Norway tightens law after late abortions revealed

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Oslo University Hospital, where the controversial abortions came to light. Photo: Kjetil Lenes
10:26 CET+01:00
Norway is to tighten its abortion laws after it emerged that 17 foetuses were aborted after the 22-week limit between 2001 and 2011.

All the aborted pregnancies were in the 22nd or 23rd week. There have been no abortions later than 22 weeks since 2011, according to the figures from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

The practice came to light after midwives at Oslo University Hospital (Rikshospitalet), alerted hospital managers to the abortion of a healthy foetus, nearly six months into the pregnancy. The hospital was concerned that the law had been broken and alerted Norwegian Directorate of Health, Norway’s healthcare regulator.

Staff at the hospital’s maternity unit had complained about the fact that they had to carry out such late abortions while also working with premature births.

The women in question were granted abortions on ‘social grounds’. This category includes women who have become pregnant due to incest or rape and those who are mentally ill.

Anne Grethe Erlandsen, state secretary at Norway’s Health Ministry, said to NRK that abortions should not be carried out on foetuses that would be able to survive outside the womb.

“A proposal for new regulations will soon be send out for consultation. Aborting foetuses that are viable breaches abortion legislation and how we believe it should be implemented,” she said.

The abortions were able to take place thanks to a vaguely-worded abortion law. In the footnotes of the Norway’s abortion legislation 22 weeks is referred to as a recommended limit. The country’s central appeals panel for abortions has assumed that a foetus is viable after the end of the 24th week.

After the issue came to light the health department appointed an independent expert panel to examine existing regulations. The report, delivered in September, said that the law was unclear and applied inconsistently. The experts said that the absolutely last day an abortion should be carried out is the 6th day of the 21st week of pregnancy.

However, the leader of the Norwegian Association of Gynaecologists, Knut Hordnes, said he was sceptical about the idea of an absolute limit of 22 weeks. He said that abortions after this time could be justified in “exceptional cases”, for instance when serious chromosomal disorders would mean that the foetus would die later in pregnancy or straight after birth.

“Social issues would have to be extremely serious to justify an abortion at such a late stage,” he said.

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