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World News

Slovak conservatives hope to tighten abortion law, rights groups protest

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Christian lawmakers in Slovakia hope to win parliamentary approval for a tightening of abortion rules in a vote expected on Friday, part of a trend towards more socially conservative policies across parts of central Europe.

If adopted, the new regulation would still allow abortion on demand until 12 weeks but would double waiting periods to 96 hours, ban clinics from advertising services and make women declare their reasons for termination.

Its impact would also be felt in Poland, where rights activists say hundreds, and possibly thousands, of women cross the border to Slovakia every year for terminations that would be illegal or impossible at home.

Proponents say the proposed changes in Slovakia would help women make informed decisions and provide financial support earlier in pregnancy.

“This law is not about preventing abortions, this law is for helping women on social and health issues,” said Milan Vetrak, one of the law’s authors and member of a Christian group elected on the ticket of the main ruling party, Ordinary People.

“It creates room for women to make a decision and make the right one, and creates room for them to get help,” he told Reuters.

Slovakia, unlike the neighbouring Czech Republic, is majority Roman Catholic, though the Church is less influential than in Poland.

“UNDER PRESSURE”

Opponents including dozens of human rights groups say it would put women under stress and may force some into accepting unsafe practices.

“This will cause many women to miss the 12-week limit or, as they will feel anxious or under pressure and face administrative barriers, they may decide not to seek an abortion at a health facility,” said Adriana Mesochoritisova from the civic group Moznost volby (Freedom of Choice).

Slovak clinics performed 7,153 abortions last year, including 1,329 on non-residents.

In Poland, the ruling conservatives want to tighten further already restrictive abortion rules, but proposals have led to public protests and no change has been implemented.

Polish government lawmakers and other conservatives have also asked the Constitutional Court to rule on whether abortion in the case of fetal deformities or illness is admissible. A ruling is due in October.

In Hungary, abortion rights are not in focus but parliament has banned people from changing their gender on identity documents as part of a campaign by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to protect traditional Christian values from what he calls “rainbow propaganda” by LGBT activists.

In Slovakia, only 17% of people favour tougher abortion rules, according to a poll published in July.

The new proposal has divided the ruling coalition, with the liberal Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) expressing dissent.

“As they do not have the support for a total abortion ban, which they would like most, they are trying to put up as many barriers as possible,” said SaS deputy Jana Bitto Ciganikova.

Longer waiting periods or the need to get a second medical assessment - which the proposal wants for medically motivated abortions - would require many women to travel more. This would raise the cost and time pressure, with the heaviest impact falling on poorer women.

Aleksandra, 26, a Polish mother of two, who had an abortion in Slovakia in February, said more restrictions would be wrong.

“(It) makes women even more hopeless, stressed, but those who are sure they want to do it will do it anyway, even if they are forced to travel halfway around the world,” she said.

Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa; Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak in Poland; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones

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