From Iceland — Do Shit: How To Get An Abortion In Iceland

Do Shit: How To Get An Abortion In Iceland

Published March 11, 2024

Do Shit: How To Get An Abortion In Iceland

The útlendingur’s ongoing guide to getting shit done

Much like wrangling your annual tax return or figuring out how to register your kid for extra-curriculars, navigating the health care system in Iceland can be tricky and frustrating and, sometimes, rage inducing.

But if there is ever a time when you don’t need the extra stress of research or trial and error it’s when you find yourself pregnant. If you are a pregnant person planning on carrying a foetus to term, then your first stop should be your neighbourhood Heilsugæslan, where you will be paired with a midwife to oversee your care. Nota bene: you are in control, so if you don’t like the care you receive from your assigned midwife, it is your right to request another midwife to take over your care.

But this column isn’t about that. It’s about walking you through the process of procuring an abortion.

It is legal in Iceland to request an abortion up to the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy. The entirety of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, No. 43/2019, is available online in English for those seeking a deeper understanding of their exact rights and the rights and obligations of healthcare providers.

“If you are determined to seek a termination, you should contact us as early as possible,” explains Dr. Kolbrún Pálsdóttir, the department head of Kvennadeild (the women’s department) at Landspítali University Hospital. “At six weeks it’s less complicated and much easier for the women. It’s more like a normal menstruation; less bleeding and less painful.”

At six weeks it’s less complicated and much easier for the women. It’s more like a normal menstruation; less bleeding and less painful.

The majority of abortions carried out in Iceland are medical. The pregnant person typically takes one pill orally in the presence of a doctor or nurse at the Kvennadeild, and is sent home with four pills to be inserted vaginally 48 hours later. The procedure changes around nine weeks of pregnancy, though, as the pregnant individual will return to the hospital for observation after inserting the second round of pills. This is to monitor them in case of excessive bleeding.

Terminations performed after 12 weeks may require higher doses or additional rounds of medication.

However, the first step if you believe you could be pregnant is to confirm your assumption via a test, which can be bought in the toiletries section of most grocery stores or at any pharmacy. To book an appointment with Kvennadeild, call 543 3600. You will be prompted to leave your name, kennitala and phone number so that a nurse can call you back within three business days. They will call any time between 10:00 and 15:00 to invite you for an appointment on another date

“Protocol is that we must confirm intrauterine pregnancy before we start the termination process,” Kolbrún explains. “We are not really able to confirm a pregnancy until you are about six weeks pregnant, but you can call as early as you’d like and we will call you back and book an appointment according to your situation.”

Kolbrún says that most people are then booked in for an appointment within 10 to 14 days after making contact with the hospital.

Terminating a pregnancy is not a decision people tend to make lightly. Kolbrún points out that there are counsellors and social workers available to speak with about the procedure and its potential mental or emotional toll.

It bears mentioning that an abortion is a free service performed for anyone with an Icelandic kennitala who has already been registered with Sjúkratryggingar Íslands, the national health insurance — this happens automatically after six months residency in Iceland. Termination is also available free of charge for those registered as refugees, regardless of when they arrived in the country. People who have not yet been registered with the health insurance system will be liable to pay for all medical services out of pocket. A medical abortion performed at any time up to the 22nd week will cost 150,000 ISK, while a surgical abortion will cost 500,000 ISK.


Follow along with our Do Shit series. Is there an aspect of Icelandic bureaucracy or society that you’d like clarification about? Email us at grapevine[at]grapevine.is and we might just look into it.

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