Urgent Interventions

Joint Open Letter by 36 organisations calls on bill restricting reproductive rights not to be adopted

Members of the NationalCouncil of the Slovak Republic

Námestie Alexandra Dubčeka1

812 80 Bratislava 1


18 November 2019

Dear Members of theNational Council of the Slovak Republic,

We are writing to expressour deep concern regarding current legislative attempts to roll back on thereproductive rights of women in Slovakia.

At this time the Parliamentis debating new draft legislation that would require women seeking abortioncare to undergo a mandatory ultrasound scanning, to view and obtain theultrasound image of the embryo or the foetus, and where technically possible,to also listen to the “heartbeat of the embryo or the foetus.” The proposedlegislation also seeks to prohibit “advertising” on abortion and to impose afine of up to 66,400 Euros on those who order or disseminate it[1].

Our organizations aredeeply concerned by these proposals. If adopted, this legislation will harmwomen’s health and well-being, obstruct their access to safe abortion care andviolate Slovakia’s international human rights obligations.

Forcing women in Slovakiato undergo a mandatory ultrasound, view the ultrasound image and listen to the“foetal heartbeat” before abortion would undermine their privacy, personalintegrity, autonomy in decision-making about health care and would subject themto harmful stigma, humiliation and degrading treatment. It would violate therequirement that medical decision-making must be free of coercion, and that apatient’s consent to medical procedures should be given freely and voluntarily.

There is no medical reasonwhatsoever for the proposed changes. As confirmed by the World HealthOrganization (WHO), there is no medical reason for routine ultrasound prior toabortion. Instead, the WHO has underlined that women’s decisions to accessabortion care should be respected and that safe abortion should be “deliveredin a way that respects a woman’s dignity, guarantees her right to privacy andis sensitive to her needs and perspectives.”[2]International human rights mechanisms have stressed that states must ensure theavailability and quality of safe abortion services in line with the WHO safeabortion guidelines, including removing measures that attempt to dissuade womenfrom accessing abortion care.[3]

If this legislation isadopted, Slovakia would be the only EU member state to impose these harmfulrequirements on women. No other EU member state imposes on women a requirementto undergo mandatory ultrasound for obtaining abortion care and no other memberstate requires that women view ultrasound images or listen to the “foetalheartbeat” before abortion.

Similarly, the WHO hasstressed the importance of ensuring all women have access to evidence-basedinformation about abortion and their entitlements to legal reproductive healthcare.[4]The proposed prohibition of “advertising” on abortion would lead torestrictions on access to evidence-based information on abortion care and wouldhave a chilling effect on the provision of such information by medicalproviders. International human rights mechanisms have underlined that medicallyunnecessary legal restrictions on the availability of evidence-basedinformation on sexual and reproductive health, including safe and legalabortion, contradict states’ obligations to respect, protect, and fulfilwomen’s right to the highest attainable standard of health. They havemade itclear that “[s]uch restrictions impede access to information and services, andcan fuel stigma and discrimination” and have called upon states to “[e]nsurethat accurate, evidence-based information concerning abortion and its legalavailability is publicly available.”[5]

In addition, the EuropeanCourt of Human Rights has held that “[o]nce the legislature decides to allowabortion, it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limitreal possibilities to obtain it”[6]and has underscored that European states have “a positive obligation to createa procedural framework enabling a pregnant woman to exercise her right ofaccess to lawful abortion.”[7]

If adopted, the legislationwill undermine Slovakia’s compliance with its obligations under internationalhuman rights treaties to guarantee women’s rights to health, privacy,information, to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, and the principlesof non-discrimination and equality in the enjoyment of rights. In addition, theadoption of these proposals will be contrary to the fundamentalinternationallegal principle of non-retrogression. International human rightsmechanisms have repeatedly called on Slovakia to remove barriers to and ensureaccess to safe and legal abortion. Most recently, in October 2019, the UNCommittee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed deep concern aboutthis pending regressive legislation and urged Slovakia to avoid anyretrogression in relation to women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.[8]

We call on all Members ofParliament to reject this regressive legislative proposal and refrain fromfurther attempts to restrict reproductive rights in Slovakia.

