Abortion debate jeopardizes 900-year-old Liechtenstein dynasty
LIECHTENSTEIN, May 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein has threatened to step down from his royal duties if a citizen-led initiative to limit his vetoing power proves successful. The citizens’ initiative gained momentum last year when the 43 year-old prince threatened to veto the results of a referendum should the majority opt to legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and in cases of fetal deformity.
Speaking to parliament in March, the prince, a devout Catholic and father of four, made it clear that for the Royal Family to continue its vision for the country, it must retain the royal power to veto legislation contrary to that vision.
“The royal family is not willing to undertake its political responsibilities unless the prince… has the necessary tools at his disposal,” said Prince Alois as reported by Agence France-Presse. “But if the people are no longer open to that, then the royal family will not want to undertake its political responsibilities and ... will completely withdraw from political life.”
Liechtenstein, with a population of 36,000 and a land area of 160 square kilometers, has a constitution that empowers the hereditary prince with the royal right of veto. The royal family and their princes have ruled the tiny country as an autonomous monarchy since the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806.
Abortion in Liechtenstein is illegal under current law. According to the Penal Code of 1987, whoever performs an abortion can be punished with up to one year in prison. If an abortion is performed for profit, the sentence is elevated to three years in prison. Abortions are permitted, however, when deemed necessary to prevent serious danger to the life of the pregnant woman or serious harm to her health, when the pregnant woman is under the age of fourteen and has not at any time been married to the man who impregnated her, or when performed to save the pregnant woman from immediate danger to her life that cannot otherwise be prevented.
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Spokeswoman for Prince Alois, Silvia Hassler-De Vos told the Associated Press last year that the prince’s vow to veto the September 2011 abortion bill should its support reach a majority in the referendum was his way of sending a “clear signal that abortion isn’t an acceptable solution for an unwanted pregnancy.”
The abortion bill, which had previously been voted down by the nation’s parliament in a 25-7 vote earlier last year, failed in the referendum, with 52% of the vote affirming article 27 of the nation’s constitution which states that “everyone has the right to life.”
“I am proud of our Prince of course!” said Dr. Josef Seifert, Professor of Philosophy at the International Academy for Philosophy in Liechtenstein to LifeSiteNews when asked to comment on the prince’s refusal to compromise with abortion.
The prince’s pro-life position runs contrary to a socially liberal trend in Liechtenstein that recently led to the creation of same-sex civil unions, a measure that was approved by referendum despite the fact that as much as 80% of the country identifies itself as Catholic.
In the aftermath of the abortion referendum’s failure, political activists formed a citizens’ committee to revoke the prince’s right of veto. Under the Liechtenstein constitution, the committee had to gather 1,500 signatures by the middle of May to call a referendum.
Sigvard Wohlwend, a spokesperson for the citizens’ committee, told LifeSiteNews that 1732 signatures were submitted to Parliament on May 10. Wohlwend said that Parliament will debate the initiative today and suspects that a popular vote on a newly proposed bill to limit the prince’s power will happen in the near future.
“As we understand, the government will set the date for July 1, 2012,” he said.
Wohlwend clarified that the citizens’ initiative “does not strive to abolish the princely right to veto bills. But it wants to restrain it, so in future the Prince shall not have the power to veto bills passed by the Liechtenstein electorate.”
“He will keep his veto right against bills passed by the parliament. So the princely veto right will remain as it has been in 98%+ of the cases,” he said.
While the catalyst for the citizens’ initiative was the prince’s announcement to veto abortion legislation, Wohlwend emphasized that “this initiative to restrain the princely veto right is not a question of pro or contra abortion: It is only a matter of how much power the Prince of Liechtenstein shall have in future.”
Despite the optimism of the citizens’ group, even if the proposed referendum this summer proves successful, the prince of Liechtenstein nonetheless retains the power to veto it. Analysts suspect however that it is more likely that the prince would resign his duties and retire from politics, according to Agence France-Presse.
Prince Alois refrained from granting an interview with LifeSiteNews, saying through his spokesperson that the “interview topic concerns mainly issues of domestic policy” that he did not wish to divulge to “foreign media.”
Francis Phillips of the U.K.’s Catholic Herald commented that Prince Alois is a role model for political leaders since he does not let politics trump his own faith convictions.
“Prince Alois, as a practising Catholic – and unlike some American high-profile, supposedly Catholic politicians who I have blogged about recently – does not believe he can separate his faith from his public duties over a matter of such fundamental importance,” wrote Phillips.
“I think he is right. He is exercising his right of veto, not because of a personal whim but to uphold natural justice against the threat of an unjust law.”
“As the custodian of justice towards unborn future citizens of Liechtenstein, he is acting more responsibly than the activists,” she said.