Hägglund defends abortion plans

The Swedish government on Monday defended its plans to allow foreign women to come to Sweden for abortions after religious groups slammed a proposal currently being prepared.

“This (legislation) could lead to fewer illegal abortions and provide women with a safer environment” for the procedure, Sweden’s Health and Social Affairs Minister, Göran Hägglund, also the leader of the Christian Democrat party, told Swedish radio SR.

The legislation was based on the principle of equality of health care for all citizens of the European Union, Hägglund said.

The proposal is due before the Swedish parliament in June.

The plans would have an “extremely marginal effect” on the number of women travelling to Sweden for abortions as many other EU countries – including Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain – already allowed non-residents to have abortions, health and social affairs ministry spokesman Joakim Pettersson told AFP.

Furthermore the cost would be met by those seeking the procedure, he added.

Sweden allows abortions up until the 18th week of pregnancy.

Four EU countries have highly restrictive abortion laws, under which it generally only allowed in special circumstances: Ireland, Malta, Poland and Portugal.

Discussions continued on whether the legislation would apply to all foreign women or specifically those from EU countries, Petterson said.

A vote on the legislation is expected to be held in the autumn.

The issue has divided Hägglund’s own Christian Democrat party, and has attracted fierce criticism from religious leaders.

Sweden’s Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius and the leader of the evangelical Pentacostal Movement in Stockholm, Sten-Gunnar Hedin, writing in Sunday’s daily Dagens Nyheter, threatened to encourage Christians to vote against the government at the country’s 2010 general elections if the proposal is passed.

The Protestant Lutheran Church of Sweden, which attracts the large majority of Swedish church-goers, told AFP on Monday it had no plans to comment on the proposal.

Sweden’s abortion rate is one of the highest in Europe. In 2004, 34,500 abortions were conducted in the country, or 20 for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the most recent figures published by the Swedish statistics agency.