Opposition to SRHR in Slovakia

 

Reproductive rights and especially question of the artificial abortion started to be much politicized issue in Slovakia in recent years. Reproductive are at the same time – no doubts intentionally – oversimplified to the right for artificial abortion. Despite of the significant decrease in number of abortions (more then 70% in last 15 years) there is a strong effort from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Catholic Church to change the abortion law. The politicians and church are supported by a group of NGOs grouped under the umbrella organization Forum of Life. The church argues the position of the “moral authority” and majority in Slovakia, supported by the last national census. 69% of Slovaks declared themselves to by Catholics. However, only around 15 to 20% really practice religion. Vice-versa, the opinion poll shows that Slovaks are strong in favour of liberal abortion law; in the last opinion pool (end 2003) 72% of citizens considered the present law to be satisfactory or to tough. Only 11% think the law is too benevolent.

Efforts of the conservative political forces to limit reproductive rights in Slovakia do not limit themselves to the ban of abortions, but extend to demonizing of all forms of contraception, sexual education and access of youth to objective information about the contraception, sterilization and complicated access to artificial insemination.  Positive trends in the area of reproductive rights that are coming to Slovakia from the European Union are presented as “heritage of socialism and efforts of euro Marxists”. Because it seems to be difficult to enforce the legal abortion ban, the conservatives try to worsen the accessibility of abortion through exercising the objection of conscience. They oppose very strong to euthanasia and homosexual rights as well.

 

Political Opossition – Christian Democratic Movement

Legal Efforts

Public debate about the ban on abortions was opened by the KDH proposals in early 1990-tieth and especially in 2001 during the debate about the changes in the Constitution of Slovak Republic in the Parliament. KDH proposed to change article 15, part 1 “Everybody has right for life. Human life deserves protection already before the birth” to wording: “Human life has right for protection from the conception”. Such a change would in practice mean conflict between the recent liberal abortion law and the Constitution and consequently end of its validity.

Despite the fact, that the Parliament adopted constitutional changes without change in article15, and that majority public opinion stand clearly behind the recent liberal abortion law, KDH efforts did not stop. Following example of “the Polish way” KDH parliamentarians submitted legal submission to the Constitutional Court, in which they argue about discrimination of human foetus before the age of 12 weeks, when abortion is permitted as well as the abortion to the 24th week which is permitted in a regulation of Ministry of health in case of foetus damage or health-risk reasons. KDH opposes that this regulation even goes over the law, which permits only the 12 weeks period and because a regulation gives more rights than a law, it is against the constitution. The KDH maintains that the current law allowing abortions between 13 and 24 weeks of pregnancy in the case of genetic defects is against the constitutional rights of the unborn foetus.

The liberal party brought in parliament (summer 2003) a renegotiation of the present law, which would include the 24 weeks regulation in the case of genetic defects of foetus. Although it passed in the parliament with a clear majority, under the strong pressure from the side of Catholic Church president refused to sign the law and gave it back into parliament. Now a qualified majority is needed to pass. On his visit in Slovakia pope expressed his thanks to our president.

Constitution Court

The first hearing on abortion law made Constitution Court on April 10th 2003. KDH and abortion opponents were represented by Mr. Lipsic, vice-chairman of KDH and minister of justice of Slovakia. His argumentation was built on the decision of German Constitution Court, which decided twice that the right of woman to decide about the pregnancy has to be subordinated to protection of unborn life. However, Mr. Lipsic did not informed objective about the present situation in Germany when the abortion are legally performed. The main discussion was focused on the definition of life beginning which was defined by KDH statement as the moment of conception. Opposite to this argumentation, the constitution judges had expert’s opinions from bio-ethicist and supreme prosecutor of Slovakia. Both experts supported the present abortion law. The second hearing proceeded on September the 4th, however, still without any decision. The judges are considering now a days if they will wait for a decision of a similar case (Vo vs. France) in front of European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR decision in case Vo vs. France was presented in Slovakia by Minister of justice Lipsic as “irrelevant for Slovakia, because the ECHR only told that the moment of life begins can be decided freely in the national legislation. The second part of the decision, related to foetus, which has no status on human rights, was ignored.

A decision on the Constitution Court cannot be expected in the next couple of month.

 

OPPOSITION IN THE EU

 

In the Slovakia’s accession process to the EU Christian Democratic Movement proposed in the Slovak parliament the Declaration about the Suvereignity of Member States on Cultural and Ethical Issues. The declaration passed with the voices of nationalist and the controversial party of the former prime minister of Slovakia Meciar. KDH pushed to include the declaration as a part of the Slovakia’s Accession Treaty to EU. The amendment required the Slovakia’s sovereignty in „protection of life and human dignity from the conception to death, protection of family and institution of marriage as a base for the society as well as in the decision on the related issues in health and education policy. “ The Slovakian clause was formulated much broader then in case of Poland and Malta, which focused particularly on abortion rights. This formulation made it possible to refuse the amendment because it opposed the EU values on gender equality. European parliament adopted The Amendment to the Conclusions of the Copenhagen negotiations on enlargement1. Because of the opposition in the civil society, mainly women NGOs and the public and the declaration was refused by Slovakian government.

