THE ANGRY public reaction to the arrest of a young woman, who had an abortion, and of the doctor that performed it illustrated what society thought of the police action. Pressure groups, politicians, party leaders and individuals on social media, slammed the five-day remand order issued against the two by the court, even though the judge’s decision was based on the law of the country.
According to Cyprus law, the termination of a pregnancy is permitted in special circumstances, which are listed, but a woman’s right to choose is not one of them. Termination is allowed if the mother’s life is at risk, if the pregnancy resulted from a sex crime and if it would affect the mother’s and her family’s social standing. It is an obsolete law that has remained in force because the Church objects to its abolition.
The reality is that the law was a dead letter. No doctor obeyed it, abortions were routinely performed at all private clinics and the police never persecuted anyone. In Cyprus, it is as easy for a woman to have a pregnancy terminated, as it is to have a Pap test. Everyone was happy to pretend the law did not exist, as it was not enforced for decades, while the Church was content that abortion was illegal.
This may be the reason a draft bill modernising the legislation on abortions has been gathering dust at the House legal affairs committee for close to three years. The parties are reluctant to deal with it, because they fear the protests by the Church, not to mention the reaction of many churchgoing voters that would strongly disapprove of legalisation. As a result, the politicians chose the path of least resistance, avoiding dealing with the matter. Approval of the bill would lose votes, while gaining none.
The remand of two people, who have were released yesterday, will at least force deputies to deal with the matter and have the public debate which everyone has been avoiding. The Church, women’s groups, deputies, journalists can all have their say and the parties could then vote through the bill modernising the legislation. A woman’s right to choose needs to be recognised by the law and a woman that chooses to have a pregnancy terminated does not need to feel guilty that she is breaking the law.
It is not acceptable to have a law that everyone pretends does not exist, in order to keep the Church happy. The legislation on abortion must be modernised now.