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Romanian Officials to Consider New Abortion Law Requiring Five-Day 'Reflection Period' and Biased Counseling

Global human rights advocates call on Romanian government to reject extreme proposal

(PRESS RELEASE) Nearly 40 international and European human rights organizations have joined together to urge Romanian officials to reject a proposed law that would create significant barriers for women seeking an abortion—including forcing women to endure biased counseling at “pregnancy crisis counseling offices” and subjecting them to long waiting periods.
 
The proposal would require a Romanian woman seeking an abortion to participate in “pregnancy crisis counseling” at designated centers, where she would be forced to tell counselors why she is seeking an abortion, view images or video clips of an abortion procedure, hear detailed information about fetal development, and view images of her ultrasound. These centers also provide non-scientific information about “risks” of abortion, including sterility and psychological harms.
 
After visiting the center, the law would then require women to begin a five-day, so-called “reflection period” before they can legally obtain an abortion. 
 
“International human rights bodies have found time and time again that states have an obligation to protect women’s fundamental reproductive rights and ensure access to reproductive health care—not to put roadblocks in their way,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
 
“The proposed restrictions pose a significant danger to women’s health, potentially forcing women to consider unsafe, clandestine abortions rather than experience a manipulative, humiliating, and burdensome process.
 
“Romanian officials must reject these barriers and focus instead on guaranteeing timely and nondiscriminatory access to the full range of reproductive health care for all women.”
 
Thirty-nine organizations have jointly signed on to the letter [PDF attached], drafted by the Center for Reproductive Rights, that was sent today to Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Minister of Health Vasile Cepoi, and all members of the Romanian Senate and Chamber of Representatives.
 
The letter includes signatures from respected women’s rights and human rights organizations such as the International Women’s Health Coalition, Ipas, Catholics for Choice, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, as well as many other local and regional organizations from more than a dozen different countries.
 
Currently, Romania permits abortion without restriction as to reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and thereafter if a woman’s life or health is at risk and other therapeutic reasons.
 
However, the proposed restrictions aim to make it much more difficult for women to obtain a safe, legal abortion despite these permissive laws—a serious problem that has been addressed by the European Court of Human Rights. For example, in Poland, the Court found that “once the State adopts statutory regulations allowing abortion in some situations, it must not structure its legal framework in a way which would limit real possibilities to obtain it.”
 
The development of crisis pregnancy centers is a model well-known in the United States and other parts of Europe, including Ireland. In the U.S., several states require abortion providers to give women a list of crisis pregnancy centers as a part of the state’s mandatory counseling requirements before their procedure. However, only one U.S. state—South Dakota—has ever enacted a law that would have made it mandatory for women to visit one of these centers before obtaining an abortion. That measure was signed into law in May 2011, but has been blocked from enforcement by a federal court.
 
The proposed law invokes a number of references to international human rights law, but only in reference to an “unborn child”—not for a woman. This strategy completely misrepresents international human rights law standards on the right to life and health—and is a clear attempt to deny Romanian women the ability to make autonomous decisions about their fertility. The Center for Reproductive Rights took on this issue in a recently-released publication, Whose Right to Life?, a comprehensive toolkit on women’s rights and prenatal protections under human rights and comparative law.
 
This is not the first time Romania has attempted to restrict abortion. In the 1960s, government officials attempted to restrict the availability of safe abortion to increase birth rates in the country. Not only did it have zero impact on the fertility rates in Romania, but it also lead to instances of maternal mortality skyrocketing due to illegal and unsafe abortions. When abortion was finally legalized after the fall of the Communist regime, maternal mortality rates decreased dramatically and birth rates went up.
 
“Romania is one of the clearest examples of how restricting abortion leads to grave consequences for women’s health, life and dignity,” said Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Romania must learn from its own history. It is time to look forward, not backward, and to take real steps to promote the health and well-being of women instead of jeopardizing their fundamental rights.”
 
The proposed law in Romania is currently awaiting committee assignment in both legislative houses.