LONDON (AP) — Lawmakers in Slovakia are scheduled to debate a proposed law Friday that would compel women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound and listen to the heartbeat of the embryo or fetus, a move many groups have decried as a backward step for women’s rights.
The bill was submitted by three members of the conservative Slovak National Party, who wrote that it is intended “to ensure that women are informed about the current stage of their pregnancy” before having an abortion.
In a series of demonstrations this week in Bratislava, protesters argued the draft law violates women’s fundamental human rights, including the rights to privacy, autonomy and the ability to make medical decisions free from coercion.
In September, the Slovak Parliament rejected four other bills attempting to ban or restrict abortion in the largely Catholic central European country, but this latest bill passed its first reading last month.
Silvia Shahzad, a lawmaker with the conservative Ordinary People political party, says she will be voting against the proposal.
“To try to change the opinions of women about their pregnancy with this kind of pressure, this is not acceptable,” Shahzad said.
In Slovakia, abortion is legal upon request in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; it is available after that for certain medical reasons.
Earlier this month, more than 20 organizations, including Amnesty International and Marie Stopes International, wrote to Slovak parliamentarians expressing their “deep concern” about the proposed law. “If this legislation is adopted, Slovakia would be the only EU member state to impose these harmful requirements on women,” the groups wrote, adding the abortion requirements would violate several international human rights treaties Slovakia has ratified.
Similar letters were sent by European legislators and the Council of Europe.
The World Health Organization does not recommend a routine ultrasound before abortion. The U.N. health agency says abortions should be “delivered in a way that respects a woman’s dignity, guarantees her right to privacy and is sensitive to her needs and perspectives.”
In the U.S., seven states have similar provisions obliging women to have an ultrasound and listen to the fetal heartbeat.