Swiss voters have rejected an initiative to drop abortions from basic health insurance. The vote came after conservatives launched an initiative to make the funding of abortion a “private matter”.
Voter turnout on Sunday was about 56%; of those, 69.8% rejected the initiative. The highest percentage of “no” votes – 89.1% – was cast in canton Vaud. Only one canton said “yes”: Appenzell Inner Rhodes, with 50.9% of the votes.
Backed by an inter-party committee made up essentially of conservative Christians, the initiative called for the introduction of a new article in the federal constitution. It stated that abortion and foetal reduction (the elimination of one or more embryos in a pregnancy) should not be included in compulsory health insurance, apart from “rare exceptions concerning the mother”.
The “no” committee welcomed the results on Sunday.
“I’m very, very happy,” committee president Babette Sigg Frank told the Swiss News Agency. “I didn’t expect such a strong rejection. The results are as clear as they were in the vote 12 years ago.”
In 2002, the Swiss electorate approved the so-called first-trimester solution – which made abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. (Before 2002, women needed to have a professional verify that the procedure was necessary for mental health reasons.) That initiative, which passed with 72% of the votes, also established that private health insurance would cover the cost of voluntary terminations.
“I’m sure they’ll be back in a few years,” Sigg Frank said, noting that the initiative demonstrated a “worrying” return to conservative values.
“The aim of those who launched this initiative was to prohibit abortion. They will try to approach it in other ways, using other methods,” she said.
Parliamentarian Barbara Schmid-Federer, also a member of the “no” committee, agreed with Sigg Frank.
“The result is a clear vote of confidence in the current policy. But the abortion issue will remain controversial, and it is an emotional issue,” she told swissinfo.ch.
February 9 vote: official results
50.3% Yes 49.7% No
Private funding of abortions:
30.2% Yes 69.8% No
Railway infrastructure fund:
62% Yes 38% No
E-voting: About 165,000 citizens, notably Swiss expatriates, were eligible to vote online as part of an ongoing trial with e-voting. 28,785 people, or 17.4%, cast their ballot electronically.
Proponents of the initiative argued that it was unfair for people who object to abortions for moral reasons to have to help finance them. Elvira Bader, co-president of the “yes” committee, said on Sunday that the results showed that banning abortion could no longer be a theme in Switzerland.
According to Bader, the results also indicate that the Swiss people stand by the principle of solidarity enshrined in the mandatory health insurance system, whereby annual premiums are pooled to finance everybody’s needs.
“If we couldn’t get the people to remove abortion from the catalogue of services covered by basic health insurance, then it won’t work for other themes, either,” Bader said. For example, initiatives to cut coverage for illnesses caused by risky behaviour such as smoking or overeating wouldn’t have a chance, either.
“We had wanted to set a first example in this area,” Bader said.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Swiss cabinet urged the electorate to reject the initiative. Speaking to the media on Sunday evening, health minister Alain Berset said that the cabinet was pleased with the results.
“Women facing the difficult decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy shouldn’t have to deal with the extra pressure of economic considerations. The current system has proven itself,” as Berset told the media on Sunday evening.
Berset said that the rejection had sent a very clear signal in favour of the solidarity principle of basic health insurance. He added that the cost of abortion in Switzerland is among the lowest in Europe.
Swiss law is fairly typical for Europe, but abortion policies around the world are quite varied.
Costs of abortion
According to government figures, the cost of a termination of pregnancy ranges from CHF600-3,000. ($670-3,350). The average cost of a pharmacological termination is CHF650 and a surgical termination comes to CHF1,000.
Overall, the costs are estimated at about CHF8 million a year. If treatment following an abortion is included, they are CHF10-12 million. This represents about 0.05% of all the costs that are covered by compulsory health insurance. However, a part of the cost is assumed directly by the pregnant women (deductible and percentage of costs to be paid) and is thus not incurred by the health insurance fund.
It is thought that these costs correspond to an average charge of CHF0.05-0.06 a month per insured person, as health minister Alain Berset told parliament.