Abortion Law and Policy News
20 April 2016


African refugee on Nauru taken by Australia to Papua New Guinea for abortion
by Bianca Hall
15 April 2016

A young African woman, accepted as a refugee on the Pacific island of Nauru, known as S99, was in the midst of a violent epileptic seizure when she was set upon and raped on Nauru. She was semi-conscious during the rape and is unable to identify her attacker. Now, she is nine weeks pregnant and desperate to have an abortion. Since the rape, she has attempted suicide, and suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic symptoms. She has received no ongoing psychological care.
According to S99's understanding of her Muslim faith, her abortion must be carried out before she is 16 weeks pregnant. It is a deadline she is desperate to meet. Abortion is illegal on Nauru so she is seeking an abortion in Australia. But instead of bringing her to Australia for the termination, Australian authorities transferred her to Papua New Guinea without her agreement. She was taken to a hotel in Port Moresby, told she would be taken to a medical appointment the next day, and left alone.
The Australian government is disputing her right to come to Australia. Two years ago, Australia sent her from Christmas Island to Nauru, where she was accepted as a refugee, but with a temporary settlement visa only. The Department of Immigration and Border Control and the Commonwealth of Australia argue this means she is not Australia's responsibility.
Her lawyer had raised concern that Australia could be in breach of PNG's laws by sending S99 to Port Moresby for an abortion. He filed an emergency injunction in the High Court preventing Australia from taking any action to have her pregnancy terminated in PNG, or transferring her back to Nauru. The case was then moved to the Federal Court where her barrister told the court she had made it clear she wanted to have a termination in Australia as she would need specialist care and feared she might be prosecuted if she had an abortion in Port Moresby. He said Australia had assumed responsibility for S99's care when it transferred her to PNG. The High Court issued an emergency order that Australia not move S99 anywhere but to Australia, and not do anything that would cause her pregnancy to be terminated in PNG. A trial date of April 28 was set.
Last year in October 2015, the case of Abyan – a Somali woman also allegedly raped on Nauru  – caused national outrage after she begged Australia for an abortion, was flown there after weeks of uncertainty, and then deported without having had the abortion. Her claims about what happened were highly contested by the government. It is unknown whether she ever finally did have the abortion or not.
Concern about S99 having an abortion in PNG is partly because a couple were jailed there for five years in October 2015, putting in question Australia's decision to send anyone there for an abortion.
The PNG case was understood to be the first prosecution for abortion in PNG, but one that could establish case law in the matter. The woman was convicted of terminating her third pregnancy using medical abortion pills at about 16 weeks, and her husband for helping to buy the pills through the back door of a local clinic. In the eyes of a coalition of senior medical, legal and human rights advocates in Port Moresby, who have taken up the case and are calling for a Supreme Court review, they were charged and convicted erroneously. They say the case looms as a dangerous precedent in a country where access to contraception is scarce, motherhood is a perilous business and unsafe abortions are shockingly high.
Sydney Morning Herald ; Sydney Morning Herald 2 ; Cath News NZ

Tags: Nauru, Australia, Papua New Guinea, refugees, abortion law and policy, rape and sexual abuse

Calls to revise abortion laws in response to Zika rejected by Health Minister

The Family Planning Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT) called on the government on 1 April to revisit its position on abortion to ensure access to safe abortion services for women who have Zika infection and might wish to have an abortion because of fear of microcephaly.
“Research has shown that unsafe abortions continue to be a major public health problem for many women in this country. The law of Trinidad & Tobago related to termination of pregnancy was inherited from Section 58 of the 1861 UK Offences against the Person Act, as it was in much of the Commonwealth. This law has been… revised in many Commonwealth countries, including Barbados, Guyana and St Lucia,” the FPATT said in a statement.
It said in the announcement that a 23-year-old pregnant woman is now affected with the Zika virus, which “will no doubt contribute to fear in the national community and amongst other women who may be pregnant”.
FPATT said it was now joining with the rest of the local public health community in responding to the Zika virus outbreak, particularly as it affects women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and pregnancy outcomes.
“FPATT is calling particularly on the Ministry of Health to engage with us as well as other professional health associations to ensure that prevention and preparedness planning includes adequate sexual and reproductive health and rights responses.”
It said that in Trinidad & Tobago, where a significant proportion of all pregnancies are unplanned, where sexual and gender based violence is prevalent, where there are a number of myths regarding emergency contraception and where the abortion law is often misinterpreted making women doubtful about their rights, any suggestion to women to delay pregnancies will be difficult to achieve.
“It is important that we protect and preserve women’s right to decide on the timing of pregnancy, independent of the status of the Zika epidemic. Asking women to avoid pregnancy without expanding access to contraception, education and safe abortion services is not sound public health policy.”
FPATT, said like its parent body, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, it supports a comprehensive, integrated response to Zika, ranging from mosquito control to local and regional health education campaigns to improved access to contraception, safe abortion, prenatal care, and support for parents of babies should they be born with microcephaly. “We strongly recommend strengthening family planning programs and access to safe abortion services."
The Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh responded on 15 April, saying: "The Government's position is firm that abortion will remain illegal in this country."
Jamaica Observer ; Trinidad Express

