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Voting trends show abortion on course to be legalised

Trends show the Swiss want to give women the right to have abortions

(Keystone)

The Swiss look set to legalise abortion, with early trends from Sunday's ballot showing about two-thirds have voted in favour.

Faced with the choice of legalising abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or tightening the existing - widely flouted ban - voters look set to bring the laws into line with reality. Between 12,000 and 13,000 abortions are carried out every year in Switzerland, despite a 1942 law banning the practice.

Trends on Sunday afternoon, by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, showed a majority of two thirds were likely to vote in favour of legalisation.

At the same time voters were asked to cast their ballots on a counter proposal, which would tighten the law prohibiting abortion except where a woman's life is in danger.

Trends showed that the initiative "For Mother and Child", which seeks an outright ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, would be voted down by some 70 per cent of voters.

Abortion on demand

At present, between 12,000 and 13,000 terminations are performed every year - that is about one in eight pregnancies - because it is left up to the regional health authorities to decide how to interpret the law.

No woman has been convicted for an abortion-related offence since 1988, and only five physicians have been convicted for ignoring the abortion laws in the past nine years.

Most of the country's 26 cantons, particularly in urban regions, have introduced more liberal policies in the past few years, effectively offering abortion on demand. Only three small cantons in predominantly Catholic rural areas maintain an outright ban.

As well as having government backing, the proposal to legalise abortion was supported by parliament and two of the four main political parties. The Protestant Church and the country's main women's organisation, Alliance F, were also behind the proposal.

Tightening the law

Opponents of abortion are also dissatisfied with the present legislation, but for a different reason. The country's main pro-life group, Swiss Aid for Mother and Child, wants to see an outright ban on abortion introduced, even where the pregnancy is the result of rape.

But the group had the open backing of only one fundamentalist religious party. The main women's organisation and the Protestant Church have both come out against the initiative, while the Roman Catholic Church recommends that voters reject both proposals.

Previous votes failed

Sunday's ballot is the fourth vote on abortion in Switzerland since 1977. All previous attempts to either tighten or ease regulations on a nationwide level have failed to win a majority.

But social and political changes in the past 30 years appear to have changed attitudes towards abortion.

Switzerland's abortion rate is among the lowest of any developed country. Nearly half of all abortions are carried out on women over the age of 30, while teenage pregnancies account for about ten per cent of terminations.

Compared with other European countries Switzerland has - in theory - some of the most restrictive abortion laws alongside the Irish Republic, Poland and Portugal.

France and Italy introduced liberal abortion laws in the 1970, while counselling is mandatory in Germany and Austria before a woman can have a termination.

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