Cyprus Mail

Abortion doctor is released as push to change law intensifies

Attorney-General Costas Clerides

The doctor who was arrested earlier in the week for performing an abortion was released on Thursday, while authorities said they are waiting for the opinion of the attorney-general on whether to file the case in court.

The doctor and the woman who had the abortion were arrested on Monday after her partner, who didn’t know she was going ahead with the procedure, caused a disturbance at the clinic after he found out. They were remanded on Tuesday for five days. The woman was released on Thursday amid a public outcry over her arrest.

Police were told that the woman, who was eight-weeks pregnant, had been accompanied to the clinic by her partner’s mother. During her arrest on Monday evening, she told police she didn’t know it was an offence and she was sorry.

The arrests sparked outrage and a debate on the issue of abortions, which are illegal in Cyprus, although carried out freely in private clinics. An amendment to the law has been languishing in parliament for almost three years because the powerful church of Cyprus opposed it.

Although submitted in early 2015, the amendment has never even been discussed.

Gender Equality Commissioner Iosifina Antoniou said on Friday that she told Attorney-General Costas Clerides – in a letter she sent him on Thursday – that she did not agree with the remand of the woman.

“I told him that it was an excessive move– even a wrong one – issuing a remand for the woman, who, despite committing a criminal offense according to the existing law, received a disproportionate five-day remand measure given that she admitted to the abortion,” Antoniou told state broadcaster CyBC radio.

Since the woman admitted to the abortion, Antoniou said, a remand was not justified as there was no risk of her altering evidence or escaping.

Antoniou also stressed the importance of putting pressure on the legislative to discuss the bill in question which was sent to the House three years ago and is still pending.

“I believe that it is imperative for the discussion to be completed. We live in the 21st century, we must live according to the current circumstances,” Antoniou said.

She added that discussion of the bill must be based on women’s rights.

Cyprus, she said, is one of the six EU member states that have not yet decriminalised abortions.

The head of the House legal affairs committee, Disy’s Giorgos Georgiou said that the bill was not progressing because of workload and that he would propose next week that the House committee for human rights should discuss the issue.

He added that the bill does not provide for the complete decriminalisation of abortions but that it “definitely sets some safeguards”.

The bill, he said, provides that abortion is allowed as long as three months of gestation have not been completed, and that it sets time restrictions for other cases such as rape, serious embryo disability or cases concerning multiple gestation that threatens the survival of the other embryos.  It also forbids the advertisement of medication for abortion.

According to current legislation,abortions are legal only when a pregnancy was caused by rape – an initial provision that goes back to the aftermath of the 1974 Turkish invasion – and currently if the demand for the abortion is accompanied by police verification and a medical verification where possible. Abortion is also legal if the pregnancy is deemed threatening to the life of the mother or could cause greater ‘physical or mental damage’ to her or her other children than if the pregnancy not been terminated.

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