Abortion in Iceland: increasing medical risks in the name of the right to health

A disturbing bill reforming the abortion law in Iceland is being considered by its parliament. The main change concerns the time extension to abort on demand, which would allow abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy instead of 16.

The Icelandic Parliament is currently discussing a new bill titled “pregnancy,” while in reality it is a bill dealing only with abortion. The bill is currently tabled to be discussed in commission and is expected to be adopted this year.

While most countries that allow abortion on demand set the limit to 12 weeks, Iceland is contemplating extending its limit to 22 weeks of pregnancy. That is to say, when the unborn baby may survive outside the womb. Other than Iceland, only Sweden permits abortion on demand past 12 weeks, allowing it up to 18 weeks. If the proposed bill is adopted as it stands, Iceland would have one of the longest pregnancy periods to obtain an abortion on demand.

As usual with this issue, the argued necessity for this change is that this law ensures women’s autonomy through a secure and safe access to health care. The bill suggests that every woman should have the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion until the end of her 22nd week of pregnancy, regardless of the reasons behind the decision.

This is very disturbing, because at this stage, through easy-access tests or ultrasounds, parents are able to know the sex of the child, which allows for the practice of “feminicide”, an obvious and scandalous gender discrimination. Parents who only want a particular gender baby may abort without being asked any question, simply because the sex of the baby doesn’t match their expectations.

Also, it must not be forgotten that Iceland made the headlines several times recently because of its extreme abortion rate of Down syndrome children. Certainly, prenatal screening is commonplace, but it appears that Iceland has the highest abortion rate of Down syndrome babies in the world.

The bill also maintains the possibility of abortion after the 22 week ban if the unborn baby is not considered “viable.” However, the new law would require two doctors to confirm that the unborn baby will not be able to survive outside the womb after birth.

It’s interesting that Article 4 of the proposed bill (Document 521 — 393) insists on the fact that “Abortion should always be performed as soon as possible and preferably before the end of the 12th week of pregnancy.” This statement is paradoxical, and it demonstrates the absurdity of the claim that the time limit for abortion on demand should be extended up to 22 weeks for health reasons or women’s rights. Actually, the later an abortion is performed, the more a woman’s health is at risk. Politicians advocating for an extension of time to perform abortion as “freely” and “widely” as possible can’t escape the fact that abortion is a medical procedure that puts women’s health and life at risk.

Further, the bill suggests that abortions performed via operations shall be performed in a hospital under the guidance of a professional in the field of gynecology, but it also allows for abortions to be performed via drugs in a health facility inspected by the Surgeon General.

Usually this distinction or difference of procedure depends on the gestational moment of the procedure. At an early stage of the pregnancy, chemical abortion is usually chosen because it is less expensive, and it requires no experienced physicians. The pregnant woman can even be sent back home with the advice of resting until the unborn baby is terminated and then evacuated.

The other purpose of ensuring different technics of abortion is to increase the number of people legally entitled to perform abortions. Therefore, it alleviates the concern that many doctors may refuse to perform an abortion due to conscientious objection, as is the case in Italy.

Although the current law requires women to have an interview with a social worker at the hospital, before the abortion, this will no longer be a requirement if the new bill passes. The bill merely provides for women wishing to have an abortion to be instructed on the possible dangers of the operation and that the woman shall be offered a supportive interview both before and after the abortion. This is the only positive provision of the bill as it stands now, because indeed many women do not realize the consequences and effects this procedure will have on them.

Nevertheless, even with the required instruction, there is still a question of the exact content of what a woman will be told and in what way. For instance, in France the government downplays as much as possible the undesirable and dangerous effects of abortion. In fact, stating the risks of abortion too vigorously on a website can be prosecuted on the basis of a digital crime of obstruction to abortion because it may “discourage” women to have an abortion. Discourage indeed…

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