News Analysis

Slovakia rejects pioneering pro-life bill after Europe-wide pressure

Slovak parliamentarians have rejected legislation, the first of its kind in the European Union, requiring women seeking abortions to see images and hear the heartbeat of their unborn child first via ultrasound. This was despite its backing from the country’s influential Catholic Church.

The bill, an amendment to Slovakia’s Healthcare Act, was tabled by three female MPs from the Slovak National Party (a participant in the ruling coalition), and would also have banned abortion advertising and obliged doctors to notify unwilling mothers of available state support, as well as doubling the mandatory waiting period from two to four days and providing sickness benefit for women wishing to conceal their pregnancies.

However, it failed to secure a majority in the 150-seat lower house, winning just 59 votes to 24, with 40 abstentions, after vigorous opposition from pro-choice EU politicians and human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

The Catholic Church comprises two thirds of Slovakia’s population of 5.4 million, and has clashed with recent governments over issues such as same-sex marriage, sex education in schools and state funding for abortion, which is legally permitted up to 12 weeks, and up to 24 weeks in cases of severe foetal damage, or threats to life or health.

Support for the amendment, which was one of five bills tabled this year to tighten the abortion rules, came from Slovakia’s bishops’ conference, which helped to organise a 50,000-strong pro-life rally in Bratislava last September.

Meanwhile, the amendment was criticised by Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, who said it could reduce “safe and legal abortions”.

Around 6,000 abortions were legally performed in Slovakia in 2018, according to health ministry data, compared with a thousand in neighbouring Poland and 205,000 in Britain.