Iceland's Parliament Passes Landmark Abortion Law - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Iceland’s Parliament Passes Landmark Abortion Law

Published May 14, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Timothée Lambrecq

Last night, Iceland’s Parliament passed a hotly contested bill into law which allows for an abortion until the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy.

Kjarninn reports that the law was passed with 40 votes in favour, 18 against, three abstentions and two absences.

Amongst the 18 opposed, almost all of them were men—with the exceptions of People’s Party chair Inga Sæland and recently resigned Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen—and hailed from the Centre Party, the People’s Party and the Independence Party. Minister of Finance and Independence Party chair Bjarni Benediktsson was the only Minister to vote against the measure.

Iceland’s previous abortion law, last codified in 1975, only allowed the termination of a pregnancy up until the end of the 16th week.

The abortion measure has been hotly contested since it first entered public discussion as a bill last October. At the time, Þuríður Harpa Sigurðardóttir, the chair of The Organisation of Disabled in Iceland, told RÚV that the proposed legislation was “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.

That said, the passage of this law has been met with celebration as well. The gallery overlooking Parliament was packed with spectators who supported the measure, who watched intently as the final debate and vote was taken. Cheers were heard when the final count was tallied.

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who introduced the bill, told Stöð 2 that the number of Yes votes “speaks for itself”, and that the passage of this law means that “there are 40 members of Parliament who are ready for the 21st century.”

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