Voters in Switzerland approved the decriminalization of abortion in a pivotal decision that Swiss Justice Minister Ruth Metzler called a “historic victory for women.” In an effort to challenge a law passed by Swiss lawmakers last year, an anti-abortion coalition brought a referendum before voters Sunday. In a country where 44.1 percent of the population is Catholic Ð the largest religion in Switzerland Ð 70 percent of voters approved a proposal to back the law, which calls for the legalization of abortion carried out up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, while 80 percent of voters rejected a second proposal to ban abortion completely. The law will now go into effect October 1, despite criticism from the Roman Catholic Swiss Bishops’ Conference.
Under the current law that dates from 1942, doctors who carry out abortions in Switzerland could face five years in prison, and women receiving abortion services could be sentenced to three years. Abortion, however, is allowed if a continued pregnancy would harm a woman’s physical or mental health. Approximately 13,000 women have abortions every year in regular clinics and though only one woman has been convicted for an abortion-related offense since 1988, five physicians have been convicted in the past nine years for ignoring abortion rules, according to the Associated Press.
In other parts of Europe, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands have the most liberal abortion laws allowing termination to take place up to 22 weeks into the pregnancy, France allows abortion up to 12 weeks, but Italy, Greece, Denmark and Norway sanction a 10-week deadline, according to statistics found at CNN.com. Meanwhile, Portugal, Ireland and Malta have the strictest laws where abortion is virtually banned.