education and Research, ASTRA member, said that the rulebook should be withdrawn and revised because it goes against local legislative and international health conventions: “The showing of dynamic ultrasound images of the foetus, listening the heartbeat, being informed about its gestational age and explanations of the effects of the intervention are in no way linked to the health condition of the woman, and are irrelevant for the intervention itself.”

In June 2013, the government adopted new abortion legislation that critics said curbs women's rights. The changes were adopted amid protests by activists and in the absence from parliament of opposition parties. The government has also backed an anti-abortion media campaign that described terminations as murder.

Rulebook on Termination of Pregnancy

Source: H.E.R.A.; Balkan Insight

Dec 15 2014

Presidential elections will be held in Croatia on December 28th, 2014. Currently there are four candidates running for the office: Ivo Josipović, nominated by the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP) and running on a centre-left platform; Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) running on a centre-right platform; Milan Kujundžić, member of the right-wing populist Croatian Dawn (HZ) non-parliamentary party and Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, independent political activist. The candidates were invited by the current president Ivo Josipovic to state their position on abortion. Termination of pregnancy is available in Croatias without restrictions as to reason up to ten weeks of pregnancy for all women above 16 years of age.

The presidential candidate of the opposition Croatian Democratic Union, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović expressed her suport for pro-choice legislation: "I am for life, but I also respect the right of choice. I do not support banning abortion because it never brought any good to anyone anywhere. But I am in favour of positive measures such as education, psychological and other counselling that helps a woman get through that stressful situation and decide whether to keep her pregnancy or not. I also advocate de-stigmatising unmarried women who have given birth and de-stigmatising their children and facilitating the adoption procedure." Milan Kujundžić said that his position on the issue of abortion was in line "with universal Christian values that promote preservation of life from conception to death”. He also expressed his support for proactive measures instead of introducing further restrictions. Running for a second term in office Ivo Josipović supported the use of doctors' conscientious objection to performing abortions, while at the same time expressed his support for women’s free choice: "Abortion is not desirable, but this whole phenomenon should be considered from the aspect of the woman's right to choose whether she wants to give birth or not. My position on this is completely clear. The present system, in which women can choose under specific circumstances, must stay. Conscientious objection by health workers should be respected, but the public health system must provide the service women need."

Source:, here and here.

Dec 10 2014

In many developing countries today women and girls have their human rights violated by their own government, resulting in mental torment, horrific injury or even death, write MEP Heidi Hautala, Greens, Finland and MEP Sophie in 't Veld, ALDE, Netherlands, Co-chairs of the European Parliament Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS and Development (EPWG)

10 December is International Human Rights Day, which marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Full abortion bans

About 28 countries world-wide impose full bans on safe abortion, many of these are developing countries in Africa and Latin America.  Even if the life of a woman is under threat during pregnancy, she cannot legally have a lifesaving termination. Neither can she have an abortion if she has been a victim of incest, if the foetus has a fatal abnormality, or if she has been raped and impregnated by her perpetrator.

Restrictive abortion regimes tend to come about when religious beliefs are prioritised over women’s lives, reproductive choice, liberty, and dignity.


In some of countries with total abortion bans, women and girls are imprisoned if convicted of having a termination. In El Salvador, for example, a woman can face a prison sentence of between two and eight years. A healthcare professional that assists her is liable to face 12 years behind bars. Unbelievably, women who suffer miscarriages have been charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a prison sentence of up to 50 years.

Unsafe abortions resulting in injury and death 

If the objective of these laws is to stop abortions, they are failing miserably. Evidence proves that highly restrictive abortion regimes do not equate to lower abortion rates. In 2008, the abortion rate in Latin America - where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries - was 32 per 1,000.  The rate was 12 per 1,000 in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds.

Instead, these laws drive women to have unsafe abortions. This is especially the case in developing countries, where most women cannot afford to travel, and are a great distance from a jurisdiction allowing safe abortion.

Unsafe abortion usually involves going to a backstreet abortion provider or using sticks, wire hangers or poisons to induce a termination. Huge numbers of women die and suffer horrific lifelong injuries resulting from botched abortions. Few who visit clinics treating the victims of unsafe abortion and bear witness to their torment will subsequently deny the importance of access to safe abortion.

Another consequence of bans on legal and safe abortion is the acute torment caused to adolescent girls who have unplanned pregnancies, especially for those who are pregnant due to rape. In conservative societies, many pregnant girls choose suicide rather than endure social stigma and risk rejection by their families.

The only way to reduce abortions

The only proven way to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions is through the provision of good quality sexuality education, the availability of modern contraception, and creating a society where women have power over their sexual encounters.

The EU has a longstanding track record of promoting all of these elements through development aid funding for family planning and sexual and reproductive health. It is of utmost importance this funding is maintained and the access to safe and legal abortion is not restricted by other donor countries, like the United States. The EU has to protect women's and girls' rights and dignity.

Source: EurActiv

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