Anne-Marie Rey, secretary of APAC-Switzerland
Despite a liberal legislation since 2002 (abortion on request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and without time limit if it is necessary to turn away from the pregnant woman the „risk of a serious emotional distress“), we suspected certain gaps in service provision in Switzerland.
In summer 2009, we made an inquiry among private and public hospitals, including some day care clinics we were aware of. Out of 157 clinics contacted, we received 113 answers that could be evaluated (72%). Among these, 93 clinics (82%) practice abortions.
In the first trimester, two thirds of them offer the surgical as well as (in the first 7 or 9 weeks) the medical method with mifepristone plus misoprostol. Only 12 clinics (13%) offer local anesthesia for surgical abortions.
As for abortions after 12 weeks, an earlier inquiry among family planning centers had revealed that almost half encountered difficulties in their region in this respect. In fact, after 12 weeks gestation, only 49% of the clinics accept psychosocial indications as defined by law and most limit abortions for these reasons to 14 or 16 weeks.
Access to abortion in the second trimester or later remains very restricted in Switzerland. The range of discretion allowed by the law is not sufficiently used. Moreover, the surgical method is very rarely offered in the 2nd trimester
These are the reasons why a certain „abortion tourism“ still exists, estimated at 50 women who every year have to seek second trimester abortions in clinics in other countries.
Different strategies to legalize abortion: Successes and lessons from Switzerland
Anne-Marie Rey (Switzerland)
Situation in Switzerland before start of pro choice campaign in 1971. Penal Code of 1942: abortion allowed for health reasons only, to be certified by a second doctor. By 1971, 6 out of 25 cantons applied the law quite liberally and accepted mental and social health reasons for legal abortion, most of the other cantons stayed rather or very restrictive. Hence:
30 years of campaigning. June 1971 launch of a radical initiative for a constitutional amendment aiming at the repeal of abortion legislation. Its primary purpose was to break the taboo and raise public and parliamentary debate.
1975: launch of a second „reasonable“ initiative (abortion on request within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy), which was narrowly rejected on the ballot in 1977, by 51.7% of the votes.
1978: referendum and vote on a very unsatisfactory compromise law, rejected by a 2/3 majority.
1985: an initiative by the antis to write the right to life from conception into the constitution was rejected by 69% of the votes.
1993: a parliamentary bill proposed legalization of abortion on request in the first few months of pregnancy.
In March 2001 Parliament finally approved a corresponding amendment to the Penal Code. Conservatives immediately asked for a referendum.
June 2002: 72% of voters approve the new legislation. On the same ballot, an anti-initiative asking for a total abortion ban is defeated by a 82% majority.
Particularly successful strategies used.
Other reasons for our success.
In conclusion. Strategies must adapt to the situation, to political and religious forces present in a country and to the strength of pro choice mobilisation. Our experience: every time a broad public debate arose, some progress resulted. But: the battle for women’s right to decide whether and when to become a mother is hard and long. It needs dedication and perseverance. But in the end, I think, we have the better arguments.
Since 1942, abortion has been authorised if the woman’s life is in danger. A
certificate signed by 2 doctors is required. The law is strict in theory, but very
flexible in its application. Terminations are performed in hospitals, in clinics
and private practice.