Danish ethics council recommends changing limit on abortion

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Ritzau/The Local - [email protected]
Danish ethics council recommends changing limit on abortion
Leif Vestergaard Pedersen and Ida Donkin of the Danish National Center for Ethics during a presentation of the centre's statement on Denmark's free abortion limit. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish National Center for Ethics (Etisk Råd) recommends the country change its limit for free abortion from the current 12 weeks to 18 weeks, to give women more thinking time after examination of the foetus.


The ethics centre confirmed its position on Tuesday, in a statement about the free right to abortion.

A majority on the ethics council is of the view that a limit of 18 weeks gives the woman thinking time in relation to all of the examinations which are offered to pregnant women.

Among the majority of nine on the seventeen-person council, professor of psychiatry Merete Nordentoft said the women’s right to free choice weighs heavily in her view.

“The woman must have the decisive word until the eighteenth week,” Nordentoft said to news wire Ritzau.

“But there must be good advice about the character of the medical procedure and the offer of support if the woman wishes to fulfil the pregnancy,” she said.


Women under care of the Danish health system during pregnancy are offered a nuchal scan that can detect congenital conditions early in pregnancy. The number of weeks is counted from the first day of the last period before the pregnancy.

The results of the scan are not usually available until after the current limit, and pregnant women must therefore apply to an abortion committee at their regional health authority for permission to have an abortion based on the results of the scan, because it is carried out after the current limit has passed.

Nordentoft said she does not agree with this.

“Such a crucial decision should be made by the woman herself. At the same time, we ensure with an 18-week limit that there is a good distance to the criteria of survivability [should the foetus be born prematurely, ed.], which is 22 weeks,” she said.

A majority on the ethics council also notes that there is not a greater risk to the woman in having an abortion after week 12, and that there is no evidence to suggest that a change in the limit would result in a higher frequency of abortions or later abortions.

Those conclusions are based on observations from Sweden, which allows free abortion up to 18 weeks. Sweden also allows abortion up to 21 weeks and six days if permission is given by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare's legal council.


Of the 17 members of the Danish ethics council, four support changing the current free abortion limit to 15 weeks, including council chairperson Leif Vestergaard Pedersen.

“The woman’s rights are very important. But consideration should also be given to the foetus,” Pedersen said. He noted that 15 percent of foetuses that are aborted after 12 weeks show signs of life. A limit of more than 15 weeks would give a higher proportion, he said.

“We must therefore think carefully in respect of the woman who wants to abort and a foetus who wants to live,” he said.

Four members of the council want to keep the current limit, 12 weeks. They include Ida Donkin, an obstetrician at the Nordsjælland Hospital.

“Most people discover they are pregnant early and we can see that most abortions occur in week seven or eight. After 12 weeks it can be of help for the couple if there is consultation involved in the decision,” Donkin said.

The statement from the National Center for Ethics has been anticipated for some time. Charities, including Mødrehjælpen and the Danish Family Planning Association (Sex og Samfund) have called for the free abortion limit to be raised, as have obstetricians and gynaecologists.

The recommendation from the council does not oblige the government or parliament to change existing laws on the area.


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