There was outrage on Wednesday over parliament’s failure to amend abortion legislation after police in Nicosia detained a woman who had an abortion and the doctor at a private clinic who carried out the procedure.
The two appeared before a court on Tuesday which remanded them in custody for five days. She had been eight weeks pregnant. Although illegal except under special circumstances, it is a well-known fact that private clinics carry out abortions freely in Cyprus.
Police got involved when the woman’s partner, who didn’t know she was going ahead with the procedure, caused a disturbance at the clinic after he found out. He later damaged property belonging to his family and his partner’s.
Police were told that the woman had been accompanied to the clinic by her partner’s mother.
During her arrest on Monday evening, the woman told police she didn’t know it was an offence and she was sorry.
The doctor was arrested later that evening.
The woman, who already had 19-month-old child, told police she had found out about the pregnancy a month earlier. She had discussed the possibility of terminating her pregnancy because they could not afford raising a second child, as both of them are unemployed.
The doctor denied committing any offence, arguing that he had examined the woman and determined that it was a problematic pregnancy.
Police, however, were told that the Makarios children’s hospital where her pregnancy was confirmed had told the woman it was a normal pregnancy.
The case has laid bare the hypocrisy surrounding the issue of abortion, as it is well known that abortions routinely take place in private clinics with the authorities turning the blind eye.
An amendment to the law has been languishing in parliament for almost three years apparently because parties are afraid to discuss the issue due to opposition from the Church. Although submitted in early 2015, the amendment has never even been discussed.
Rights groups and women spoke out on Wednesday after it was first published by daily Politis.
“We have been turning a blind eye for decades,” said Suzana Pavlou, director of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (Migs), an NGO fighting discrimination against women.
Pavlou said what was important was to have the right of women to choose recognised.
According to Cypriot law, abortions are illegal unless: there is risk to life of the pregnant woman; If the pregnancy would cause physical, mental, or psychological damage to the woman (or to any existing child she may have) that is greater than if the pregnancy was to be terminated; under circumstances which, if the pregnancy were not terminated, it would seriously jeopardise the social status of the pregnant woman or that of her family; serious physical or psychological abnormalities if the child were born; and rape or other sexual crime.
The procedure also needs the opinion of two qualified medical practitioners.
There is no gestational limit specified in the law.
The silence surrounding abortions means the procedures are taking place unregulated.
“We don’t know what the situation is in terms of numbers,” Pavlou told the Cyprus Mail.
Pavlou also voiced concern over the effects the arrest of a doctor would have in the future.
“Which doctor will do this now? It will limit the options even more,” as doctors won’t risk going to prison.
The other big problem, according to Pavlou, is that while banning abortions, the state is “doing absolutely nothing on prevention.”
Migs wants the matter to be discussed now on the basis of the right of women to choose.
“We need to dispel the myth that these are decisions that women take lightly,” she said.
In the case under investigation, the woman had cancelled her first appointment at the clinic before she decided after much thought to go ahead with the procedure.
Diko chairman and presidential candidate Nicolas Papadopoulos weighed into the issue, tweeting that the police ought to release the woman.
“You don’t need the five-day remand of a woman to investigate an abortion case.”
Akel MP Skevi Koukouma said the bill on abortions should be put to the vote immediately. At the same time sex education must be introduced at all levels as well as social support of the woman during pregnancy, birth and care of the children.
Koukouma said the woman must have the first and last say.
“For the time being we live in a state where the rights of a woman are first diluted by the positions and the needs of conservatism, the church and the archbishop and then they are recognised,” she said.
Former Edek MP Roulla Mavronicola called on the House legal affairs committee to discuss the bill immediately.
“It is unacceptable in the European Cyprus of 2017 to arrest a woman and place her in custody for five days because it was impossible for her to have a second child due to financial and other problems,” she said. “When will we realise that the body and life of a woman belongs to her?”
Special adviser in preparing national strategy to protect children from sexual abuse, Anastasia Papadopoulou said abortion certainly should not exist as an option in an ideal world.
“But to put a woman in jail, on a five-day remand, because she made a choice about her body and life, really says something about our society and justice system,” she said. “We are very willing to easily condemn and punish (for specific matters) naturally avoiding discussion. Avoiding even raising the most basic questions: why is a woman led to this? How many women feel they have no other choices? Do they have other choices? Are we affording proper support?
“If we are not willing to even have a discussion how do we think we will tackle the issue? Only with imprisonment?”