Sweden “should offer abortions to foreigners”

Sweden, which already has one of the world's most liberal abortion laws, should loosen restrictions further by allowing non-residents access to the procedure, according to a government-commissioned report published on Monday.

“We suggest that foreign women be allowed to have abortions in Sweden,” head of the study Eva Eriksson told reporters in Stockholm.

The Scandinavian country has since the mid-1970s offered free abortions up until the 18th week of pregnancy – no questions asked – making it one of the world’s most liberal countries on the issue.

But since access to the procedure has, until now, been reserved for Swedish citizens and residents only, critics maintain the law is still too restrictive, especially since most European Union countries already allow foreign women access to abortion.

Eriksson’s report, titled “Abortion in Sweden” suggests changing Sweden’s abortion law as early as July 1 next year to allow non-resident women the same access to abortion as they have to other health services in the country. The only condition is that they pay for the procedure themselves.

“Sweden’s EU membership already today implies that women from another EU country should be offered abortion in Sweden despite the wording of the abortion law,” Eriksson said, pointing out that neighboring Denmark last year changed its abortion law to comply with European Union rules.

Four EU countries today have a total ban on the procedure: Ireland, Malta, Poland and Portugal.

Many Swedes feel it is their country’s duty as a forerunner when it comes to reproductive rights to extend abortion rights to non-residents.

Before Swedes had access to legal abortions at home, many desperate women travelled to Poland to get the procedure done there. Now that the tables have turned, and abortion is illegal in Poland, it is hypocritical not to offer women living outside of Sweden the same opportunities as the country’s citizens and residents, critics say.

And if Sweden decides to provide abortions to women from other EU countries, it would be unacceptable to maintain rules blocking women from outside the bloc from the procedure, Eriksson said.

Allowing non-resident women to have abortions in Sweden was not expected to greatly increase the number of terminated pregnancies in the country each year.

“There will be a small increase of foreign women seeking abortions in Sweden,” Eriksson said, pointing out that Denmark had not registered any increase and that Britain and the Netherlands had both seen their abortion numbers for foreign women drop since they opened to procedure to non-citizens.

“Women mainly seek abortions in neighboring countries,” she said, pointing out that Poland, the only European country with an abortion ban that is close enough to Sweden to cause an influx, still has a lot of abortion expertise.

“An illegal abortion in Poland is less expensive than a legal abortion in Sweden,” she said.

Sweden’s abortion rate is currently one of the highest in Europe. Last year, 34,500 abortions were conducted in the country, or 20 for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44.

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