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Senate fails to agree on easing abortion

The Senate has failed to agree on a liberalisation of abortion already approved by the House of Representatives.

In 1998, the House passed a member's bill legalising abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, but rejected a government proposal for mandatory counselling of women seeking abortion.

However, this compromise failed to satisfy the Senate when it adressed the issue on Tuesday. The arguments for and against abortion have not changed since the subject first came up 30 years ago with attempts to decriminalise abortion.

The 1942 abortion law bans the termination of pregnancy, except for health reasons, and a conviction could lead to a jail sentence. But there have been no abortion-related prosecutions since 1988, and last year there were some 12,000 abortions performed in Switzerland.

It is thought that back-street abortionists have disappeared, but because there are differences between liberal and conservative cantons in approving abortions, women often have to travel to secure an operation.

The Senate's failure to agree on a more liberal law is seen by abortion-opponents as a victory. In fact it changes nothing in the de facto availability of abortions, but means that next time around, parliament will have to debate not only liberalisation, but also a fundamentalist people's initiative seeking to ban all abortions.

It is almost certain that the abortion issue will have to be settled in a nationwide referendum.

by Peter Haller

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