Parliament tightens its abortion law

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A majority in the Norwegian Parliament controversially gave in to the small Christian Democrats party during the night, and ultimately voted to add a restriction to Norway’s long-standing abortion law. The change applies, however, only to pregnancies involving more than one fetus.

Members of Parliament debated late into the night over whether to tighten Norway’s abortion law at the request of the Christian Democrats. They ultimately decided to do so early Friday morning. PHOTO: Stortinget

The vote came after marathon debate that extended well past midnight. A total of 105 Members of Parliament voted in favour of the change, including members of the four government parties plus several MPs from the rural-oriented Center Party. A total of 64 MPs voted against the law proposal, including all MPs from the Labour, Socialist Left and Reds parties.

It vote followed months of debate over the conservative government’s decision to make the concession on abortion to get the Christian Democrats to join their coalition. The Christian Democrats have long campaigned for restricting abortions, and created major challenges for Prime Minister Erna Solberg (who firmly supports women’s right to an abotion) in 2014 when they acted as a support party for her coalition in Parliament.

Those efforts ultimately failed, but the Christian Democrats came back in January when they met with Solberg’s Conservatives plus the Progress and Liberal parties that already were in her government to discuss forming an expanded coalition and hammer out a new potential platform. They emerged from their talks with a new majority government that included the Christian Democrats, but which also proposed changing women’s unrestricted right to abort one fetus or more in the event of an eventual multiple birth.

Labour firmly opposed
Under the new abortion law approved after hours of more late-night debate in Parliament, women pregnant with twins, triplets or more must now obtain permission from a medical board if they want to abort one fetus or more. Among those arguing strongly against the new abortion restriction was Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre.

“If we raise our sights, we can see that the right-wing and religious factions in many countries are making progress in restriction women’s rights to decide on abortion themselves,” Støre said. He and several other MPs expressed grave concern that even relatively minor restrictions amount to an attack on women’s right to choose.

Støre also told newspaper Dagbladet late Thursday night that he fears the change may be a first step towards more restrictions. That was rejected by Christian Democrats such as MP Geir Jørgen Bekkevold, who said he distanced himself from what’s happened in places like Alabama in the US. He also rejects attempts to try to put Alabama’s new law that all but restricts abortion entirely into a Norwegian context.

Women’s rights ‘not threatened’
Others voting in favour of the change in Norway’s abortion law also denied that Norway’s law ensuring women’s right to choose was threatened. Per-Willy Amundsen, a conservative MP and former justice minister for the Progress Party, called the “adjustments” to the law “completely natural and defensible changes. They address some ethical problems that are relevant to the highest degree.”

MP Carl-Erik Grimstad of the Liberal Party, which otherwise has long defended Norway’s liberal abortion law, admitted that massive opposition to the proposed changes made an impression on him. He pointed, however, to the recommendations of the medical staff at the only hospital in Norway that performs “fetus reductions.” Grimstad stressed that they wanted the law change for a number of professional reasons.

The abortion concession granted to the Christian Democrats now paves the way for them to be forced into making concessions themselves on other major issues, not least on proposals to cut back on bompenger (road tolls). That’s due to come up before Parliament next week, as MPs scramble to wrap up legislative duties before Parliament closes for the summer holidays.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund