Austria’s Health Minister Spurs Debate Over abortion in public hospitals

By Dave Andrusko

Austria Health Minister Alois Stoeger

Okay, I guess the correct imagery is like a fly on the wall…I don’t have any first-hand knowledge about abortion in Austria, but if an article from AFP earlier this week is indicative, an attempt to massive increase its prevalence is meeting widespread resistance.

According to reporter Sim Sim Wissgott, in a recent interview with the weekly “News,“ Health Minister Alois Stoeger said, ”Pregnancy terminations should be offered in every region.” He added a threat: to withhold state funds if public hospitals did not widen access.

Stoeger acknowledged that 29 public hospitals and private clinics already offer abortion services but complained that they are concentrated in the east of Austria “with none in the western provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg,” according to Wissott. And as for the private practitioners in the west that do perform abortions, the costs are higher than in public hospitals, he said.

“A whole group of people, ie. women, is not being taken seriously if in all of western Austria this option (of abortion) does not exist,” Stoeger, a Social Democrat, told “News.” “Women have the right to decide whether they want a termination or not,” he insisted.

Stoeger’s comments, while supported by the media and the opposition Green Party, drew swift rebuttals.

“Carrying out abortions is not the job of public hospitals, and it will stay that way,” said Vorarlberg’s vice-governor Markus Wallner. Karlheinz Kopf of the conservative People’s Party( the Social Democrats’ coalition partner in government), added, “Abortion is not a state duty.” The Austrian medical association “deemed it ‘alarming’ to link access to abortion with the allocation of state funds,” according to Wissgott.

He explains that if carried out in the first three months “or in case of serious health concerns for the mother or baby,” there is no penalty, according to a 1975 law. “The text is known as the ‘grace period solution’ (Fristenloesung) rather than the ‘abortion law.’”

Wissgott writes that “it is estimated that some 30,000 abortions occur every year in Austria,” although no official statistics exist.

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