Yours sincerely,

Abortion Rights Campaign,Ireland

Amnesty International

ASTRA Network

CESI - Center forEducation, Counselling and Research, Croatia

Center for ReproductiveRights

European HumanistFederation

Federation for Women andFamily Planning, Poland

Family Planning and SexualHealth Association, Lithuania

Family Planning Associationof Moldova

Femini BerlinPolska/Berliński Kongres Kobiet/Manifest Wolnej Polki, Germany

FOKUS - Forum for Women andDevelopment, Norway

Fundación Aspacia, Spain

Fundacja im. KazimierzaŁyszczyńskiego, Poland

HERA - Health Education andResearch Association, North Macedonia

Human Rights Watch

International Campaign forWomen‘s Right to Safe Abortion

International Commission ofJurists

International PlannedParenthood Federation European Network

Libres Mariannes, France

Ligue des droits de l'Homme, France

Lobby Europeo de Mujeres enEspaña - LEM, Spain

L'Union des FamillesLaïques - UFAL, France

Marie Stopes International

Medical Students forChoice, United States

Planning Familial,Luxembourg

Reproductive RightsPlatform, Croatia

RFSU - The SwedishAssociation for Sexuality Education, Sweden

Rutgers, Netherlands

Sarajevo Open Centre,Bosnia and Herzegovina

Society for FeministAnalyses AnA, Romania

Women Enabled International

Women on Web

Women’s Resource Center,Armenia

Women’s Room - Center forSexual Rights, Croatia

World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT)

YouAct - European YouthNetwork on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

[1] Návrh poslankýňNárodnej rady Slovenskej republiky Evy Smolíkovej, Magdalény Kuciaňovej a EvyAntošovej na vydanie zákona, ktorým sa mení a dopĺňa zákon č. 576/2004 Z. z. ozdravotnej starostlivosti, službách súvisiacich s poskytovaním zdravotnejstarostlivosti a o zmene a doplnení niektorých zákonov v znení neskoršíchpredpisov a ktorým sa menia a dopĺňajú niektoré zákony, print no. 1729 (27Sept. 2019).

[2] World Health Organization, SAFE ABORTION:TECHNICALAND POLICY GUIDANCE FOR HEALTH SYSTEMS (2d ed. 2012), at 6, 34, 64.

[3] See, e.g., Committee on Economic, Social andCultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductivehealth (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social andCultural Rights), para. 41, E/C.12/GC/22 (2016); Committee on the Eliminationof Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations: Hungary, para. 31(c),CEDAW/C/HUN/CO/7-8 (2013); Russian Federation, paras. 35(b), 36(b),CEDAW/C/RUS/CO/8 (2015); Slovakia, para. 31(c), CEDAW/C/SVK/CO/5-6 (2015);Macedonia, para. 38(d), CEDAW/C/MKD/CO/6 (2018); Anand Grover, SpecialRapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest AttainableStandard of Physical and Mental Health, Interim Report of the SpecialRapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard ofphysical and mental health, para. 24, U.N. Doc. A/66/254 (Aug. 3, 2011);COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE, Women’s Sexual andReproductive Health and Rights in Europe (2017), at 11.

[4] World Health Organization, SAFE ABORTION: TECHNICALAND POLICY GUIDANCE FOR HEALTH SYSTEMS (2d ed. 2012), at 95.

[5] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,General Comment No. 22, supra note 3, para. 41; Interim Report of the SpecialRapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard ofphysical and mental health, supra note 3, para. 65(l).

[6] Tysiącv. Poland, No. 5410/03 Eur. Ct. H.R., para. 116 (2007).

[7] R.R.v. Poland, No. 27617/04 Eur. Ct. H.R., para. 200 (2011).

[8] Committee on Economic, Social and CulturalRights,Concluding Observations: Slovakia, paras. 41-42(e), E/C.12/SVK/CO/3 (2019). @font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; }p.MsoFootnoteText, li.MsoFootnoteText, div.MsoFootnoteText { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; }span.MsoFootnoteReference { vertical-align: super; }span.FootnoteTextChar { font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; }.MsoChpDefault { font-family: "Calibri", sans-serif; }div.WordSection1 { }



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