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THL: Sex education, free contraceptives contribute to Finland's declining abortion rate

A citizens' initiative has called for a reform of Finland's "outdated" abortion laws.

Under 25-year olds in Helsinki have access to a range of contraception methods for free. Image: Paula Collin / Yle

Free contraception and more comprehensive sex education has led to a significant decline in the number of women getting induced abortions in Finland compared to a decade ago, according to public health authority THL.

The agency's figures revealed that about 7,600 induced abortions were performed in Finland in 2021, compared to 10,700 in 2011. In 1975, that figure was over 21,000.

Senior Planning Officer at THL'S Register of Induced Abortions and Sterilisations, Anna Heino, explained that there are a variety of factors behind the decline.

"Maybe the culture surrounding the topic has changed as well as the way we talk about prevention. It is also now easier to find information online. It is easier to access reliable information if one does not want to consult an adult, for example," the health expert said.

Education, but also politics

Politics has also been a major player behind the drop in Finland's abortion figures, Heino added. For example, authorities reacted to the increased number of abortions in the 1990s by making the morning after pill prescription-free in 2002.

During the 2010s, some municipalities have started to provide free contraception to young people. Helsinki began offering free contraception tools to young people in 2018 as well as a free implant or copper or hormonal IUD for those trying the methods for the first time.

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Finnish law once progressive, now outdated

The topic has attracted major attention worldwide following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, which will see the right to abortion removed from constitutional law.

The conversation in Finland has specifically turned to the abortion law's old age. Enacted in 1970, the Finnish abortion law was one of the most progressive in Europe 50 years ago, however it is now one of the strictest on the continent.

A pregnant person's own will to get an abortion is not enough to secure the procedure, according to current legislation, as it requires that permission be given by at least two doctors.

Recent decades have seen looser interpretations of the law and reasoning required in order to get the procedure. Still, the law in effect means that doctors are legally able to prohibit pregnant women from having an abortion.

Citizens calling for reform

Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) (HS) reported on Monday that a citizens' initiative (siirryt toiseen palveluun) calling for the reform of the outdated law is likely to progress into Parliament this autumn. HS wrote that the abandonment of the two-doctor requirement is becoming increasingly popular within Parliament's Social Affairs and Health Committee, meaning that new legislation could be introduced in Finland soon.

Human Rights group Amnesty International (siirryt toiseen palveluun) noted that criminalisation does not only fail to stop abortions, but also endangers the lives of women by making access less safe.

Unsafe abortions can have fatal consequences, Amnesty added, and have become the third leading cause of maternal deaths in the world.