 

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Anna Zaborska, chairwoman of the EP Committee on Women Rights and Equal Opportunities

 

On July 26, 2004, Slovak MEP Anna Zaborska was elected chair of the European Parliament’s Committee for Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities.

 

A senior member of Slovakia’s Christian Democrats (KDH) and a member of the Slovak Parliament (NR SR), Dr. Zaborska have publicly identified herself as conservative.  She is firmly opposed to both abortion and equal rights for homosexuals. She is a prominent member of the “Forum of Live”, an association of Slovak NGOs, organizations and persons opposing abortions. She is the daughter of Former Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Vatican, responsible for the Treaty of Slovak Republic and Holy See.

 

Dr. Zaborska is also on record as stating that she intends to pursue her conservative agenda within the European Union. At the 49. CWS session on Being + 10 in New York she asked Slovak government to support USA amendment against abortion rights to the prepared declaration. It is to expect her support for all pro-life activities at the EP.

Some points from the Zaborska’s Election program for the European Parliament election, 2004:

Council of Ministers on justice and home affairs

Slovak minister of justice and internal affairs are both Christian Democrats. They use the position in the EU Council of Minister to enforce their ideological point of view, e.g. they used veto in the meeting on mutual recognition in EU member states on registered partnership.
 

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church focuses on the abortion rights as the main “moral problem” of Slovakia. The Conference of Bishops in Slovakia interferes in the public discussion very intensively. The liberal priests within the church do not have any possibility to present their opinion and if they do, they can expect personally restriction and persecution. The church is taking the model of Poland as an ideal for Slovakia. The most activities are carried out through the group of NGOs, mainly founded and financed by the church.

In Bratislava, in front of the so-called Blue Church is installed a memorial for unborn children. At the stone are lot of photo frames without pictures (because the children were not born), on the top is sitting a snake.

Pope visit to Slovakia 

During his visit to Slovakia (September 2003) the Pope John Paul urged Europe to remember its Christian roots. Reaching out to Slovakia, which joins the European Union in 2004, the pope touched on what has become a recurrent theme: a plea to Europeans to reaffirm traditional family values in the face of liberal abortion laws and growing legal recognition of homosexual unions.

 "In the near future, your country will become a full member of the European community. Dearly beloved, bring to the construction of Europe's new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition," the pope said. While most governments in the West follow secular norms, the character of central European states is still seen as open to other influences. After surviving over 40 years under communism, the Catholic Church has emerged as a moral authority in the debate on social issues in countries like Slovakia, Poland and Croatia.

Treaty with the Holy See

The fundamental treaty with the Holy See was signed by Slovakia’s government in 2000. Because of the some criticism, it was very general and it was foreseen to sign four sub-treaties. Last adopted sub-treaty secures full state funding for all Catholic schools and guarantees classes on religion for children at all state schools from the first grade, normally at the age of six. The sub-treaty also obliges elementary schools to start classes in religion in the first grade as a so-called 'obligatory optional subject'. The alternative option for children would be ethics for which, critics said, there are no textbooks and the state would also have to invest into training more teachers to cover these lessons.

After the first year, around 60% of children visit object “religion“, the rest ethics. The sexual education is primarily incorporated in these objects. There are no minimum standard defined and particularly in religion, the pupils do not get the information about planned parenthood or STI, HIV/AIDS prevention. Slovakia clearly violates the ICDP Action plan and right to information.

The Treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See on the Right to Exercise the Objection of Conscience

Slovakia is about to sign a Treaty on the Right to Exercise the Objection of Conscience with the Holy See. If approved, the treaty will gain the status of an “international human rights treaty” and will take precedence over current Slovak law. The Treaty, the first in the history of concordats, has the purpose of protecting the “free and unlimited” exercise of the “conscientious objection” based on Catholic teachings of faith in any area regulated by law. Since the Draft Treaty primarily protects the religious rights of state officials, it would effectively make the delivery of state services conditional on compliance with Catholic teaching. Consequently, in the area of reproductive healthcare, all forms of contraception as well as assisted fertilization may become inaccessible. Information about alternatives of safe and effective contraception methods and protection against STD, including HIV/AIDS may become unavailable. Restrictive access to contraceptive services would dramatically confine reproductive and sexual freedom in Slovakia. This may result in an increase of maternal mortality rates, unintended teenage pregnancies, number of unsafe abortions and a spread of STD, including HIV/AIDS. Such action would be in breach of Slovakia’s own Constitution, in breach of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and in breach of international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The proposed regulation of the conscientious objection is also in a strong opposition with recommendation on reproductive healthcare policy endorsed by the European Parliament.