Tags: Trinidad & Tobago, Zika virus, abortion law and policy

Facts and figures lead more of Malawi's religious leaders to support abortion law reform

by Cynthia Okoroafor / Brian Ligomeka
4 April 2015
The facts and figures surrounding preventable deaths as a result of unsafe abortion procedures in Malawi, have accounted for a shift in the stance of some of the country’s religious leaders, who
now show support for the proposed abortion bill (Termination of Pregnancy Bill) and a call to review and reform Malawi’s restrictive abortion laws. This includes some Presbyterian and Anglican clerics, who are backing the move.

In July 2015, the Malawian government drafted the Termination of the Pregnancy Bill as part of its efforts to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality, of which unsafe abortion accounts for 17 percent, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church and other religious denominations and groups. The provisions in the abortion bill decriminalise abortions by allowing for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies for reasons such as rape, fetal anomaly, incest, or when the woman’s health or life is at risk. Currently, abortion is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Malawi.
Although the bill is yet to receive parliamentary approval, this move by the Malawian government was
hailed by health experts and women in Malawi, and the country was termed a model to other African countries as it displayed an interest in women’s health. The bill also highlighted the fact that more African countries need to stop suppressing women’s rights by giving them the power to make the decisions as it affects reproduction.
Although so many women lose their lives to complications arising from unsafe abortions each year, most of the religious leaders advocating against the bill were apparently previously unaware of this. A lack of knowledge in religious circles was blamed as a major reason why a majority of religious leaders assume an aggressive stance when it comes to the subject of abortion.
"I am shocked to learn that many girls and women are admitted to our hospitals every year as a result of complications sustained during procurement of unsafe abortions," lamented Prophet Amos Tchuma of the Faith of God Ministeries based in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu. "Just imagine, some women use bicycle spokes, cassava sticks and poisonous substances to induce abortions just because we have a restrictive law."
Tchuma said he supports government's move to review the outdated abortion law so that women can access safe abortion services in public hospitals. "Why should a schoolgirl, who has been raped, be jailed for terminating her unwanted pregnancy?" he asked.
Tchuma says some religious leaders are opposing law reform due to their ignorance. "Lack of knowledge has caused a lot of... misinformation in religious circles. Religion has become a fertile ground for breeding fundamentalism and fanaticism because of lack of knowledge," he told News24 in an interview.
"Is it wrong to support efforts to save women’s lives?" he asks.
Ventures Africa; News24

Tags: Malawi, abortion law and policy, religious leaders

Council of Europe criticises Italy over difficulty in obtaining abortions

11 April 2016
Abortion law in Italy makes abortion available on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and after that if there is a risk to the woman's life or health or fetal anomaly. That same law, dating from 1978, also allows doctors to conscientiously object from performing abortions.
This week, however, the Council of Europe's Social Rights Committee said Italy is violating women's rights due to the serious difficulties they face in trying to obtain safe abortions because as many as 70% of doctors refuse to carry out the procedure. They found that the situation violated both women's right to protection of health and doctors' right to dignity at work. In a significant number of Italian hospitals, even if a gynaecology unit exists, there are very few or no doctors who do not object to performing abortions, the Committee said. Women seeking an abortion are sometimes forced to go elsewhere in Italy or abroad, or bypass the authorities to get a termination.
Their review of the case stemmed from a petition by the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), Italy's biggest trade union, which said a growing rate of conscientious objection among doctors has made it extremely difficult for some women to access abortion. The CGIL said the Health Ministry drastically underestimates the number of illegal abortions carried out in Italy, which the union thinks could be as high as 50,000 a year.
Giving supporting evidence, the Associazione “Luca Coscioni per la libertà” di ricerca scientifica described a significant regional disparity in the provision of abortion services due to the lack of non-objecting medical practitioners, such that women had to rely on private service providers or obtain an abortion in other geographical areas.
The CGIL also maintained that the work-related rights of the non-objecting medical practitioners were being violated and referred to situations where, according to its observations from the field, their work has been limited to performing abortions or they have been required to work overtime, or to work in isolation, as well as without replacement or assistant personnel. The European Trade Union Confederation concurred on  a number of these issues.
Responding to the ruling, the Health Ministry said the Committee did not take into account the most recent data on the matter – that abortions were carried out in 60% of the country's health facilities.
Italy will now be able to respond formally to the Council of Europe's directives, and the Council will monitor the situation, according to a spokesman.

