ANDORRA – Stop Violencies founder, Vanessa Mendoza Cortés, on trial for defamation, 4 December 2023

International Safe Abortion Day March, 30 September 2023

The principality of Andorra, located in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, is one of the smallest, least-populated countries in Europe. It’s also the only one with a total ban on abortions. Not only are abortions in Andorra illegal, but also a taboo.

Andorra’s total ban on abortion is a result of the country’s unique system of governance. The microstate has a democratically elected government, but two princes also serve as heads of state — a constitutional arrangement rooted in a 13th-century feudal treaty. One co-prince is the president of France. The other is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Urgell. The role of the co-princes is thought to be symbolic, but in practice, having a bishop as head-of-state has meant that abortions cannot be carried out in the country.

As we have reported before, women in Andorra are advocating for change. During the last weekend of September, 100 people marked International Safe Abortion Day in the capital Andorra la Vella. They protested for being forced to travel abroad to terminate a pregnancy.

Andorra’s government’s minister of institutional relations, Ladislau Baró, said that just like elsewhere in Europe, Andorran society is becoming more secular, and a majority of people don’t agree with the abortion ban. However, if abortion were legalised, the Holy See has warned, Bishop of Urgell Joan-Enric Vives would have to step down as prince of Andorra. This would cause a constitutional crisis and end a centuries-old tradition. Vatican officials recently said they were open to finding a “satisfactory solution for everybody” but admitted it was “very complicated”. Baró said the government is trying to find the balance between decriminalising abortion and not authorising it.

In March 2020, Andorra launched a reproductive health hotline, the SIAD. It provides free and confidential information including about abortion clinics abroad. Over a three-year period, 113 people contacted the service. About half of the cases were transferred to a gynaecologist, and one got psychological assistance, according to government figures. The SIAD does not facilitate transportation or financial support to carry out an abortion abroad, but the government says it wants to expand SIAD’s services without providing the details.

Stop Violències is a women’s rights and support group founded in Andorra by psychologist Vanessa Mendoza Cortés. The group provides support for abuse victims and, in the past few years, has also expanded to working on abortion access.

Over 100 women in Andorra have had abortions in public clinics in Catalonia, Spain, every year since 2014, according to health authorities in the Spanish region. But private clinics are not included, and there are no figures for abortions carried out in France. Mendoza Cortés estimates that the real figures are much higher.

On 4 December, Mendoza Cortés will face a defamation trial in Andorra for criticising the country before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2019. She faces a fine of about $12,740.

The Andorran government maintains that she is not being prosecuted for her activism but for making false accusations. Human rights groups, though, like Amnesty, call the charges disproportionate.

The case has further exposed Andorra’s negative approach to abortion.

SOURCE: The World, 6 November 2023; PHOTO: Alan Ruiz Terol/The World

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