Last month, after five years of advocacy, Monaco approved a new law, which legalizes medically necessary abortions. Monaco was one of the last three states in Europe where abortion was illegal. The other two countries are Ireland and Malta.
The law was passed unanimously by the National Council, Monaco’s parliament, in a 26-0 vote. This is significant because 90 percent of Monaco’s population is formally Catholic. As generally known, the Roman Catholic Church believes that life begins at conception and opposes abortion under all circumstances. However, the modern Catholic position states a medical procedure needed to save the life of the mother, but that may result in the death of the "pre-born child" as a secondary effect, is morally acceptable.
Until now, Monaco has had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Under Monaco’s Criminal Code, there were no stated exceptions to a general prohibition of abortion. Nonetheless, under general criminal law principles of necessity, an abortion could be performed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Any person performing an illegal abortion was subject to one to five years imprisonment and a fine. A woman who induced her own abortion or consented to its being induced was subject to six months to three years imprisonment and a fine. Physicians, surgeons, midwives and pharmacists who performed abortions were liable to harsher penalties including suspension from their profession.
The process of adopting a new bill calling for increased abortion access took years of struggling against religious beliefs. Like many other Catholic Church representatives, Archbishop Pernard Barsi of Monaco said there are a few fundamental principles that come not from religious morality, but from the natural law itself, that applies to all modern civilized societies: Life begins at conception. "What we term ‘interruption of pregnancy,’ no matter what the motive is, remains an abortion. One of the most fundamental human rights is the integrity of the person at all stages of life. Civil law must never abridge the moral law," he said.
The Catholic Church in Monaco continuously claimed that permitting deliberate abortion for medical reasons or rape would inevitably lead to abortion on demand, and sooner or later, to the total liberalization of abortion. Barsi was pointing to the progression of laws permitting abortion in countries with no restrictions on the procedure. Instead of focusing on termination of pregnancies, he suggested looking closer at the problems faced by women and families dealing with difficult pregnancies, and called for increased support in society for them. "It’s not by legalizing the ‘interruption of pregnancies for medical motives or rape’ that we will help women, couples and families. We must in fact accompany women by putting in place concrete measures within our institutions to foster solidarity," he said.
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The new law permits abortion for "hard cases" including rape, fetal deformity, fetal illness or danger to the life of the mother. Catholic authorities argue that new regulations on termination of pregnancy are "incompatible" with the constitution of Monaco, which recognizes the Catholic faith as the state religion. They fear, for example, that there will be further attempts to conform Monaco to what they consider lowest ethical standards.
Adoption of the new bill on abortion in Monaco should be regarded as an important step on the way to providing sufficient guarantees for women within the area of reproductive rights. The fact that currently there are only two states in Europe where abortion is illegal and therefore totally prohibited, is a genuine proof that societies can change mentality, despite religious constraints that very often constitute serious obstacles when discussing controversial matters, especially abortion. Monaco serves as a perfect example.