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New abortion law comes into force

The new law encountered strong opposition among pro-life groups (Swiss Aid for Mother and Child) picture: Swiss aid for mother and child

Switzerland's new abortion law has come into force - three months after a majority of Swiss voted in favour of legalising it.

This content was published on September 30, 2002 - 19:58

Abortion will now be permitted within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, putting Swiss federal law on a similar footing with most European countries.

On June 2 voters agreed to change a law dating back to 1942 which prohibited terminations except in cases where a woman's health was in danger.

Swiss women will now be able to legally terminate their pregnancies after simply filling out a form and receiving counselling.

Switzerland had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, along with the Irish Republic, Poland and Portugal.

Loopholes

In reality, however, the new law is unlikely to lead to any major changes in most of the country, as loopholes have long enabled women to terminate their pregnancies.

Between 12,000 and 13,000 abortions are carried out in Switzerland each year.

No woman has been convicted of an abortion-related offence since 1988 and a mere five doctors have been found guilty of ignoring abortion laws in the past nine years.

Until now regional health authorities have been free to decide how to interpret the law. Any licensed doctor can carry out, or approve, an abortion if he or she believes that a pregnancy could put the woman's health - including mental health - at risk.

Government backing

As well as having government backing, the proposal to legalise abortion was supported by parliament and two of the four main political parties.

There was even church backing for the proposal, with the main Protestant denominations supporting it.

However, opponents of abortion were obviously dissatisfied with the outcome of the referendum. The country's main pro-life group, Swiss Aid for Mother and Child, had wanted a complete ban on abortion, even in cases of rape.

June's vote was the fourth referendum on abortion in Switzerland since 1977. All previous attempts to either tighten or ease regulations on a nationwide level failed to win a majority.

However, social and political changes in the past 25 years seem to have changed attitudes towards the issue.

Switzerland's abortion rate is among the lowest of any developed country, with nearly half of all terminations carried out on women over the age of 30.

swissinfo with agencies

abortion summary

The new abortion law comes into force on October 1.
On June 2 the population voted on legalising abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The new law replaces a regulation that dates back to 1942.
June's vote was the fourth referendum since 1977.

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