Norwegian government officials have determined that the country’s abortion law allows women pregnant with multiple fetuses to abort all but one if they so choose, even when all are healthy. The decision has already sparked concern from Norwegian medical professionals who fear the remaining fetus can be injured.
The decision means that a woman pregnant with twins, for example, can now opt to abort one and keep the other. Confusion had reigned within Norwegian hospitals over whether that was allowed under the law. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has earlier reported that many pregnant women who only wanted one baby have traveled abroad to have so-called “fetal reduction” procedures if they were denied them in Norway.
In accordance with the law
Health Minister Bent Høie of the Conservative Party responded to the confusion by asking judicial experts in the justice ministry for an interpretation of Norway’s abortion law, and has been told the law will allow it.
“We accept that’s the way the law must be understood, and will clarify that for the hospitals,” Cecilie Brein-Karlsen, state secretary in the health ministry, told NRK Thursday morning. That will give the green light for women to request and receive such abortions at Norway’s state-run hospitals.
Norwegian law allows freedom of choice for abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy without any medical or social reason. After the 12th week, abortions can only be allowed if justified for health reasons or by the pregnant woman’s personal situation.
The justice ministry’s decision now being passed on by the health ministry is at odds with the recommendations of medical professionals in Norway. Dr Birgitte Heiberg Kahrs of the national center for fetal health at St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim remains skeptical.
“Our recommenation was that this (fetal reduction) should only be allowed in the case of twins if one of the fetuses shows signs of developmental weakness, and that its abortion only should be performed between weeks 12 and 14 to reduce the risk of also losing the other child,” Heiberg Kahrs told NRK.
It’s the abortions of one of two twins that especially alarms doctors. “We haven’t found any medical gain from this,” Heiberg Kahrs told NRK. “On the contrary, an abortion of one fetus puts the other in danger. We have difficulties recommending anything that doesn’t offer a health advantage.”
Terje Rootwelt, deputy director of Oslo University Hospital, agreed. “We have no wish that this will become routine in Norway,” he told NRK.
’80 percent survive’
Statistics show there were 930 women pregnant with twins in 2014 but not all of them were able to face the thought of caring for two babies at once. Those denied an abortion of one fetus but intent on only having one child have traveled to places like Barcelona, where the clinic Tutor Médica performs fetal reduction and has received several Norwegian patients.
“There are women who can’t see themselves taking care of twins, for economic, social or family reasons,” Dr Santiago Barambio told NRK when confusion over the issue had risen in Norway two years ago. He agreed that the “fetal reduction” procedure is “relatively risky, because many lose both afterwards.” He said, however, that more than 80 percent of the cases “go well, and the women give birth to one child.”
Members of Parliament in Norway have never taken a position on the issue, not least because when the country’s law allowing freedom of choice for abortion was signed in 1975, it wasn’t medically possible to perform an abortion of only one of two twin fetuses.
Brein-Karlsen of the health ministry called the procedure “ethically difficult, but we must follow the law” as interpreted by the justice ministry.