Conservatism evident in Slovakia’s proposed `freedom of conscience’ deal with Vatican
March 08, 2006|By Tom Hundley, Tribune foreign correspondent.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The abortion debate in Europe–long thought to be settled in favor of liberal abortion laws–has been rekindled by the eastward expansion of the European Union. Slovakia and its much larger neighbor, Poland, have been at the forefront of a new conservatism that is ruffling more than a few feathers in Western Europe’s bastions of liberalism.
“They are changing the climate of the debate,” said Krzysztof Bobinski, director of Unia i Polska, a research center in Warsaw. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t have this debate … but it is making some people [in Western Europe] a little nervous.”
In Slovakia, a socially conservative country where more than 70 percent of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic, it is not surprising that the governing coalition is dominated by two parties with the word “Christian” in their names.
The agreement recognizes “the freedom of conscience in the protection and promotion of values intrinsic to the meaning of human life” and guarantees that the Slovak government will not “impose an obligation on the hospitals and health-care facilities founded by the Catholic Church … to perform artificial abortions or assisted fertilizations.”
The SDKU wanted to postpone debate on the treaty until after elections in September, but the more conservative KDH decided to force the issue and insisted that the government sign the treaty immediately. Dzurinda refused; new elections will be held in June.
During the communist era, Slovakia, then part of Czechoslovakia, adopted very liberal abortion laws. Conventional methods of contraception were scarce and expensive, and abortions became commonplace. But since the fall of communism, Slovakia’s abortion rate has plummeted.
“In the early ’90s, there were about 70,000 abortions a year. Now it’s less than 20,000,” said Rastislav Bednarik, a sociologist at the Center for Work and Family, a government agency.
Bednarik attributes the drop to the use of contraceptives and to church teachings. “The law stayed the same, but people began understanding what abortion means,” he said.