11.18.2019 - As members of Slovakia’s parliament debate proposed legislation that, if enacted, will potentially impede women’s access to abortion services, Amnesty International, Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Watch and International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network have issued the following statement:
“We are deeply concerned by the current legislative attempts to roll back on the reproductive rights of the women of Slovakia.
Slovakia’s Parliament is debating new draft legislation that would require women seeking abortion care to undergo mandatory ultrasound scanning, to view and obtain an ultrasound image of the embryo or foetus and, where technically possible, to listen to the “heartbeat of the embryo or the foetus.”
The proposed legislation also seeks to prohibit “advertising” on abortion and to impose a fine of up to €66,400 on those who order or disseminate it.1
If adopted, this legislation will harm women’s health and well-being, obstruct their access to safe abortion care and violate Slovakia’s international human rights obligations.
Forcing women in Slovakia to undergo a mandatory ultrasound, view the ultrasound image and listen to the “foetal heartbeat” before abortion would undermine their privacy, personal integrity and autonomy in decision-making about health care, and would subject them to harmful stigma, humiliation and degrading treatment. It would violate the requirement that medical decision-making must be free of coercion, and that a patient’s consent to medical procedures should be given freely and voluntarily.
There are no medical grounds whatsoever for the proposed changes. As confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no medical reason for routine ultrasound prior to abortion. Instead, the WHO has underlined that women’s decisions to access abortion care should be respected and that safe abortion should be “delivered in a way that respects a woman’s dignity, guarantees her right to privacy and is sensitive to her needs and perspectives.”2
International human rights mechanisms have stressed that states must ensure the availability and quality of safe abortion services in line with the WHO safe abortion guidelines, including removing measures that attempt to dissuade women from accessing abortion care.3
If this legislation is adopted, Slovakia would be the only EU member state to impose such harmful requirements on women. No other member state imposes on women a requirement to undergo mandatory ultrasound for obtaining abortion care and no other EU member state requires that women view ultrasound images or listen to the “foetal heartbeat” before abortion.
Similarly, the WHO has stressed the importance of ensuring all women have access to evidence-based information about abortion and their entitlements to legal reproductive health care.4 The proposed prohibition of “advertising” on abortion would lead to restrictions on women’s ability to access evidence-based information on abortion care, and would have a chilling effect on the provision of such information by medical providers.
International human rights mechanisms have underlined that medically unnecessary legal restrictions on the availability of evidence-based information on sexual and reproductive health, including safe and legal abortion, contradict states’ obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s right to the highest attainable standard of health. They have made it clear that “[s]uch restrictions impede access to information and services, and can fuel stigma and discrimination”, and have called upon states to “[e]nsure that accurate, evidence-based information concerning abortion and its legal availability is publicly available.”5
In addition, the European Court of Human Rights has held that “[o]nce the legislature decides to allow abortion, it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limit real possibilities to obtain it”6, and has underscored that European states have “a positive obligation to create a procedural framework enabling a pregnant woman to exercise her right of access to lawful abortion.”7
If adopted, the proposed legislation will undermine Slovakia’s compliance with its obligations under international human rights treaties to guarantee women’s rights to health, privacy and information, to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, and will contravene the principles of non-discrimination and equality in the enjoyment of rights. In addition, the adoption of these proposals will be contrary to the fundamental international legal principle of non-retrogression.
International human rights mechanisms have repeatedly called on Slovakia to remove barriers to, and ensure access to, safe and legal abortion. Most recently, in October 2019, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed deep concern about this pending regressive legislation and urged Slovakia to avoid any retrogression in relation to women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.8
We call on all Members of Parliament to reject this regressive legislative proposal and refrain from any further attempts to restrict reproductive rights in Slovakia.”
1 Návrh poslankýň Národnej rady Slovenskej republiky Evy Smolíkovej, Magdalény Kuciaňovej a Evy Antošovej na vydanie zákona, ktorým sa mení a dopĺňa zákon č. 576/2004 Z. z. o zdravotnej starostlivosti, službách súvisiacich s poskytovaním zdravotnej starostlivosti a o zmene a doplnení niektorých zákonov v znení neskorších predpisov a ktorým sa menia a dopĺňajú niektoré zákony, print no. 1729 (27 Sept. 2019).
2 World Health Organization, SAFE ABORTION: TECHNICAL AND POLICY GUIDANCE FOR HEALTH SYSTEMS (2d ed. 2012), at 6, 34, 64.
3 See, e.g., Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), para. 41, E/C.12/GC/22 (2016); Committee on the Elimination of 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, Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical 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 and Reproductive Health and Rights in Europe (2017), at 11.
4 World Health Organization, SAFE ABORTION: TECHNICAL AND 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 Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, supra note 3, para. 65(l).
6 Tysiąc v. 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 Cultural Rights, Concluding Observations: Slovakia, paras. 41-42(e), E/C.12/SVK/CO/3 (2019).