NON-GOVERNMENTAL SECTOR

NGOs activities

The anti-choice NGOs are grouped in the umbrella organization called Forum of Life (www.forumzivota.sk). There are 22 member organizations which coordinate activities on abortion ban an opposition to contraception. The most visible action is the effort to declare the 25.March to the Day of Conceived Child. Since four years, the Forum of Life lobbied member of parliaments to officially declare this day as a memorial day for conceived children. Since they did not succeed, this year (2005) they organized on the 25. March an event with press conference and proclaimed the Day of Conceived Child. The symbol of the day shall be a white ribbon. The campaign was supported by the Slovak public television, whose director is well known for his inclination to Christian Democrats.

The Forum of Life published a Declaration of unborn Child and uses it in the media as an official document opposing CEDAW and ICDP.

In the last time, we registered some attacks on family planning and women NGOs, mainly on Pro choice Slovakia. A web page www.moznostvolby.net was registered and produced as attack on the Pro choice web page (in Slovak www.moznostvolby.sk). At the web page are names of member of Slovak parliament, who supported liberal abortion legislation, abortions are compared to holocaust etc. Because of the registration procedures of .net domene, it is not possible to find out who is behind the web.

The most visible and active are following NGOs:

NGO Slovak Society for Family and Responsible Parenthood,  (www.family.sk)

(was founded as the opposition to Slovak Family Planning Association)

The mission according web page): “to promote irreplaceable values of a sound family as well as to create general prerequisites for exercising of responsible parenthood in families in Slovakia. The Society avows to such understanding of a family, which places the family in harmony with natural ethical principles based on a life- long wedlock of a man and woman, and on a responsible parental relationship. Its meaning dwells in mutual support, protection, love and mutuality between man and woman, accepting children and caring for their general spiritual and physical development, and exercising solidarity between different generations.”

The aims and priorities are “to help parents to be a good educator, to help young people in preparation for family life. For this aims we have a good cooperation’s with State structures: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. We have some experts in the State Committees. To support in the society , especially in young generation the values of intact family, man and woman cooperation, human rights and culture of respect of human life.” (for more information visit www.family.sk).

NGO is member in the Vienna Family Committee (www.viennafamilycommittee.org)


NGO Yes to life (www.anoprezivot.sk)

The NGOs works on violence against women and pro life agenda. NGO offers help for pregnant women, runs asylum home for pregnant and abused women. In the media the chairwoman, who is also a head of the umbrella Forum for Life, often use the “new feminism”, defined by pope. They work closely with Christian Democrats and Catholic Church.

NGO Erko (www.erko.sk)

Erko is a catholic NGO working on children help in Africa. They are one of the leading organizations in the Slovak development NGO platform. The chairman Caucik is the spokesperson of the development platform in Slovakia and member in Concord.

 

Further NGOs:

 

OPPOSITION AT THE EXPERT LEVEL

Due to the political influence of Christian Democrats, more and more hospitals in Slovakia refuse to perform abortions. The last case is the biggest public hospital Ruzinov  in Bratislava.  Those hospitals refer to the Treaty with Holy See, which gives the rights to conscience objection. However, it is the right of an individual and no institution. Despite of this controversy,  no state interference happened yet from the side of ministry of health. In the last years ….

 

Gynaecological surgery for believers was opened in Bratislava in spring 2004. The Slovak Bishops' Conference (KBS) decided to open a gynaecological surgery for Catholic women in a private hospital administered by the Brothers of Mercy Order in Bratislava in March 2004. The KBS argued that pregnant Slovak women sometimes complain that they suffer from „psychic pressure in gynaecological surgeries where they are exposed to mockery and in addition, doctors sometimes recommend them to undergo abortion without justification.“


MEDIA AND JURNALISTS

KDH and the Catholic Church gained in the last years influence particularly in the public media due the political nomination of the directors and board members. The most visible is the public Slovak Television (STV). The director of STV declared publicly his sympathy to the KDH politics. He refused to broadcast the governmental campaign on antidiscrimination law but the STV broadcasted free of charge the pro-life spot on the Day of Conceived Child.

 

Annexes

 

1 AMENDMENT 4

 

tabled by      Elisabeth Schroedter and Joost Lagendijk, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group

Geneviève Fraisse, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group

REPORT by Elmar Brok                                                                                                                             A5-0081/2003

Conclusions of the Copenhagen negotiations on enlargement

Motion for a resolution

 

Paragraph 14a (new)

 

14a.   Clearly rejects attempts by candidate countries’ governments to weaken the European values in relation to the equality of women and men and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in particular the prohibition of discrimination, by inserting morality clauses in the annex to the accession treaty;

 

 

 

2 What is your opinion about the present (liberal)abortion law in Slovakia? (in %)

 

To tough

satisfactory

To benevolent

Don‘t know

Population of Slovakia

23

49

11

17

Women

25

50

14

11

Men

21

47

 8

24

Women regarding their believe

Strong believer

9

34

44

13

Believer

25

52

10

13

Undecided

37

55

5

4

Without religion

38

53

3

6

Atheists

31

69

0

0

 

IVO – Institute for Public Affairs, 2003