Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir (above) will soon submit a bill to Parliament which would make several changes to Iceland’s existing abortion laws, RÚV reports. Iceland’s abortion laws are amongst the most conservative in northern Europe, and updating them has often been raised as a possibility.
If the changes to the existing law pass, abortions will be permitted up until the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy, for any reason. As it is now, Iceland’s existing abortion law—last codified in 1975—only allows the termination of a pregnancy up until the end of the 16th week.
The draft of the bill has been met with some criticism. Þuríður Harpa Sigurðardóttir, the chair of The Organisation of Disabled in Iceland, told RÚV that the proposed legislation is “incredibly disappointing” to her.
“We should bear in mind that we’re talking about halfway through a pregnancy,” she told reporters. “This raises questions about what the intent is supposed to be. It must be in order to make it possible to end the life of a fetus with abnormalities or disabilities.”
However, it bears pointing out that the original draft intended to extend the limit to only 18 weeks. This was later changed when numerous health care professionals recommended taking it to 22 weeks.
The remarks harken back to widespread misreporting that made international headlines last year, which erroneously stated that Iceland was committed to “wiping out” Down Syndrome through pre-natal screening. In reality, expecting mothers are not even required to undergo the screening, let alone have an abortion if the fetus shows signs of Down Syndrome.
In fact, this new abortion bill may have multipartisan support. In 2015, then Minister of Health Kristján Þór Júlíusson, who hails from the Independence Party, also expressed the belief that Iceland’s abortion laws need revision. Svandís is in the Leftist-Green Party, which currently leads the ruling coalition with the Independence Party and the Progressive Party.