Most of the 10,000 women seeking an abortion every year in Switzerland do so early in the pregnancy and for psychosocial reasons. Two women who chose to have an abortion spoke with swissinfo.ch.
Simona Isler was 18 when she got pregnant, Doris Agazzi was 31. Both terminated their pregnancies but went on to have children later in life.
With the advent of the abortion pill, abortion is gradually changing from a surgical experience to a medication-based one. Three-quarters of abortions in Switzerland take place in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, when the abortion pill is effective.
Last year, almost two thirds of women who had abortions used the abortion pill, up from 49 per cent in 2004. Isler had an abortion using this method.
“I went on an exchange year to South America when I was 18 and I came back pregnant. It was not a good relationship and we had already broken up by the time I realised I was pregnant. I told my parents and a good friend about it.”
According to Isler, her parents would have supported her either way. There was no pressure on her either to keep the baby or have an abortion.
“The time between finding out I was pregnant and making my decision was the most difficult. I really thought about it but in the end it was a gut feeling. I didn’t want a child.”
“There were also lots of rational reasons not to become a mother then but I don’t think that was what counted the most. The circumstances can be good and you decide not to continue with the pregnancy or they can be bad but you decide to go ahead.”
For her it wasn’t the money, or the impact on her studies or the fact that she would be a single mother that made her want to terminate the pregnancy – it was just the wrong time for her to become a mother.
“When I took the tablets in the hospital, it was a moment of relief. The hard part was over. I had no complications and the pain was not too extreme.”
“I experienced bleeding and passed the embryo in hospital, I stayed there for a few hours. I didn’t feel judged by the staff there, I remember one nurse in particular who treated me kindly.”
Isler found she could live with her choice. A friend of hers also came back pregnant from her exchange year and had a baby the same age. “When I see her I think about it but I don’t have any regrets, maybe because I wasn’t pushed in either direction, I made up my own mind.”
“I would like my children to know about the first pregnancy one day, I don’t think it should be taboo,” Isler said.
Doris Agazzi went public on her abortion in the run up to the 2002 vote on liberalising abortion law. She was featured in a television report at the time.
“I think it’s important to say that as an active Christian one can also be in favour of abortion. It’s a question of solidarity. I find it horrible to think that a woman would be forced to carry a child she doesn’t want.”
Agazzi was actively involved in her local church. “I had people coming up to me from my church committee saying ‘you were brave, I acknowledge that, but I’m not in favour of what you did’.”
“I was aware that coming out would have some impact on my life but I noticed in my community that no one treated me any differently, I was not attacked or excluded,” Agazzi recalls.
The hostile reaction came from elsewhere. “I did get some nasty letters and emails, from people who would never be able to change their minds. I don’t care, they have the right to be against it.”
Her own experience happened in Geneva almost 30 years ago. “The application of the law was quite liberal in Geneva. After confirming the pregnancy with a gynaecologist I needed to go to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.”
After the session, the psychiatrist gave Agazzi the report to sign which described her as depressive and psychologically vulnerable. “This did not correspond to my state of mind and I objected to that. She told me, if you want authorisation to have an abortion, sign this.”
“My worst memory of the whole experience was signing that document.”
Her partner was travelling in China for two months and she had no way of contacting him. “I was 99 per cent sure he would also be against the pregnancy because it was a casual relationship. But because of the way the system worked I had no time to wait for him to come back.”
Agazzi shared her experience with close friends. “I never felt ashamed or considered that it should be kept secret but I know many women did feel that way. They cannot talk about what they’ve done for fear of being cut off from their community.”
“It is not an easy decision, along with the decision to say yes to a pregnancy, the decision to say no is one of the most important of one’s life.”
Abortion in Switzerland
The old Swiss law from 1937 – one of the oldest in Europe – prohibited abortions except in cases where the woman's health was in danger. Three previous attempts to change the law in the 1970s and 1980s were rejected by voters. Abortion was legalised in 2002.
Prior to 2002 abortion practices developed differently across the cantons, with some opting for broader interpretations encompassing threat to mental health or socio-economic welfare.
According to the UN, until the 1970s abortion practices in some areas of Switzerland were among the most liberal in Western Europe and women often came from other countries for terminations.