In its political work, the Nordic Council’s Committee for Welfare focuses on equality and health for all in the Nordic Region, which is the reason why the committee is interested in abortion legislation in the Faroe Islands. As the UN Convention on the Rights of Women (CEDAW) consider the Faroe Islands to be in breach of their obligations in relation to the Faroese women’s right to abortion, the UN country rapporteur Madam Nicole Ameline was invited to the meeting with the committee to shed more light on the matter. At the meeting she argued that the Faroese abortion law infringes on women’s rights. Furthermore, it can lead to some women seeking alternative solutions to have an abortion, which can endanger their health and criminalise them. Madam Nicole Ameline recommends that the Faroe Islands should amend the legislation and says:
“Sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. Failure to respect them is a form of gender-based violence and constitutes a violation of women’s rights,” she said.
An internal matter of the Faroe Islands
The Ministry of Social Affairs in the Faroe Islands did not have a representative at the meeting and pointed out that the ministry does not recognise that the Faroe Islands are in breach of the Convention. The Ministry of Social Affairs also refers to the fact that the case is considered to be an internal matter of the Faroe Islands and thus not one for the official Nordic co-operation. During the discussions of the Committee on Welfare in the Nordic Council, a majority voted not to proceed with the case. Bente Stein Mathisen, Chair of the Committee for Welfare in the Nordic Region, says:
“The Nordic Council has respect for the Faroe Islands’ self-government and has listened to the wish of the committee’s Faroese members that the Faroe Islands handle this themselves. I see our committee in the Nordic Council as a platform where cases that affect Nordic citizens can be addressed so that politicians can learn from and motivate one another across national borders. We are pleased that we can contribute to initiating a renewed dialogue on the abortion legislation, which we hope the Faroe Islands will continue internally. But it is a complex matter, and the majority has decided not to let the case proceed under our auspices.”
A polarised, emotional debate
At today’s meeting, the Gender Equality Commission in the Faroe Islands, the Faroese Council of Ethics, and Faroe Islands Amnesty International provided presentations that offered a nuanced picture of the case, which delves into culture, religion, equality and human rights. The Faroese Council of Ethics explained as follows:
“The overall question in the abortion discussion is whether the focus should be on the right of the foetus or that of the woman. In countries where abortion is unrestricted, the focus is on the woman’s rights. In the Faroese legislation, the focus is more on the rights of the foetus. It is possible to have an abortion in the Faroe Islands, but there are certain criteria that must be present before permission is granted. The abortion debate is quite painful as there is so much at stake. It is difficult to defend one position without violating the other,” explains the Chair of the Faroese Council of Ethics, Anne Mette Greve Klemensen. Although she is not taking a side in this matter, she is making an appeal for a dignified debate. There was broad support in favour of that.
The Nordic Youth Council wants changes to legislation
The Nordic Youth Council, which also attended the meeting, has several times approved its own resolutions on “free abortion throughout the Nordic Region”. These form the basis for the Nordic Youth Council’s position on abortion legislation. One member of the Nordic Youth Council, Anna Falkenberg, who comes from the Faroe Islands herself, is pleased that the committee’s focus has contributed to the debate, which she believes should ultimately be taken up internally in the Faroe Islands. She says:
“Basically, I think that the Faroese abortion legislation should be changed so that the choice really belongs to the woman. This is a question of gender equality in the healthcare system, where Faroese women are not equal in relation to women in the other Nordic countries.” This point is supported by the committee’s gender equality rapporteur, Nina Sandberg, who, on behalf of the Social Democrat Group, voted to take the matter further.