In Georgia, it is legal for doctors to deny women abortion care based on their personal beliefs. This remains the case in remote regions where there is only one clinic. Ana Iluridze, Head of the Gender Equality Department at the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia, says, “Even if you are the only medical institution in a mountainous area you can still refuse.” Even in Tbilisi, the capital of the country and home to over 2 million inhabitants, “there are only 5 gynaecologists who perform abortions,” she says. The result is that abortion care is not available in huge swathes of the country.
The ultra-conservative views of many medical professionals across the country also mean that, when women do manage to reach a clinic that provides abortion care, doctors tend to focus on dissuading them from going through with it. As one doctor told us, “I personally am against abortions. So we try and get women to change their minds.”
Ana Iluridze describes the ordeal many women face: “You are alone with someone you are trusting with your life, who is pretty much persuading you in an aggressive moralistic manner on the harm you are doing to your career, to your health, to your christianity.”
For example, Keti, a woman from a region in eastern Georgia, decided to have an abortion after becoming pregnant by her abusive husband. The doctor would only perform the abortion after subjecting her to a long monologue about his personal views, using emotional blackmail to try and bully her into changing her mind. The doctors didn’t ask about the abusive relationship with her husband. Crying, she says, “The experience made me feel very bad.”
New legal barriers are also being implemented, further intruding on women’s reproductive freedom. One example is the compulsory, and medically unnecessary, waiting period after an initial consultation, which the government recently increased from three to five days. We spoke to Maia Lagvilava, Deputy Minister of Health, about the reason for making this obstacle even greater. She was not able to provide a clear answer on why the government felt it was necessary, simply saying, “An additional two days have been allowed for consideration and reconsideration of their abortion.”
The forced waiting period places an additional financial burden on women, creating more expenses and increasing the time spent away from work and family.
Georgia’s Public Defender’s Office has recommended eliminating mandatory waiting periods, and ensuring that any counselling provided to women is unbiased and evidence-based. This has not been implemented. The government has committed to considering the recommendation, but one year later, no steps have been taken.
Some women and girls are also confronted with doctors who take it upon themselves to introduce hurdles to compassionate care that are not required by law. For example, although abortion is legal in Georgia from the age of 14 without any requirement for parental consent, a gynaecologist in one clinic in western Georgia explained that her team asks for permission from the parents of any girl under the age of 18 before providing care. When pressed that this an infringement of their legal right, she said, “Parents may complain afterwards, so I prefer to ask for a parental signature.”
Research by IPPF member HERA XXI has shown that some clinics have introduced internal regulations that bluntly seek to deny care to women aged between 16 and 18, young women under 16, women with a history of sexually transmitted infections, and other vulnerable groups including sex workers.
Read the last blog in our series on obstacles to abortion care and women's reproductive freedom in Georgia.
Photo: Ana Iluridze, Head of Gender Equality at the Public Defender’s Office. Research by her department has found that medical professionals openly try to bully women into continuing through full pregnancies. Credit: Jon Spaull/IPPF EN