Seals Gain Protected Status in Reykjavík

Seals are now protected within the Reykjavík City limits and the surrounding area. The next step is to ensure the protection status of seals in the general law, according to mammal ecologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir at The Icelandic Institute of Natural History, RÚV reports.

The Environment and Planning Committee of Reykjavík City approved a proposal to make seals protected within coastal areas surrounding Reykjavík, as well as near estuaries. All hunting of both common seals and grey seals will cease within the jurisdiction of the city. Reykjavík City’s website states it is necessary to improve the legal status of seals and to create a framework to control seal hunting. The decision doesn’t have a formal legal effect but is more of a statement of intent.

“We hope that more municipalities follow suit, but what matters most is to ensure that seals become legally protected, so they have adequate protection in Iceland,” said Ester Rut from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

The common seal is listed as an endangered species in Iceland while the grey seal is listed as vulnerable. The common seal (phoca vitulina) is a coastal animal, living closer to the shore, while the grey seal (halichoerus grypus) is an ocean-going seal. The common seal is sometimes named the speckled seal. The two species are considered among the most common seal species in the world. However, the species have faced tough times in Iceland in recent years. “We have no knowledge of why it’s happening, but there’s a clear reason to react,” said Ester. Further investigation needs to take place regarding the reduction of the seals. Common seal numbers have decreased by 77% in a 35-year timespan. In years past, they were hunted in considerable numbers but no major hunting has taken place in recent history.

“It might be bycatch that causes the reduction when they accidentally get caught by nets intended for other species. That type of hunting is relatively common but is most often not registered,” commented Ester.

Abortion Bill Passed in Icelandic Parliament

The Icelandic parliament passed a bill which legalises the termination of a pregnancy within the first 22 weeks regardless of circumstances. Abortion was previously legal within the same timeframe, however a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy after the 16th week required approval by a committee. That decision is now solely in the hands of the pregnant person.

Passed with majority

The bill was passed with 40 votes against 18. Three MPs abstained from the vote and two were absent. All members of the Progressive Party, Pirate Party, Social Democratic Alliance, Left Green Movement, and Reform Party voted for the bill. All Centre Party and People’s Party MPs voted against the bill, excepting Anna Kolbrún Árnadóttir of the Centre Party, who abstained.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson voted against the bill, the only minister to do so. “Women’s freedom cannot trump every other issue that comes up in these matters,” he stated as explanation. Two female MPs also voted against the bill: People’s Party MP and Chairperson Inga Sæland and Independence Party MP and former Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen. More detailed information about the distribution of votes can be found on the parliament’s website.

Bill concerns 2% of abortions

A very small proportion of abortions are carried out between the 16th and 22nd week in Iceland. In 2015, 93.8% of terminations of pregnancy in the country were carried out before the end of the 12th week of pregnancy, and 4.2% between the 13th and 16th week, together representing 98% of all pregnancies terminated in Iceland. Thus the new legislation concerns only 2% of abortion procedures carried out in the country. Up until 22 weeks, Icelandic law defines termination of pregnancy as abortion, while after 22 weeks it is defined as delivery.

Independence Party MP and Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir was absent for the vote due to a work trip, but expressed her support of the bill on her Facebook page. “I supported the bill in the second reading and support it in spirit today,” she wrote. “The timeframe is the same, the decision where it belongs.”

Further changes

The new legislation also applies to minors, who are henceforth legally able to terminate a pregnancy without the consent of a parent or guardian. The article states that in connection with the termination of pregnancy, the minor shall be offered information and counselling on contraception.

Article 13 of the legislation also proposes a change in terminology used to discuss the topic, suggesting that þungunarrof (interruption of pregnancy) should henceforth be used instead of fóstureyðing (abortion, or literally “fetus extermination”), stating that the word fóstureyðing “has been considered a charged word.”