Andorra is best known as a ski destination and tax haven — but it’s the tiny principality’s status as one of Europe’s last countries with an abortion ban that activists want to highlight on International Safe Abortion Day.
Even in cases of rape or when their lives are in danger, women in the country of 85,500 people nestled in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, have no right to an abortion.
Only Malta, the Vatican and San Marino, another micro-state surrounded by Italy, have the same rules, putting them in a group of outliers which lost a key member this year when Ireland voted to overturn its near-total abortion ban.
In Andorra, having an abortion is punishable by up to six months in prison.
“I had a baby that was at risk of dying in my stomach, but I didn’t have the right to have it removed,” said Sonia, who learned in the fifth month that her foetus had an incurable disease and would likely not survive the pregnancy.
Sonia — her name has been changed — had already announced the pregnancy to her friends and family, but ultimately decided to make the “difficult” decision to abort.
“I would have had to wait for him to die, keep him inside me for several days before realising, and then give birth to a dead baby,” said Sonia, who is in her thirties.
Like some 120 other women who head across the border each year to Spain to terminate pregnancies, she travelled to Catalonia — Catalan is the official language of Andorra — to have the procedure.
“You come to our country to buy cigarettes — we come to your country to buy our rights,” reads a slogan on a pro-legalisation poster shared on social media.
“It’s a form of torture,” said Vanessa Mendoza Cortes from the Stop Violencies (Stop Violence) group which is campaigning for the legalisation of terminations.
On Saturday, the group is organising Andorra’s first ever street protest in favour of decriminalising abortion.
“We should have the right to have an abortion in our hospitals, and not have to go to Barcelona with guilt and shame,” said Mendoza Cortes, who wants to make it an issue in next year’s legislative elections.
She decried the local system as “hypocritical”, with the authorities turning a blind eye to women heading abroad for the procedure.
It’s an option that’s only open to women who can pay between 600 and 1000 euros ($700-$1,160), usually handed to the Spanish doctor in an envelope.
Maria, who had an abortion at 18, said she was “lucky” her family were able to scrape the cash together, but she is well aware that for many women “this is far from the case”.
Today, aged 27, she recalls her shock at her Andorran gynaecologist forcing her to listen to her foetus’ heartbeat, trying to dissuade her from ending the pregnancy.
The journey back from the abortion clinic in Spain took three hours by road, during which she was doubled over with abdominal pain.
She returned deeply distressed, but “there was no psychological or medical support afterwards”, she added.
– Doctors risk jail –
Andorran doctors risk up to three years in prison and a five-year ban from practising if they are caught performing abortions.
Even giving patients information or the address of a clinic abroad is against the law, doctor Eric Sylvestre Dolsa told AFP.
“In cases where the mother’s life is in danger, it would clearly pose a huge ethical problem for me as a doctor if you were to apply the law strictly,” said the general practitioner.
He is one of few Andorran doctors openly backing legalisation, “no matter the motivation” for ending the pregnancy.
Many doctors are reluctant to debate abortion frankly due to fear of the instability that could arise from the issue blowing up in a principality with a unique political set-up, he said.
Although it is a parliamentary democracy, Andorra has two “co-princes” as head of state: French President Emmanuel Macron, and Joan-Enric Vives, a Catholic bishop staunchly opposed to abortion.
Vives has threatened to abdicate if abortion is legalised, noted Elisa Muxella, head of Andorra’s Human Rights Institute.
“The government is hiding behind this excuse and saying that if we had abortion it would put our institutions in peril,” said Muxella.
Sonia said she’d like to see Macron take a public stance on the issue.
“Do something for Andorran women,” she implored him. “I don’t want to see my daughters go through the same thing as me.”