No Increase in Pregnancy Terminations Following Law Change Skip to content
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No Increase in Pregnancy Terminations Following Law Change

Changes to Iceland’s abortion law that took effect in 2019 did not impact the number of pregnancies terminated in the country, according to a newly published report from the Directorate of Health. The law was heavily debated when it was introduced to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, and criticised by the Bishop of Iceland, among others. The changes appear to have shortened the time between the decision to terminate a pregnancy and the procedure itself. RÚV reported first.

According to the latest figures from the Directorate of Health, the frequency of pregnancy termination in 2022 was similar to what it was before the law was changed in 2019. The number of terminations was slightly lower in 2020 and 2021, which may be explained by gathering restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Termination of pregnancy permitted until 22nd week

Under the new law, it is legal to request a termination of pregnancy up to the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy, instead of the 16th week, as the law previously allowed. However, the law still indicates that the procedure should be carried out as soon as possible, preferably before the 12th week of pregnancy.

The previous law in Iceland also permitted termination of pregnancy after the 16th week, but only due to unequivocal medical reasons. Such terminations required written authorisation from a Directorate of Health committee. This is no longer the case under the new law.

The old law was changed in part due its violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as it allowed the termination of pregnancy after the 16th week if there was “a high likelihood of malformation, genetic defects or damage to the fetus.” The law was first put under review in 2016, culminating with the introduction of the now-approved bill in 2019, by then-Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir.

Supported by medical professionals

Professional medical associations expressed support for the new law when it was introduced. These included the Association of Icelandic Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Association of Icelandic Nurses, the National University Hospital of Iceland, the Directorate of Health, and the Icelandic Social Workers’ Association. The Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir wrote an op-ed in Morgunblaðið newspaper opposing the changes, and People’s Party MP Inga Sæland also vocally opposed them at the time. Bjarni Benediktsson, chairman of the Independence Party and now Prime Minister, was the only government minister to vote against the bill.

Despite the legislation being relaxed in 2019, there is no evidence that the number of pregnancy terminations after the 16th week has increased in Iceland. On the other hand, a larger proportion of terminations are carried out earlier in the pregnancy, with nearly 90% carried out before the ninth week.

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