Abortion in Austria
In Austria, every woman can decide for herself whether or not she wants to have an abortion after a positive pregnancy test, up until the 16th week after the first day of the last menstruation. Since 1975, it has been legal to have an abortion, without a medical reason, performed by a doctor (private or public providers) up until that point. In most clinics, however, the procedure is only performed until the 12th or 14th week. After this period, in the second and third trimester, an abortion is only possible if there is a risk to the pregnant woman (i.e. in the case of heart disease) or if a serious physical illness of the embryo is detected during prenatal diagnostics. There is no gestational limit if a girl under the age of 14 falls pregnant. No doctor is obliged to fulfil the wish for an abortion. Both medicinal and surgical options are available, depending on how far along the woman is. Only hospitals and clinics offer medical abortions. It is difficult to estimate the number of abortions per year due to the lack of reporting, but there are about 30,000 a year.
In order to be able to discuss fears, doubts or other questions, there are counselling centers in Austria where you can anonymously obtain information about all the options. Unlike in other countries, there is no obligatory counselling interview at a counselling center in Austria. There are currently clinics and institutes in Carinthia, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Vienna where abortions can be performed. In effect, women might have to travel great distances to get the abortion care they need.
In Austria, social security and health insurance companies do not cover the costs of an abortion (except in medically justified cases). The prices for an abortion vary between 300 and 1000 Euros and women must pay for it themselves. Only in Vienna can women who are in social need get all costs covered. There may also be costs for a rhesus vaccination or an ultrasound examination.
In 1852, the Austrian penal code came into force. Although the laws of 1852 did not allow for abortion, it was approved if the pregnancy or its continuation endangered the life of the woman and this danger was confirmed by a doctor. Despite these laws, the number of abortions went up in the following years.
To counteract the abortions, the "Federal Law for the Protection of Germinal Life" was passed in 1934. This law essentially remained in force until 1975.
Despite heavy criticism from organizations calling for the law to be liberalized (i.e. the “Bund gegen den Mutterschaftszwang”, or “Federation against the Compulsion to Maternity”, founded in 1919) and the German racial hygiene laws in the years of the Second World War, nothing changed.
After 1945, the implementation of the abortion law was difficult to guarantee, as large parts of the female population of Austria had been raped by soldiers during the war. This resulted in a considerable number of unwanted pregnancies. Although the abortions of these pregnancies were not legal, they were tolerated by both state and church. From 1946 onwards, however, people returned to the everyday life of the law.
Social Democratic Women (SPÖ) advocated that abortion should no longer be punished as a crime, but as a misdemeanor, which would have resulted in a lower penalty. The Catholic Conservative coalition party ÖVP, however, rejected a relaxation.
At the beginning of the 1970s, work was carried out on a draft reform that included a medical, eugenic, ethical and social indication. However, the draft did not succeed. Austria was then influenced by developments in neighboring countries, which changed from a ban on abortion to a more liberal opinion and legislation.
Despite the protests of the Church and the ÖVP, the time limit regulation came into force in 1975 in catholic Austria. The same year, a combined regulation of time limits and indications replaced the law of 1852. This regulation allowed abortion within the first three months.
Not much is known about the implementation of the time limit regulation and its social consequences. Despite the abortion liberalization of 1975, the subject is taboo in Austria. This even goes so far that the abortions performed are not registered. Today there are only three reasons why abortion is in the public eye: as a political issue, as a scandal, or when the decline in the birth rate is recognized. Women who decide to have an abortion still come under moral and social pressure. As there are fewer and fewer hospitals that perform abortions, they often have to travel long distances and pay for the procedure themselves. Often, they are harassed and insulted by anti-abortion activists in front of the abortion clinics.
The discussions between pro-abortion advocates and opponents are still ongoing. For example, the platform "Fairändern" calls for mandatory counselling for women who want to have an abortion. Another demand is for a three-day waiting period between registration and the procedure. On the other end of the spectrum are the demands of the women's petition for a referendum in 2019: the offer and performance of abortions in all public hospitals and free contraceptives.
Written by: Tilla Solli for The Women's Museum of Norway
Information collected by the Women's Museum in Hittisau, Austria
Abort-Report. (2020, February). AUSTRIA – ABORT report. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://abort-report.eu/austria/
World Health Organization. (2020, April 22). Global Abortion Policies Database, Country Profile: Austria. Database. Accessed January 20, 2021, from https://abortion-policies.srhr.org/country/austria