September 22, 2019 / 2:29 PM / 2 months ago

Tens of thousands march for ban on abortions in Slovakia

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands marched in Slovakia’s capital on Sunday calling for a total ban on abortions in the predominantly Catholic central European country.

A woman makes bubbles as demonstrators march during an anti-abortion protest rally demanding a ban on abortions in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 22, 2019. REUTERS/David W. Cerny

Abortion laws in Slovakia are relatively liberal compared to those in countries like Poland or Malta, which have among the strictest laws in the European Union and often allow them only in cases like rape.

In Slovakia, on-demand abortions are legal up until 12 weeks of a pregnancy while abortions for health reasons are allowed until 24 weeks.

Conservative and far-right lawmakers want to allow them only to up to six or eight weeks of pregnancy or ban them outright, and parliament starts debating draft laws to restrict abortions this month.

It is unclear if the proposals will become law since the ruling Smer - a leftist, socially conservative party - and junior centre-right Slovak National Party in the government, have not said whether they will back any of them.

Abortions have fallen in the country of 5.4 million to 6,000 last year, from almost 11,000 a decade ago. A Focus agency opinion poll this month found 55.5% of people disagreed with restricting abortions while 34.6% supported the move.

Protesters carrying signs saying “A human is human regardless of size” and “Who kills an unborn child kills the future of the nation” marched in the capital on Sunday demanding a total ban on abortions, including in cases of severe birth defects or rape.

“The life of every human is invaluable, therefore it needs to be protected from conception until natural death,” one of the protest organisers, backed by the Catholic church, said on stage.

The organisers estimated turnout at the protest at about 50,000.

The ruling Smer party has led Slovakia nearly non-stop since 2006 and has built its base by lifting social benefits amid years of economic growth and backing conservative issues.

Ahead of an election next year, the party pledged to back legislation to ban gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Slovak law does not recognise same-sex civil unions.

The most recent official census in 2011 found 62% of the country identify as Roman Catholics, while 6% are Protestants.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Deepa Babington

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