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

Oct 22 2014

Written by Hillary Margolis

Poland is one of a select few countries in Europe where access to abortion remains extremely limited: it’s a crime to terminate a pregnancy except in cases of risk to the mother’s life or health, severe fetal abnormality, or rape. In Europe, only Ireland and Malta have more restrictive laws.

The United Nations has taken Poland to task for its abortion laws and practices, and is likely to do so again today. After a visit in 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health called for the government to remove barriers to safe abortion. A UN expert body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, also criticized Poland’s abortion record in 2007. At a meeting today with Polish officials, this committee will undoubtedly focus on the lack of progress on access to safe, legal abortion.

Local groups in Poland note that women seeking abortion face stigma, intimidation, and misinformation from healthcare providers and clergy. Poland’s “conscience clause” under article 39 of the Doctor and Dentist Professions Act is a particular concern. Medical personnel may decline to perform abortion on the grounds that it conflicts with their personal values or beliefs. The law states that personnel must refer a woman to an alternate doctor or facility where she has a real possibility of obtaining services, but local women’s groups report that such referrals are often not made.

The conscience clause seems to be gaining ground: in May 2014, 3,000 people, mainly medical professionals, signed a “Declaration of Faith” asserting the “primacy” of religious over state law and saying they consider abortion and other reproductive services to be against their faith. Poland’s Catholic bishops endorsed the declaration. Donald Tusk, then-prime minister, reminded Polish medical practitioners that the obligation to provide comprehensive health care supersedes individual beliefs.

Such comments are welcome but insufficient. Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, should act quickly to safeguard women’s access to safe and legal abortion, even with the “conscience clause” in force. The state should ensure availability of doctors who do not invoke the conscience clause, and monitor referrals to other providers by those who are unwilling to perform abortions. The government should also institute a clear and rapid appeals process for women denied abortion, as mandated by the European Court of Human Rights.

“Conscientious objection” should not mean the evisceration of women’s human rights.  

Source: Human Rights Watch

Oct 20 2014

The recent The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report on the state of violence against women in the EU shows that at least 6% of Romanian women have suffered an act of sexual violence after the age of 15. In net numbers, over 600,000 women have been at some point in their life, victims of sexual violence. State authorities and the public opinion minimize the magnitude of the problem with much fewer cases a year undergoing prosecution. On average, no more than 450 cases of sexual violence a year, end up with a definitive court sentence involving jail time for the offender. Meanwhile, numerous women go through the thorny road of rape survival without any specialized help or support, as there are simply no such services available for victims.

Oct 17 2014

A growing number of Croatian hospitals are refusing to perform abortions, even though they are legal, because doctors refuse to conduct them for reasons of conscience.

Media in Croatia have reported that one of the main hospitals in Zagreb, the Hospital of “Sveti Duh”, ["Holy Spirit"] has stopped performing abortions even though terminations are within the law. Apparently, this clinic, which conducted 529 abortions as recently as 2013, is the fifth hospital in Croatia that has stopped performing abortions recently. Others are in the towns of Nasice, Vinkovci, Knin and Pozega, while in the biggest hospital in Split - the second city in Croatia - only one doctor now performs abortions. According to the research by the media, the problem is not the hospitals but the doctors. Reports say doctors are refusing to undertake the work for reasons of conscience. Some 66 per cent of doctors in Zagreb refuse this work, apparently. In Split, 95 per cent of medics have refused to take part in abortions for the same reasons of conscience. Abortion in Croatia is regulated on the basis of a law from 1978, which says abortions can be performed up until the 10th week of pregnancy. However, doctors have a discretionary right not to perform abortions if they maintain that life starts at the moment of conception. As a result, no sanctions may be taken against hospitals or doctors who decline to provide abortion services.

Oct 09 2014

Macedonia’s Constitutional Court has rejected a challenge to the changed law on terminations, adopted in September 2013, saying the changes do not prohibit abortion but only regulate the procedures. Several NGOs, among them ASTRA member H.E.R.A., had submitted complaints to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the new requirements put undue physical, administrative and time-related pressure on pregnant women. The changes oblige women to file requests for abortions, attend counselling, inform “spouses” of their intention and meet a gynaecologist. The change to the law further prohibits women from having a second abortion within a year.

One of the judges said that the new Law is not against the Constitution and that Republic of Macedonia has specific power of attorney to protect the children and the motherhood “I am against the abortion. For me the abortion is not exclusive right of the mother. It concerns the father, the broader family and the society itself. We should protect the unborn children, which life starts from conception".

H.E.R.A. held a press conference on the issue and published an NGO reaction to this Court statement - read it HERE.

For more details click go to Balkan Insight.

Oct 09 2014

The regional campaign focused on youth engagement in Post-2015 agenda ‘‘Youth voice- future we want In Eastern Europe and Central Asia" has been launched early October. The goal of the campaign is to ensure that issues concerning young people are recognized in the future development agenda, which can be done only with meaningful youth participation. Young advocates from the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are encouraged to mobilize and advocate for the realization of youth priorities related to the Post-2015 development framework. The campaign also aims to provide comprehensive information on youth in the EECA region and enable the improvement of skills needed for effective advocacy actions. All organizations interested in joining the campaign may express their interest by filling in the form available here.

The campaign is coordinated by Regional Youth Leadership Group with support of UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The RYLG is composed of representatives of the following youth networks/institutions: ASTRA Youth, PETRI Center Sofia, Y-SAFE, Y-PEER, YouAct, Youth Coalition. ASTRA Youth is one of the coordinators of this project.

More information on the initiative can be found at the campaign’s FB page: EECA Youth Voice.

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