Členská organizácia International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)
Opposition to SRHR in Slovakia
Reproductive rights and especially question of the artificial abortion started to be much politicized issue in Slovakia in recent years. Reproductive are at the same time – no doubts intentionally – oversimplified to the right for artificial abortion. Despite of the significant decrease in number of abortions (more then 70% in last 15 years) there is a strong effort from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Catholic Church to change the abortion law. The politicians and church are supported by a group of NGOs grouped under the umbrella organization Forum of Life. The church argues the position of the “moral authority” and majority in Slovakia, supported by the last national census. 69% of Slovaks declared themselves to by Catholics. However, only around 15 to 20% really practice religion. Vice-versa, the opinion poll shows that Slovaks are strong in favour of liberal abortion law; in the last opinion pool (end 2003) 72% of citizens considered the present law to be satisfactory or to tough. Only 11% think the law is too benevolent.
Efforts of the conservative political forces to limit reproductive rights in Slovakia do not limit themselves to the ban of abortions, but extend to demonizing of all forms of contraception, sexual education and access of youth to objective information about the contraception, sterilization and complicated access to artificial insemination. Positive trends in the area of reproductive rights that are coming to Slovakia from the European Union are presented as “heritage of socialism and efforts of euro Marxists”. Because it seems to be difficult to enforce the legal abortion ban, the conservatives try to worsen the accessibility of abortion through exercising the objection of conscience. They oppose very strong to euthanasia and homosexual rights as well.
Political Opossition – Christian Democratic Movement
Public debate about the ban on abortions was opened by the KDH proposals in early 1990-tieth and especially in 2001 during the debate about the changes in the Constitution of Slovak Republic in the Parliament. KDH proposed to change article 15, part 1 “Everybody has right for life. Human life deserves protection already before the birth” to wording: “Human life has right for protection from the conception”. Such a change would in practice mean conflict between the recent liberal abortion law and the Constitution and consequently end of its validity.
Despite the fact, that the Parliament adopted constitutional changes without change in article15, and that majority public opinion stand clearly behind the recent liberal abortion law, KDH efforts did not stop. Following example of “the Polish way” KDH parliamentarians submitted legal submission to the Constitutional Court, in which they argue about discrimination of human foetus before the age of 12 weeks, when abortion is permitted as well as the abortion to the 24th week which is permitted in a regulation of Ministry of health in case of foetus damage or health-risk reasons. KDH opposes that this regulation even goes over the law, which permits only the 12 weeks period and because a regulation gives more rights than a law, it is against the constitution. The KDH maintains that the current law allowing abortions between 13 and 24 weeks of pregnancy in the case of genetic defects is against the constitutional rights of the unborn foetus.
The liberal party brought in parliament (summer 2003) a renegotiation of the present law, which would include the 24 weeks regulation in the case of genetic defects of foetus. Although it passed in the parliament with a clear majority, under the strong pressure from the side of Catholic Church president refused to sign the law and gave it back into parliament. Now a qualified majority is needed to pass. On his visit in Slovakia pope expressed his thanks to our president.
The first hearing on abortion law made Constitution Court on April 10th 2003. KDH and abortion opponents were represented by Mr. Lipsic, vice-chairman of KDH and minister of justice of Slovakia. His argumentation was built on the decision of German Constitution Court, which decided twice that the right of woman to decide about the pregnancy has to be subordinated to protection of unborn life. However, Mr. Lipsic did not informed objective about the present situation in Germany when the abortion are legally performed. The main discussion was focused on the definition of life beginning which was defined by KDH statement as the moment of conception. Opposite to this argumentation, the constitution judges had expert’s opinions from bio-ethicist and supreme prosecutor of Slovakia. Both experts supported the present abortion law. The second hearing proceeded on September the 4th, however, still without any decision. The judges are considering now a days if they will wait for a decision of a similar case (Vo vs. France) in front of European Court of Human Rights.
The ECHR decision in case Vo vs. France was presented in Slovakia by Minister of justice Lipsic as “irrelevant for Slovakia, because the ECHR only told that the moment of life begins can be decided freely in the national legislation. The second part of the decision, related to foetus, which has no status on human rights, was ignored.
A decision on the Constitution Court cannot be expected in the next couple of month.
The Catholic Church focuses on the abortion rights as the main “moral problem” of Slovakia. The Conference of Bishops in Slovakia interferes in the public discussion very intensively. The liberal priests within the church do not have any possibility to present their opinion and if they do, they can expect personally restriction and persecution. The church is taking the model of Poland as an ideal for Slovakia. The most activities are carried out through the group of NGOs, mainly founded and financed by the church.
In Bratislava, in front of the so-called Blue Church is installed a memorial for unborn children. At the stone are lot of photo frames without pictures (because the children were not born), on the top is sitting a snake.
Pope visit to Slovakia
During his visit to Slovakia (September 2003) the Pope John Paul urged Europe to remember its Christian roots. Reaching out to Slovakia, which joins the European Union in 2004, the pope touched on what has become a recurrent theme: a plea to Europeans to reaffirm traditional family values in the face of liberal abortion laws and growing legal recognition of homosexual unions.
“In the near future, your country will become a full member of the European community. Dearly beloved, bring to the construction of Europe’s new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition,” the pope said. While most governments in the West follow secular norms, the character of central European states is still seen as open to other influences. After surviving over 40 years under communism, the Catholic Church has emerged as a moral authority in the debate on social issues in countries like Slovakia, Poland and Croatia.
Treaty with the Holy See
The fundamental treaty with the Holy See was signed by Slovakia’s government in 2000. Because of the some criticism, it was very general and it was foreseen to sign four sub-treaties. Last adopted sub-treaty secures full state funding for all Catholic schools and guarantees classes on religion for children at all state schools from the first grade, normally at the age of six. The sub-treaty also obliges elementary schools to start classes in religion in the first grade as a so-called ‘obligatory optional subject’. The alternative option for children would be ethics for which, critics said, there are no textbooks and the state would also have to invest into training more teachers to cover these lessons.
After the first year, around 60% of children visit object “religion“, the rest ethics. The sexual education is primarily incorporated in these objects. There are no minimum standard defined and particularly in religion, the pupils do not get the information about planned parenthood or STI, HIV/AIDS prevention. Slovakia clearly violates the ICDP Action plan and right to information.
The Treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See on the Right to Exercise the Objection of Conscience
Slovakia is about to sign a Treaty on the Right to Exercise the Objection of Conscience with the Holy See. If approved, the treaty will gain the status of an “international human rights treaty” and will take precedence over current Slovak law. The Treaty, the first in the history of concordats, has the purpose of protecting the “free and unlimited” exercise of the “conscientious objection” based on Catholic teachings of faith in any area regulated by law. Since the Draft Treaty primarily protects the religious rights of state officials, it would effectively make the delivery of state services conditional on compliance with Catholic teaching. Consequently, in the area of reproductive healthcare, all forms of contraception as well as assisted fertilization may become inaccessible. Information about alternatives of safe and effective contraception methods and protection against STD, including HIV/AIDS may become unavailable. Restrictive access to contraceptive services would dramatically confine reproductive and sexual freedom in Slovakia. This may result in an increase of maternal mortality rates, unintended teenage pregnancies, number of unsafe abortions and a spread of STD, including HIV/AIDS. Such action would be in breach of Slovakia’s own Constitution, in breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and in breach of international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The proposed regulation of the conscientious objection is also in a strong opposition with recommendation on reproductive healthcare policy endorsed by the European Parliament.
The anti-choice NGOs are grouped in the umbrella organization called Forum of Life (www.forumzivota.sk). There are 22 member organizations which coordinate activities on abortion ban an opposition to contraception. The most visible action is the effort to declare the 25.March to the Day of Conceived Child. Since four years, the Forum of Life lobbied member of parliaments to officially declare this day as a memorial day for conceived children. Since they did not succeed, this year (2005) they organized on the 25. March an event with press conference and proclaimed the Day of Conceived Child. The symbol of the day shall be a white ribbon. The campaign was supported by the Slovak public television, whose director is well known for his inclination to Christian Democrats.
The Forum of Life published a Declaration of unborn Child and uses it in the media as an official document opposing CEDAW and ICDP.
In the last time, we registered some attacks on family planning and women NGOs, mainly on Pro choice Slovakia. A web page http://www.moznostvolby.net was registered and produced as attack on the Pro choice web page (in Slovak http://www.moznostvolby.sk). At the web page are names of member of Slovak parliament, who supported liberal abortion legislation, abortions are compared to holocaust etc. Because of the registration procedures of .net domene, it is not possible to find out who is behind the web.
OPPOSITION AT THE EXPERT LEVEL
Due to the political influence of Christian Democrats, more and more hospitals in Slovakia refuse to perform abortions. The last case is the biggest public hospital Ruzinov in Bratislava. Those hospitals refer to the Treaty with Holy See, which gives the rights to conscience objection. However, it is the right of an individual and no institution. Despite of this controversy, no state interference happened yet from the side of ministry of health. In the last years ….
Gynaecological surgery for believers was opened in Bratislava in spring 2004. The Slovak Bishops’ Conference (KBS) decided to open a gynaecological surgery for Catholic women in a private hospital administered by the Brothers of Mercy Order in Bratislava in March 2004. The KBS argued that pregnant Slovak women sometimes complain that they suffer from „psychic pressure in gynaecological surgeries where they are exposed to mockery and in addition, doctors sometimes recommend them to undergo abortion without justification.“