25th Sep 2023

MEPs urge putting abortion in EU rights charter

  • The EU does not have a say over sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, as health policies are the competence of member states (Photo: Spacerowiczka)
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The European Parliament demanded on Thursday (7 July) the inclusion of the right to a legal and safe abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, following the controversial Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights in the US.

MEPs also seize the opportunity to urge the US Congress to pass a bill to protect abortion at the federal level.

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The US Supreme Court on 24 June overruled the right to abortion established in the Roe vs Wade decision of 1973, returning the right to regulate abortion to individual states.

That decision sparked global outrage from progressive voices and human rights defenders, since the wider implications of such decision remain still to be seen.

A recent study found that the abortion ban could lead to a 21-precent increase in the annual number of pregnancy-related deaths, or 140 additional deaths, by the second year after the ban takes effect.

In their resolution, MEPs urged EU countries to decriminalise abortion, condemning the fact that many European women cannot have access to safe abortion.

The text was adopted with 324 in favour, 155 against and 38 abstentions. Conservative and centre-right MEPs voted against it although socialist lawmakers such as Maltese Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar as well as Romanian Corina Crețu also oppose the proposal.

The EU does not have a say over sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, since health policies are the competence of member states.

In recent years, access to abortion in early pregnancy has been eroded in several countries including Slovakia and Hungary. Malta is the only country where abortion is completely prohibited. But Poland imposed in 2020 a near-total ban, triggering mass protests across the country.

"That a raped and pregnant 10-year-old girl is told to consider her situation an opportunity is, of course, inhumane and unacceptable," said EU commissioner for gender equality Hellena Dalli during a plenary debate on Monday.

"Limiting rights would only create greater injustice and inequalities," she added.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which came into force in 2009 along with the Treaty of Lisbon, is legally-binding for all EU member states.

To include abortion rights in the text, EU countries would need to launch a convention that revises the treaties, and the EU Charter, as part of the process.

Last month, MEPs called on member states to launch a convention to amend the treaties, in response to the Conference on the Future of Europe where citizens have addressed issues that require treaty changes — and they used the new text to reiterate their demands.

If a majority of member states agree that the treaties should be revised, a convention will be then convened to reach an agreement on the changes required.

This procedure, however, is seen as lengthy and laborious — and the limited success of the previous convention in 2003 calling for an EU constitution still lingers.

Up to 13 countries have previously rejected plans to launch such a convention, including Denmark, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Sweden.

French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to push the abortion rights debate in the European Council, but no progress was made during its six-month rotating presidency — and gender rights are not among the priorities of the Czech presidency.

A change to the treaties and the charter would require a unanimous vote. But unanimity seems unlikely in this case, given the position of countries like Poland.

The World Health Organization considers unsafe abortions a "preventable pandemic" causing the death of thousands of women every year.


EU must integrate 'right to abortion' into treaties

The pushback against abortion is not happening in a vacuum. It is part of a global anti-gender trend, where transnational groups of fundamentalists support and embolden each other's actions. They are funded and active in the EU as well.

MEPs slam Polish abortion ban: 'Women will suffer'

MEPs have condemned the near-total ban on the right to abortion in Poland, following the entry into force of the country's Constitutional Tribunal ruling - which makes 98 percent of all abortions carried out annually in the country illegal.


Standing for women's rights in Poland and world is liberal duty

Abortion remains criminalised in Malta and Andorra. In Poland, the ultraconservative government is doing everything to ensure that abortion is basically impossible. In Italy, Slovakia, and Croatia, despite abortion being legal, ultraconservative parties have committed themselves to scale-back access.

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