In the abortion room at the Gynecologist-Obstetrics Clinic of the University Clinical Center of Kosovo (QKUK) a poster shows a young woman holding a baby. “Abortion is the most devastating thing in the world,” reads one caption. “A crime committed by the hands of their own mother,” reads another.
The moralist and imperious messages at Prishtina’s public hospital are documented by Preportr’s recent report, “Turpi mbi trupin” (“Shame on the body”), which takes a comprehensive look into the topic of abortion in Kosovo.
Medical staff lecturing about the “immorality” of abortion, a lack of confidentiality at QKUK, unlicensed clinics carrying out abortions and dangerous abortion pills being dispensed at local pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription, are some of Preportr’s main discoveries. The findings of the three-month research are analyzed and commented upon by various gynecological and women’s rights experts.
“Since the war, there hasn’t been a single research report that treats the abortion issue as a woman’s right,” report author, Leonide Molliqaj, told K2.0. “Even in those few places where this topic found its space, it was discussed in terms of numbers, which are also lacking [accurate statistics] and it is difficult to take them as a reference. Preportr’s aim was to conduct an analysis of some factors that impact upon women’s reproductive health in the country.”
Legal and safe abortion is considered a fundamental right of women according to international human rights standards, while the right to abortion is guaranteed in Kosovo by the Law on Termination of Pregnancy. Despite this, Preportr identified a very patronizing attitude towards women who seek to have an abortion at QKUK, and language used by some medical staff that goes as far as referring to abortion as a crime.
“Judging abortion as an immoral act endangers the health of women and can cause them to follow unsafe abortion paths,” said Molliqaj. “Motherhood virtues are highly valued in our society and the woman is rarely defined as an ordinary citizen, but as a sexual and reproductive being.”
According to the report, the average age of women who have abortions at the public hospital is between 20 and 35 and they are mainly married. Molliqaj pointed out that international reports suggest relatively high abortion numbers in Kosovo, but just a small number of abortions are carried out at public institutions. According to the information that Preportr collected, on average QKUK carries out about 100 abortions each year.
The lack of privacy and fear of being recognized in one of the city’s most frequented clinics, where the discourse on abortion is related to shame, leads many young women to carry out abortions at private clinics, the majority of which are unlicensed. Preportr noted that no analysis or report giving an accurate account on the frequency of abortions or conditions at unlicensed hospitals has been conducted by the relevant health institutions.
“The idea was to identify other methods that women follow for abortion [other than through licensed clinics],” said Molliqaj. “During our research on the ground we visited public and private health institutions. We also met and interviewed gynecologists from these clinics. From the research findings we discovered that the highest number of abortions are carried out at unlicensed private clinics.”
Preportr identified that of the 122 private gynecological clinics in Kosovo, only five of them have a license to carry out abortions, and that the unregulated prices make this an expensive intervention for non-working women and those with little money. “Besides the unaffordable prices in these clinics, there is also a moralist approach towards abortion, which for them is only acceptable within a ‘regular’ traditional family,” the report reads.
One of the most concerning findings of the research is that some young women are choosing to have an abortion at home through Misopostrol pills, which are readily accessible at pharmacies without prescription and can be dangerous to women’s health.
“The Preportr team has investigated some of the capital’s pharmacies and found that these pills are very cheap and are being sold without a prescription, while gynecologists consider that women need to be under a doctor’s supervision while using these medicaments,” said Molliqaj.
She added that Kosovo’s institutions have failed to create favorable conditions to guarantee the reproductive health of women, which is down to the approach of the public health institutions and medical staff. “The Ministry of Health is mainly responsible for women’s health being endangered,” she said.
Despite being more than 2 weeks since Preportr’s research was published, The Ministry of Health still hasn’t issued an official response.
“I really believe that the publication of this research has been successful in shedding at least a little light on the hard path that Kosovar women must follow in order to practice their elementary right,” said Molliqaj. “I believe that Kosovo is at a stage where a debate on sex, protective measures and abortion should be initiated, so women can avoid unlicensed institutions and other abortion methods that might have very serious consequences.”