Switzerland’s 9 February national referendum will see the people decide on three initiatives, including whether abortion should be considered a private cost. Acceptance of the proposal would engender a redefinition of what constitutes legitimate health treatment. This is particularly relevant to the Geneva region, which had the country’s highest abortion rate in 2012.
The line of the popular initiative, launched by an inter-party committee, is clear-cut, notably that funding the cost of an abortion is a “private matter”. It is not an illness that warrants reimbursement through compulsory health insurance contributions (assurance de base). Independent pro-life groups such as choisirlavie also assert that “a child cannot be compared to a disease that the state must eliminate to preserve the wellbeing of the population,” adding that abortion neither cures a suffering child nor the woman of a disease.
The immediate consequence of this would be that women would have to cover the costs themselves. Opponents maintain that apart from regressing to outdated gender inequalities, it would entail a redefinition of societal and health-related rights. Abortion would no longer be a matter of choice but rather of who’s got the money.
According to its supporters, which include Christian conservatives, the proposal would theoretically entail a decrease in the cost of health insurance for Swiss citizens. But, as Christian Levrat, president of the Swiss Social Democratic Party, points out, this would constitute only a “negligible proportion” (0.03%) of the healthcare budget for specialized treatment. The proposal is also not about numbers. Opponents deplore it for a paucity of both ethical considerations and ambiguous definitions of what constitutes legitimate illness. Following the initiative’s logic, they say, sports injuries, alcohol-related complications and obesity could be considered the results of certain lifestyle choices – as would the private cost of remedying them.
Strongly condemned by Amnesty International, the proposal falls short if it seeks to reduce the number of abortions in the long term. Since the passing of the 2002 abortion law, terminated pregnancies have decreased from 0.77% in 2002 to 0.69% of all pregnancies in 2012, according to the Federal Agency for Statistics. Moreover, Switzerland has one of the lowest European abortion rates, with about 11,000 abortions a year. A Swiss Broadcasting Corporation poll conducted this week indicates that a majority of those surveyed (58%) are against the initiative, with the greatest opposition in Suisse romande (73%).
By making abortion a private insurance cost, Switzerland may become a country where expensive private abortion clinics would generally be the only legal option open to many women. As Liliane Maury Pasquier of the Council of States added, the alternative would be for “women of modest means to opt for other methods that are possibly illegal or dangerous to their health.”
Jennifer Rose & Christopher Woodburn