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Article Denmark: Government Enters Agreement to Extend Right to Free Abortion

On May 3, 2024, the Interior Ministry announced that the Danish government reached a political agreement with the leaders of opposition parties to extend the right to free abortion (fri abort), that is, abortion on request, to 18 weeks of pregnancy from the current 12 weeks.  

The Danish government, currently made up of the Social Democrat, Liberal, and Moderate parties, reached this agreement with the leaders of four main opposition parties (Green Left, Red-Green Alliance, Danish Social Liberal, and Alternative parties). Under the agreement, legislation will be introduced during 2024-2025 to amend the Health Act (Sundhedsloven), which will come into force June 1, 2025.

Background – Current law

Under current law, while abortions in Denmark are available and part of the public health service up to week 22 of gestation, between 12 and 22 weeks, abortions require prior consultation and approval from one of five regional boards (regionale abortsamråd). (§ 97 Health Act.) By law such permission is to be provided if one of the following circumstances listed in Section 94 of the Health Act applies:

1) the pregnancy, birth, or caring for the child risks the [physical or mental health of the mother],

2) the pregnancy is [a result of a crime],

3) there is a risk that the child will suffer a serious physical or mental disorder due to hereditary predisposition or damage or disease in the fetal state,

4) the pregnant woman, due to physical or mental illness or mental incapacity, is unable to care for the child properly,

5) the pregnant woman, due to her young age or immaturity, is currently unable to care for the child in a responsible manner, or

6) the pregnancy, the birth or the care of the child must be assumed to cause a serious burden on the pregnant woman which cannot be averted in any other way, [for the sake of the woman or her family, taking into account her age, prior children, workload, housing, financial, and health conditions]. (§ 94 Health Act, translation by author.)

Agreement to Amend Law

Under the new agreement, women will have the right to an abortion on request until week 18 of gestation. Abortions thereafter will still require consultation and permission. Under the agreement, the five regional boards that now provide such approval will be replaced by a single national board. The political parties joining the agreement noted that the use of regional boards has resulted in women in like circumstances receiving different decisions depending on where they live as to whether they could have abortions, and that a national board will ensure a more uniform and transparent practice throughout the country.

The new agreement provides that abortions will be prohibited beyond week 22 of gestation (which is considered the time of viability), except in certain circumstances, such as when there is danger to the woman’s life or severe risk to her physical or mental health, for example when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The original 12-week limit for abortion on request was instituted in 1973, when abortion in later weeks entailed a greater risk of complications to the mother. The parties to the agreement note that medical advances since 1973 have made abortions after week 12 safer.

Elimination of Parental Consent Requirement for Minors 15 and Older

In addition, an addendum to the agreement provides that minors aged 15 to 17 shall have self-determination over their reproductive health, including abortions, without prior parental approval. The parties to the agreement note that the age of sexual consent is 15 years of age in Denmark (222 § Straffeloven), and that a person that age should also have self-determination as to whether to have an abortion, similar to how patients from age 15 can give consent to other types of treatment in the healthcare system. Persons younger than 15 seeking an abortion will still need either parental consent or consultation and approval from the national board.

Elin Hofverberg, Law Library of Congress
June 10, 2024

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