In the 1920s there was a severe housing shortage in Vienna, and when my friend Mariella’s parents got married, they could find no place to live. So they moved in with the husband’s mother, who specified that while they could live with her, but there could be no children. The new wife got pregnant, and had to have an abortion in order not to be homeless. There was a wink-wink-nod-nod attitude toward abortion in those days, and she simply went to her doctor’s office to have the procedure. (They later had Mariella, and all survived a concentration camp and later moved to New York).
Today all Austrian children receive basic sex education in elementary school and more advanced sex education in high school. Sex Education Week is part of the biology curriculum. The boys and girls are separated, and the teacher comes from outside the school for that week only. The students learn how womens’ cycles work, how babies are made, how to use contraception, where to buy condoms, how to avoid STDs – the works. They provide safe websites where the students can get further information and can buy contraceptives such as condoms. They also learn how abortion are performed.
Abortions are legal up until the last couple of weeks of pregnancy. Many women choose to carry a severely deformed or ill foetus to its natural birth in order to donate its organs to other newborns after the death of the doomed newborn. There are facilities available so that a woman does not have to go through her own doctor, or have the abortion in her home town, if she wants to maintain her confidentiality.
Doctors are required to perform abortions if their patients want them. There is no dispensation for religious or other beliefs. Doctors who find abortion objectionable will choose another specialty.
This information has come from friends, a young woman who has just graduated from high school and remembers her sex education week, which took place two years in a row as part of her Biology class, and other Austrians. There might be some loopholes or exceptions, but this is the way they handle unwanted pregnancies.
If a woman chooses to keep the baby, the need to give the child to another couple to raise is minimized because if the father does not provide child support, the State does. The father will be required to pay back the State, if they can find him, but having a child is not as punitive as it is here. There is also a liberal maternity leave policy, and substantial publicly supplied childcare for children from an early age, and an excellent public school system thereafter.
There are, of course, organizations which fight against abortion. While walking through Vienna, I passed a storefront with pictures of dismembered foetuses and other grotesqueries that are hallmarks of the evangelical American movements. So far though, their agitation has not made a dent in the right of a woman to choose when she wants to bear a child.