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Abortion debate comes under spotlight

Anti-abortion campaigners outside parliament. Swiss Aid for the Mother and Child

A controversial symposium in Bern focusing on the emotional response of women who undergo abortion has re-ignited the debate.

This content was published on June 1, 2001 - 17:41

Eliane Perrin, co-author of the report entitled "Sexuality, partner relations and contraceptive practice after termination of pregnancy", was guest speaker at the conference, and called for a re-examination of the psychological consequences for women who choose to abort.

"The greatest myth is that if you have an abortion, you become a psychiatric patient and you will suffer from mental illness all your life," said Perrin in an interview with swissinfo.

"This is not only a myth, but it is completely wrong," she added.

Perrin interviewed just over 100 Swiss women three weeks before they were due to have an abortion, and then spoke to them again six months later.

Perrin and her co-author, the Geneva-based gynaecologist Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli, claim that no more than 10 per cent of the women surveyed in the report could be said to be suffering from any kind of psychological trauma six months after termination.

Pro-life campaigners criticised the report, calling its research inaccurate and accusing its authors of trivialising the issue.

Christopher Keel, a director of the pro-life organisation, Swiss Aid for the Mother and Child, said the number of women who needed psychiatric help following an abortion was far higher.

"This figure of 10 per cent that they come up with only takes into account officially recognised medical conditions," Keel told swissinfo.

"A report such as this doesn't include all the other problems that a woman might suffer following an abortion."

The symposium, organised under the auspices of the Swiss Union for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, has been condemned by anti-abortion pressure groups for inviting only those people it felt were sympathetic to its cause.

"This is absolute prejudice," Keel said. "There are members of our organisation who have written theses and who have a scientific interest in the question of abortion, and none of them were invited to attend this symposium".

Both Perrin and Bianchi-Demicheli say anti-abortion organisations were consulted during the preparation of the report, but refused to be drawn into a political debate with their opponents.

"Discussion with them seems to be difficult," Perrin said. "If they want to discuss it, that's fine. But if they want to fight, no. That's the problem we have with them."

The Swiss parliament has given the green light for the legalisation of abortion, but a number of pro-life organisations are challenging this decision.

Abortion remains technically illegal under a law dating back to 1942, unless a woman's health is in danger. But several Swiss cantons have taken their own decisions over the issue, and about 13,000 abortions are carried out annually in Switzerland.

swissinfo

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