Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to submit a bill to parliament which, if approved, would change the legal terms for abortion in Iceland. RÚV reports that the new bill would extend the time limits that are currently in place regarding abortion and allow women to have the procedure done up to the 22nd week of their pregnancy. The bill would also allow women to get abortions for any reason, rather than only under certain approved circumstances, as is currently the case.
Under current law, women are only permitted to have an abortion up to the 16th week of pregnancy if there are specifically approved health reasons or for ‘social reasons,’ such as if the pregnancy is the result of a rape. The existing law also allows for abortions after the 16th week if there is a threat to the woman’s health, or high likeliness that the fetus will be born with deformities or genetic or birth defects.
In its original version, the new bill proposed allowing abortions up to the 18th week, emphasizing that it would not matter what a woman’s reasons for wanting an abortion were, so long as her desire to have one was clear. The bill has since been revised, however, so that abortions would be allowable up to the 22nd week of pregnancy, again, regardless of the woman’s reasons for requesting one. As in the existing law, the new bill emphasizes that after an abortion has been requested, it should be performed as soon as possible.
An announcement from the Ministry of Welfare on this new bill also underscored that its provisions do not violate the rights and objectives established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This assurance comes as a result of a flurry of international coverage last year about the low number of children born in Iceland with Down syndrome. The reason for the outcry was that ever since the introduction of prenatal screenings in Iceland at the turn of the century, close to 100% of all women who tested positively for Down syndrome have chosen to end their pregnancies. The Ministry maintains, however, that the new abortion bill continues to conforms to international standards and does not contravene the rights of people with disabilities.