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Article Liechtenstein: No to Legalized Abortion

(Sept. 27, 2011) On September 18, 2011, the citizens of Liechtenstein voted in a referendum to reject a proposal to legalize abortion in that country, with 52.3% of votes cast against the measure and 47.7% in favor of it. The “Help Instead of Punishment” referendum called for decriminalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or in cases where the child would be severely disabled. Liechtenstein's acting Head of State, Hereditary Prince Alois, had indicated his opposition to the law in a speech delivered in August in which he had threatened to veto the decriminalization proposal. (Jennie Ryan, Liechtenstein Voters Reject Legalized Abortion, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Sept. 19, 2011).)

The majority of the population in Liechtenstein is Catholic, and the Prince's stance reportedly reflected their concerns that “the proposal went too far and could lead to late-term abortions of disabled children.” (Liechtenstein Rejects Plan to Legalize Abortion, AP (Sept. 2011).) Those who had pushed for change contended that women who have unwanted pregnancies must travel secretly to Austria or Switzerland even to obtain advice on their options, because they face the threat of prosecution at home. (Id.)

The Penal Code of Liechtenstein prescribes that anyone who performs a consensual abortion will be subject to a prison term of up to one year; if done for profit, the sentence will be a prison term of up to three years. If the person is not a physician, he or she may face a punishment of up to three years' imprisonment; if such an abortion is done for profit or results in the woman's death, the person will be subject to a prison term ranging from six months to five years. Any woman who performs an abortion herself or permits another person to do so is subject to a sentence of up to one year's imprisonment upon conviction. (art. 96, items 1-3). (Liechtenstein: Penal Code, June 24, 1987 [citing provisions on abortion, in English translation], LIECHTENSTEINISCHES LANDESGESETZBLATT, No. 37 (Oct. 22, 1988), at 1-125, Harvard School of Public Health website; Strafgesetzbuch [Penal Code] (LR 311.0) (Jan. 1, 2008),State Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein website.)

Abortions are permissible only: 1) when necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or prevent serious harm to her health or if she was unmarried and not yet 14 years of age at the time of conception (provided the procedure is performed by a physician), or 2) if performed to save the woman's life when medical help cannot be promptly obtained (art. 96, item 4(1) & (2)). Other provisions of the Code govern abortions without the consent of the pregnant woman (art. 97), reckless operations (art. 98), and “offering one's services for abortion or announcing means to obtain an abortion” (art. 98a). (Id.)

It is expected that in the near future the Liechtenstein Parliament (Fürstentum Liechtenstein [Principality of Liechtenstein] website (last visited Sept. 26, 2011)) will consider a counter proposal on abortion, under which it would still be a criminal offense but no longer be punished. (Ryan, supra.) Among the other countries whose restrictive laws and policies on abortion have been criticized by abortion rights advocacy groups are the Philippines, Ireland, and Nicaragua. (Id.)

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