Abortion legislation may have been modernised in 2018 but if what was said at the House human rights committee on Monday is anything to go by, the new provisions have largely been ignored. It would appear that the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), which administers Gesy, has not brought the national health scheme in line with the new legislation, while the protocols at state hospitals have not been updated so as to be compatible with the 2018 legislation.

A representative of the Family Planning Association said there were women who had gone to state hospitals to ask for an abortion and were told that it was illegal, when it quite clearly was not. A deputy pointing out that some health professionals at hospitals felt obliged to offer moral guidance to women seeking an abortion instead of medical advice, which was little more than psychological blackmail.

There were also doctors at state hospitals that refused to be involved in any procedure related to abortion. A representative of the state health services (Okypy) admitted this at the House committee, explaining there were anaesthesiologists who refused to offer their services for abortions because of their religious beliefs and outsiders had to be brought in for such cases (the doctors union did not protest about this). This seems rather unorthodox, but in a state hospital doctors seem to call the shots.

A deputy for the Greens made this point very clearly, when she said, “it should not be left to any doctor or nurse to decide whether a woman has the right to have an abortion.” Okypy needed to change its protocols to take this power out of the hands of doctors and nurses. Women also had to be made aware of the rights they were given by the law. Everyone it seems agreed there was a need to inform people about the amended law as well as hospital doctors, who were also ignorant on the matter, some under the impression that abortion was still illegal. Lack of information could probably be attributed to pressure from the Church, which had opposed the change of legislation.

The fact, however, is that abortion is a lawful procedure in exceptional circumstances for women up to 19 weeks pregnant – if the pregnancy is the result of rape, sexual abuse or incest – or if the pregnancy could cause medical problems for the mother or child. A woman could also have an abortion for any reason in first 12 weeks of pregnancy, so it must be covered by Gesy, despite the inexplicable reluctance of the HIO to cover it.

Hopefully the pressure applied by deputies and organised groups will force the authorities to change stance as not all women can afford to have abortions privately, which had been available even when they were ‘illegal’.