Reproductive Rights Developments in Europe

Round-Up of Abortion Law Reform in 2018 and a Preview of Prospective Developments in 2019


Primary Content
A crowd celebrating the repeal of the 8th Amendment in Ireland. In the center a hand holds up a sign saying "Repeal" in a green heart.
© James Forde / AFP Services

This Bulletin provides an overview of key legal and policy developments on abortion that have occurred in Europe in the course of 2018 and since the beginning of 2019. It also previews some of the reforms that reports indicate are slated for the year ahead.

Newly reformed laws and policies on abortion

The first two months of 2019 saw new legal provisions on abortion being adopted in Germany and the Isle of Man. Meanwhile in 2018 four European jurisdictions undertook important reforms designed to facilitate or expand women’s access to safe and legal abortion care. 

A view of houses on the riverbank in Dinant, Belgium.
© Alex Vasey / Unsplash

Belgium: In October 2018, a new bill on abortion was adopted to remove the regulation of abortion access from the criminal code and to eliminate previous requirements that required women seeking abortion care to say they were in a state of distress. Abortion remains legal on a woman’s request in the first 12 weeks from conception and thereafter when a woman’s health or life is at risk. 

Cyprus: In March 2018, the parliament passed a law extending legal access to abortion, which is now allowed on a woman’s request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, in situations of sexual assault up to 19 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter where a woman’s life or health is at risk. Previously abortion was permitted only for physical, mental or psychological reasons and required medical certification. 

A woman holding a placard reading 'Medics against paragraph 219a StGB (for Criminial Code)' participates in a demonstration for the right of Sexual Self-determination in Berlin, Germany, 26 January 2019. A protest was held to rally for the abolition of criminal codes 218 and 219a. Paragraph 218 criminalizes those who perform abortions, paragraph 219a criminalises those who advertise abortions.
© HAYOUNG JEON / ​EPA-EFE / ​Shutterstock

Germany: In February 2019, the Bundestag revised the Criminal Code provision that prohibits the so-called “advertising” of abortions. The adopted reforms will now allow medical providers and health care facilities to publicly announce, including on their websites, that they provide abortion care. However, the reforms fell short of allowing medical professionals to publicly disseminate other medically accurate information about abortion, as required by international human rights standards and public health guidelines. 

Ireland: In May 2018, the Irish people voted in a referendum by a clear majority to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which had prohibited abortion in almost all circumstances. This paved the way for the adoption of new legislation in December permitting abortion on a woman’s request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and subsequently where there is a risk to a woman’s health or life. 

Panorama of Douglas at sunrise. Douglas, Isle of Man.
© Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock

Isle of Man: In January 2019, the Abortion Reform Act 2019 was passed, which will allow abortion on a woman’s request in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Between the 15th and 23rd week of pregnancy abortion may be provided if there is a risk to the woman’s health, fatal or severe fetal impairment, serious social indications or where the pregnancy results from sexual assault. Abortion will also be legal thereafter in particular circumstances following medical certification. The Act is slated to come into effect in May 2019

United Kingdom: In July and August 2018, new rules were adopted allowing women in England and Wales to take the second of two medical abortion pills at home thus reducing the number of visits to health facilities. This had been the policy in Scotland since 2017 and also reflects WHO recommendations on the provision of medical abortion. 

Prospects for law and policy changes on abortion in 2019

In the year ahead, a number of jurisdictions are already poised to adopt positive changes to laws and policies on abortion. However, at the same time, in other countries the possibility of legal retrogression and backlash remains a serious risk for 2019. 

Caption/Description: Polish women strike to signify grief in terms of the abortion ban in Poland, 03 October, 2016, Warsaw.
© Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Croatia: In late 2018, the Croatian Ministry of Health initiated a legislative process to prepare a new abortion law following a 2017 decision by the Croatian Constitutional Court and has set up a working group that is currently drafting new legislation. In January 2019, the Ministry of Health announced that the adoption of the new abortion law would likely not take place within the March 2019 deadline originally set by the Court. In the meantime, two groups of parliamentarians (members of the Democrats party and the Social Democratic party) have prepared draft legislative proposals, in addition to a civil society proposal from reproductive rights experts.

Gibraltar: In 2018, the Gibraltar government published a command paper on abortion indicating it will consider legislative reforms on abortion following a decision of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in a judicial review case concerning abortion in Northern Ireland. The government in Gibraltar is now considering 103 submissions regarding the command paper before it will publish a draft bill.

Rural mountains with snow, Landmannalaugar, Iceland.
© Amy Hanley / Unsplash

Iceland: In October 2018, the Minister for Health announced that in 2019 she would submit a bill to parliament to expand legal access to abortion by legalizing abortion on a woman’s request up until 22 weeks of pregnancy. Under the current law abortion is legal until 16 weeks of pregnancy following medical certification of relevant personal, social or family circumstances or later in pregnancy where a woman’s health is at risk.

Northern Ireland: In January, the High Court of Northern Ireland heard the case of Sarah Ewart who has brought a request for judicial review of the jurisdiction’s highly restrictive abortion law claiming that it violates article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Judgment in the case will be forthcoming in 2019. The Center submitted a third party intervention to assist the Court’s deliberations.

Republic of Macedonia: In early 2019, the Macedonian Government proposed a new draft law on abortion that will now be submitted to parliament for debate. The draft law removes regressive restrictions on access to legal abortion introduced in 2013, including a 3-day mandatory waiting period and biased counseling requirements. It also repeals the requirement to obtain commission authorization for abortions performed between 12-22 weeks of pregnancy. The draft law is expected to be discussed by parliament in the coming months.

Monaco: A parliamentary committee on women’s rights is due to debate a proposed bill on abortion in early 2019. The bill proposes to legalize abortion on a woman’s request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The proposed bill will be considered by parliament in public session before June 2019.

People hold placards during a demonstration against changes of the country's abortion law in Oslo, Norway November 17, 2018.
© Lefteris Karagiannopoulos / Reuters

Norway: The newly formed government in Norway has indicated that it may seek to introduce regressive changes to the abortion law to bar women with multi-fetus pregnancies from reducing the number of fetuses in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In response, some organizations are calling for the law to be amended so as to extend the timeline for abortion on a woman’s request from 12 weeks to 18 weeks.

Poland: A court case filed with the Constitutional Tribunal which is seeking to retrogressively restrict women’s access to abortion in Poland by challenging the constitutionality of certain grounds for legal abortion in Poland remains pending and could be considered in the course of 2019. The case was submitted in 2017 by a group of parliamentarians and seeks to eliminate the legality of access to abortion in situations of severe or fatal fetal impairments. In 2018, civil society organizations continued to rally against attempts to introduce further restrictions into one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws.

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