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No increase in abortions after law change

Women have the right to an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy since last year


One year after abortion was legalised in Switzerland, the number of terminations has not gone up.

With 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, Swiss termination rates are amongst the lowest in the world.

Last year, an overwhelming majority of voters came out in favour of permitting abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The decision signalled the end of a 1942 law that prohibited the practice, except in circumstances where the mother’s health was in danger.

Prior to the change, Switzerland had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, but loopholes meant terminations were still carried out.

The Swiss Union for Decriminalising Abortion (SUDA), which compiled the latest statistics, said the number of abortions in 2002 was an estimated 11,500. This compared with nearly 12,400 in 2001.

Nearly 40 per cent were non-surgical, involving treatment with the so-called abortion pill, RU 486.

Increased use of this drug meant that more pregnancies were terminated early or within the first seven weeks, said the SUDA.

However, the organisation warned that a “like-for-like” comparison with figures for previous years was not possible.

This was because the cantons have only been obliged to register all terminations since the introduction of the new law.

Preliminary assessment

The SUDA also stressed that it would be years before the actual effects of the 2002 law could be assessed properly.

But it did say that the 2002 figures proved that the total number of abortions had stabilised, a trend that had been apparent since the 1990s.

The latest figures also indicate that “abortion-shopping”, where women from conservative cantons seek terminations in liberal ones, is on the decline.

Before the law was changed last year, women living in certain conservative cantons would be sent to other cantons to have an abortion. This was true of Nidwalden and Appenzell Inner Rhodes.

“In cantons [previously] characterised as being restrictive, there has been an increase in terminations. Conversely, figures in liberal cantons, such as Zurich and Geneva have receded,” the organisation said in a statement.

In Zurich, 3,000 terminations were performed in 2001; a year later, it was 2,800.

Cantons Aargau and Schwyz, which were considered “restrictive”, saw increases in 2002. In Aargau, the number of abortions rose from 23 in 2001 to 29 in 2002. In Schwyz, the number rose from 41 to 49.

But one trend hasn’t changed at all: at least 50 per cent of abortions carried out in Switzerland are performed on non-Swiss women.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

In brief

In October 2002, Switzerland’s new abortion law came into force, allowing terminations within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

A year later, the number of abortions has actually decreased.

During 2002, 11,500 abortions were carried, compared with nearly 12,400 in 2001.

Forty per cent of terminations carried out in 2002 were non-surgical.

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