NORWAY – New Government backsliding on abortion rights

The government of Norway since the last election in 2017 had been led by a coalition of three parties. Last autumn, a fourth (anti-abortion) party was invited to join the coalition in order for the other three parties to obtain a majority of seats. The negotiations with this new party led to a new “regulation of the Norwegian abortion law”. Since 1978, the law had permitted abortion on request up to 12 weeks, with no reasons or permission required.

The new “regulation” is about multi-fetal pregnancy reduction, that is, in a pregnancy with more than one embryo/fetus, aborting some but not all, usually all but one or two. The practice is widely accepted and used in the USA and across Europe. It began in the early days of in vitro fertilisation, when multiple embryos were created in order to increase the chances of at least one implanting. In Norway, the reduction of multi-fetal pregnancies was regarded as covered by the abortion law. In 2001 the Law Department in the Ministry of Health stated that: “With multi-fetal pregnancies the legal right of the fetus or the mother has not changed, and the law applies in the same way for a single fetus pregnancy as for multi-fetus pregnancy.” And in 2016 they wrote: “The Law Department states that the abortion law also applies to fetus-reduction in multi-fetal pregnancies…”

The new 2019 regulation changes that. It will now only be possible to have such an abortion the same way as all abortions after 12 weeks, by asking a committee for permission. But in the case of these abortions, permission from a committee will also be needed before 12 weeks of pregnancy. The regulation (§2a) says women with multi-fetal pregnancies can no longer assume they can have fetal reduction before or after 12 weeks, and that permission from a committee may or may not be granted.

There were five fetal reduction abortions in 2017 and eight in 2018. So what difference does this make?

The Women’s Front of Norway describes this as a serious attack on the right to self-determination, a right that women fought hard for, and shows a huge lack of trust regarding women’s moral and ethical ability to decide what is best for themselves and their family.

The new government party claims that there is a huge difference between fetus reduction and a complete abortion: “Concerning fetal reduction… the question is not whether the woman herself shall decide if she wishes to continue the pregnancy and have children, but if she also is entitled to choose how many children she wants to carry to term.” (Government statement, 19 February 2019)

Norway has signed the UN Platform of Action from Beijing 1995, and thus agreed to #95 in the Chapter on Women’s Health: “These rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.”

The Women’s Front, a feminist organisation founded in 1972, has always advocated for the full right to legal abortion; and that no woman should have to appear before a committee/tribunal.

“With this new regulation, our right to legal abortion on demand is being restricted. We need a better abortion law! Not a lesser abortion law!”

Tor-Hugne Olsen, Executive Director of Sex og Politikk/IPPF, Norway, adds: With neighbours like the UK and Sweden and their current noisy politics, Norway is a bit in the shadows and I guess it has been a bit difficult for outsiders to notice the rather quiet change of government that happened in Norway. However, this is the first time Norway has a majority government leaning to the right since 1985.

This is also the first time the 1978 abortion law has been changed in a way that reduces women’s right to choose. This has led to a number of voices, particularly in some of the main political party youth organisations, calling for a positive change in the law, to extend the number of weeks of abortion on request from the current 12 weeks to 18 weeks, as they have in Sweden.

On the other hand, it is said that access to contraception will be made better and a stronger commitment to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is promised. Contraception will be available free of charge up to 24 years of age (currently up to 20), which is a huge step forward, even if there is no mention of contraception for those under 16, who currently have to pay for their contraceptives. Strong statements on the provision of CSE in schools and kindergartens/pre-school care is also an improvement on previous government programmes. The government programme also has strong wording on LGBTIQ rights both nationally and internationally. On development aid there is a strong SRHR paragraph which includes a new promise of a fund for victims of sexual violence in war.

However, the Women’s Front does not see this as an acceptable trade-off. They plan to be in the streets across the country on International Women’s Day, 8 March, calling for “A better abortion law! Not a lesser abortion law!”

What the f–- is going on, actually? thought many when the Prime Minister Erna Solberg in autumn 2018 was suddenly willing to renegotiate the abortion law to obtain support from the Christian Democratic party. Instead of a celebration of the 40 years’ anniversary of the abortion law, young and old once again took to the streets with the slogan «Our lives, our bodies, keep legal abortion on demand». Countless letters to the editor were published, personal stories, comic strips and appeals to defend the law. The texts had a magnitude. Even if the stories and the arguments were the result of a concrete historical moment, they will have an impact and be valid for a long time. Women’s experience with abortion is not only personal, but concerns all of us. The book Abortkamp – Maktkamp is a collection of knowledge in defence of the abortion law, published by RES PUBLICA


SOURCES: Agnete Strom, Women’s Front, Norway, 2 March 2019 ; Tor-Hugne Olsen, Sex og Politikk/ IPPF, Norway, 28 January 2019