IB Times ; Reuters UK ; ANSA IT
Tags: Italy, abortion law and policy, conscientious objection, access to abortion, abortion providers, work-related rights

Rights groups call for guidelines on self-use of medical abortion pills 
by Kitty Holland

6 April 2016
Both the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) and Amnesty International Ireland say woman and girls must feel confident they will not be reported to the police if they present at an emergency department having used abortion pills. They called for guidelines to this effect to be issued to health care professionals which make it explicit that this would be breaching patient confidentiality. There are currently no guidelines in this jurisdiction, but nor is there any legal obligation on clinicians to report a woman or girl they suspect of using the abortion pills.
Under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, however, inducing an illegal abortion is a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Their call comes in the wake of the successful prosecution in Belfast of a young woman who imported abortifacient medication over the internet in 2014, and a second case, due to come before a Northern Irish court on 28 April, involving a mother who imported abortion medication for her teenage daughter.
Though no such case has come before the courts in Ireland, it remains unclear what a clinician should do if they suspect a woman has illegally induced an abortion. The Health Service Executive was unable to provide a comment on what its employees should do, while the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin said it would not comment on a “hypothetical scenario”. It also said: “The Rotunda will always provide full medical treatment to any woman or girl presenting for treatment.”
The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street said it had never dealt with a woman presenting after taking abortion medication so had not taken legal advice on it. “We treat every patient on the basis of medical need and our primary focus is to keep women safe and well,” a spokesman said.
Guidelines for health professionals issued by the Northern Irish Department of Health last month say though they have a duty to report an unlawful termination of pregnancy, they “need not give that information if they have a reasonable excuse for not doing so…” This approach has been described as “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority says it has not, and would not, prosecute a woman who illegally imported abortion medication for personal use. However, seizures of imported abortion pills in Ireland are growing. While 28 packages with 635 tablets were seized in 2011, the number had almost doubled to 60 packages with 1,017 tablets in 2014.
A year ago, in April 2015, Anti-Austerity Alliance member of parliament Ruth Coppinger called on customs in Ireland  to stop intercepting the delivery of abortion pills bound for Ireland. She said the state is “adding to the misery of women in crisis pregnancies by intercepting abortion pills they have ordered and paid for online”. Further, she said:
“In the not-too-distant future, we will look back in shame and embarrassment on this in the same way we now view the ban on contraception, divorce and homosexuality. The 8th Amendment is forcing women who cannot afford to travel to purchase tablets online. The interception of pills is merely forcing the poorest to go later and at greater cost."
Irish Times;
Tags: Ireland, Northern Ireland, medical abortion pills, self-use, confidentiality, inequality, trials and imprisonment

Statements in solidarity with Poland and Northern Ireland
  • FIAPAC (International Federation of Professional Abortion and Contraception Associates)
13 April 2016

Statement of solidarity with the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Poland
FIAPAC is deeply concerned that the Polish Government is to consider a draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion and a new category into the criminal code – “prenatal murder”, which will introduce penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison for women, doctors and anyone helping a woman to perform an abortion. We would like to recall that Poland has been one of the first countries to legalize abortion (1956) until it was declared illegal again in 1993 as requested by the former pope Wojtyla…

Statement on the prosecution of women in Northern Ireland for offences relating to abortion
FIAPAC is appalled by the prosecution of women in Northern Ireland for taking medication to bring about their own miscarriage in circumstances when the law prohibits the safe legal abortion service that our members may provide throughout the world. The Association finds it incomprehensible that abortion is not legal and accessible to women in NI as it is to women throughout the rest of the UK. The Association calls on members of the health care professions of Northern Ireland to demand an end to the prosecution of women who take steps to end an unwanted pregnancy and on politicians urgently review their archaic law to legalise abortion…
  • Catholics for Choice was pleased to lend our support to our Polish comrades on 17 April at a very successful march in Lodz.
Today, speaking as the global movement known as Catholics for Choice, we express our solidarity and unity with your struggle for the welfare, health and rights of Polish women. Extremist fundamentalists in Poland—who clearly do not have women’s interests, rights or dignity in their hearts—are trying to pressure the body politic to enact a total ban on abortion. There is no justice in any society anywhere that forces women to suffer under laws that put prejudice before people. It doesn’t matter whether authorities dress up that injustice as politics, religion or any crass and downright dangerous ideology. The health, well-being and bodies of women citizens deserve better than what Poland is poised to do to them…
Statement of solidarity
Editor: Marge Berer

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