The Norwegian government is finally set to overhaul abortion laws after it was revealed 17 healthy fetuses old enough to survive outside the womb had been aborted since 2001. Midwives first raised the alarm in May 2012, claiming unclear legislation had lead to an increasing number of late-term abortions.
Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) figures showed between 2001 to 2009, five abortions were performed at weeks 22 or 23. Between 2010 and 2011, 12 abortions were carried out. Some of the aborted fetuses’ hearts continued beating for between 45 and 90 minutes, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Midwives feared the abortions were illegal, and wrote to authorities in 2012 begging for clarification on the law. The late-term abortions had been granted on the grounds of “social reasons”, where factors including mental illness, incest or rape had come into play. The abortion act allowed terminations on social grounds after week 12, but not where the fetus was viable.
However, the comments on the legislation listed 22 weeks gestation as the recommended limit. The central abortion appeals authority (sentrale abortklagenemnda) interpreted this as a guide, not an absolute limit. No late-term abortions have been carried out since the end of 2011, while the practice has been under review.
The expert panel set up to investigate Norway’s abortion laws reported in September last year that there are significant differences and ambiguities in the understanding and practice of the laws. The panel recommended 21 weeks and 6 days as the absolute limit for terminations. The government has accepted the recommendation. Anne Grethe Erlandsen, the health department state secretary, said draft legislation will soon be released for comment.
“Abortion should not happen in fetuses who have the possibility of being able to live,” she told NRK. “We must have the same practices and views on this regardless of the situation the mother is in, unless her life is in danger.”
Erlandsen couldn’t explain why the abortion law was misinterpreted for a decade. “I can’t say anything about why it has been like that. It has been a practice that was tightened up two years ago.”
The Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) welcomed the reforms. Health spokeswoman Olaug Bollestad said the law hasn’t worked as it should, and the abortion scandal never should have happened. “I’m not after scapegoats,” she said. “I am glad there will be a limit. We must ensure we have a system that gives healthy children who are over the age we’re talking about here the right to live.”