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Abortion in Europe scorned, concealed, prohibited

May 5, 2022

In Europe, the right to abortion isn't universal. Poland is the scene of vociferous protests against some of the continent's strictest abortion laws. Further south, in Italy, some doctors refuse to terminate pregnancies — even in medical emergencies.


Valentina should still be alive, Salvatore Milluzzo is sure of that. His daughter died in 2016. Pregnant with twins, she was taken to a hospital where doctors refused her an abortion for idealogical reasons, despite the acute danger to her life. This resulted in the deaths of both the unborn babies and the 32-year-old mother. Many women wishing to have an abortion in Italy meet resistance: 70 per cent of doctors there refuse to participate in surgery to terminate a pregnancy, even if the law permits it. Poland has effectively moved to ban all abortions. For months now, Marta Lampert has been organizing protests against the government and the ultra-conservative Christian lobbyist organization Ordo Iuris. She rejects the paternalism of the church: "Our movement is the reaction to a patriarchal culture, to a patriarchal, fundamentalist state that treats women especially badly.” In Spain too, Christian fundamentalists are trying to torpedo the statutory right of pregnant women to have an abortion. There are frequent reports of expectant mothers being deliberately deceived about the health of their embryo in a bid to "force” them into giving birth to a severely disabled child. In Germany too, women seeking an abortion still face considerable hurdles, particularly in rural regions. In the Catholic city of Münster, few doctors are willing to carry out the procedure. Gynecologist Kristina Hänel runs a practice in Gießen. For years, she’s been embroiled in a high-profile legal battle. Anti-abortionists and public prosecutors say her website is breaking the law. At issue is a controversial paragraph of the criminal code prohibiting doctors from advertising their abortion services. The pro-choice lobby is heartened by the new coalition government’s plan to scrap the offending "paragraph 219.” But this change in the law won’t necessarily make it easier for doctors to inform patients about abortions, let alone carry them out. After all, fanatical anti-abortionist voices are unlikely to be silenced. Consequently, many doctors simply decide not to offer the service at all.

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