Controversy over citizens' initiative on abortion funding ban
By Benjamin Fox
A second citizens' initiative demanding a change in EU law courted controversy on Thursday (10 April) over its proposals to ban funding for abortion and reproductive health services in developing countries.
The 'One of Us' campaign is the second citizens' initiative to reach the 1 million signatures required under the Lisbon treaty.
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The campaign, which has been backed by Popes Francis and Benedict, the current and former heads of the Catholic church, and backed by a number of religious organisations, seeks to ban the use of EU funds for research, foreign aid programmes and public health activities that are linked to the destruction of human embryos.
More than 600,000 of the 1.8 million signatories came from Italy, followed by 250,000 from Poland. The campaign reached the required quorum of signatures from 20 of the EU's 28 countries.
But the initiative is set to be far more divisive than the first citizens' initiative that aimed at ensuring that all Europeans enjoyed the right to water.
Critics of the campaign say that, if successful, it would cut €120 million in EU development aid each year that is spent on maternal and reproductive healthcare. Meanwhile, statistics from the World Health Organisation state that 800 women per day die because of lack of access to safe abortions.
Speaking at a public hearing with MEPs on Thursday (10 April), Patrick Puppinck, the chairman of the 'One of Us' campaign, stated that almost 2 million European citizens were calling for the inclusion of "an ethical clause in EU legislation".
Puppinck also accused the EU of "trying to export to poor countries the supposed Western social model which involves contraception and abortion. This policy breaks down families and that is the basis of any society".
"Through colonialism, the west has already partially destroyed the social fabric of these peoples," he added.
Meanwhile, in a letter sent to Parliament president Martin Schulz prior to the hearing, Puppinck accused the assembly of organising a "sham hearing" by allocating speaking time to MEPs who opposed their campaign.
For their part, Marie Geoghegan Quinn and Andris Piebalgs, the EU commissioners for research and international development respectively, struck a cautious tone.
The commission would give "all due attention" to the campaign and was "very much in a listening mode" they said in a joint statement.
Under the rules governing the citizens' initiative, introduced in 2012, the EU executive is required to respond to the campaign within three months, but is under no obligation to revise EU law.
MEPs were more critical.
"Women's right to decide on their own body is fundamental and cannot be overruled by religion or on any other grounds," said Sirpa Pietkainen, a Finnish centre-right deputy.
The campaign was also denounced by Hannes Swoboda, leader of the centre-left socialist group.
"What is presented as a European Citizens' Initiative appears to be actually funded by extremist religious and political channels, and closely tied to organisations that are lobbying from the US to Africa against women's and LGBTI rights," he said in a statement.
"If this initiative achieved its goal it would undo all the progress made with our partners in the developing world and increase maternal mortality."