At U.N. Human Rights Council, Slovakia Announces Plan to Increase Access to Modern Contraceptives

(PRESS RELEASE) At the close of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Slovak government has made a commitment to broaden access to modern contraceptives for all women. The UPR is part of a regular assessment of United Nations member states’ compliance with international human rights obligations.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Slovak NGOs Citizen, Democracy, and Accountability and Freedom of Choice submitted a joint letter to the Human Rights Council addressing the human rights violations experienced by Slovak women and adolescent girls because of the inaccessibility of the full range of reproductive health services, including safe abortion, contraceptive services, and information and sexuality education.

The organizations welcome the decision of the Slovak government to accept the UPR recommendation to increase access to contraceptive methods for all women, including by covering them under public health insurance. At the moment, the cost of contraceptives and the fact that they are not subsidized through public health insurance makes them inaccessible for many women. In 2011, a legislative ban on contraceptive public health insurance coverage was introduced.  This ban prohibits modern contraceptives from being covered under public health insurance if they are used solely to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Said Adriana Lamačková, senior legal adviser for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Women, regardless of their age or socioeconomic status, have a right to choose the contraceptive method that works best for them.  

“We look to the government now to make good on this commitment to women’s fundamental reproductive rights and continue making progress toward securing access to a full range of essential reproductive health services for all women, including amending the law to provide insurance coverage for modern contraceptives.”

Access to contraceptive services and information to date is limited in Slovakia. The prohibitive costs of contraceptives that must be covered by individuals and misinformation about contraceptives are among the key factors influencing contraceptive use in Slovakia. Only about 18 percent of women of reproductive age are using hormonal contraception while more than 30 percent of couples rely on the withdrawal method.

The government claims that contraception could be subsidized in individual cases if a woman has a certain medical condition for which contraception is a form of treatment, such as excessive menstrual bleeding or polycystic ovaries.  

“Subsidizing modern contraceptives for health reasons other than preventing pregnancy does nothing to address the inaccessibility of modern contraception for a woman who needs contraceptives because she does not want to become pregnant,” said Janka Debrecéniová, deputy director at Citizen, Democracy and Accountability. “We urge the Slovak government to take immediate measures to guarantee access to modern contraceptives for all women not only in theory but also in practice.”   

United Nations human rights bodies have voiced concerns regarding barriers in the access to reproductive health care in Slovakia. In 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the state to “take measures to increase the access of women and adolescent girls to affordable health care services, including reproductive health care, and to increase access to information and affordable means of family planning for women and men.” In 2012, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights called on Slovakia to extend public health insurance coverage to sexual and reproductive health services, including modern contraceptives.  During the UPR of Slovakia, the Slovak government was urged to implement this recommendation.

International human rights standards recognize access to modern contraceptives for purposes of pregnancy prevention as a human right. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has included a range of contraceptives in the Model List of Essential Medicines and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has explicitly recommended that states make all drugs on this list accessible to all without discrimination. The provision of contraceptive coverage is a core human rights obligation, which the government has an immediate duty to realize.

In 2011, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Citizen, Democracy and Accountability and Freedom of Choice issued the fact-finding report Calculated Injustice: The Slovak Republic’s Failure to Ensure Access to Contraceptives. The report documents major barriers that women and adolescent girls face in access to contraceptive services and information. It shows that the costs of modern contraceptives are prohibitive for some women and pose a significant barrier to women’s access to contraceptives.  The report also demonstrates how access to contraceptive information and services is a fundamental human right that States are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill.