Thursday

29th Feb 2024

Opinion

EU must integrate 'right to abortion' into treaties

  • Pro-choice rally in Poland. 'Women's rights are human rights and these are always non-negotiable. It is time for our European treaties to reflect this' (Photo: Eric Maurice)
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After decades of hard global work to ensure the fundamental sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, we are now facing a global backslide. The leaked draft opinion from the US Supreme Court that aims to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision from 1973 establishing the constitutional right to abortion, clearly shows how precarious our hard-fought wins are.

The draft opinion, if adopted, will mean that every US state could pass laws setting conditions for abortion, and the consequences would be devastating. It would leave the door open to severe restrictions on abortion, imperilling the lives of millions of women in America, and strengthen anti-reproductive rights movements worldwide.

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This is not happening in a vacuum. It is part of a global anti-gender trend, in which transnational groups of fundamentalists support and embolden each other's actions. They are funded and active in our very Union as well.

The only way to effectively counter extremists is by not negotiating with them at all. Women's rights are human rights and these are always non-negotiable. It is time for our European treaties to reflect this.

A report from the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF) and International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) evaluating over 50 European countries' access to abortion care clearly shows how these rights are being challenged in Europe too.

The report is damning for gender equality: 31 European countries exclude abortion in the national health system's financial coverage and twenty-six countries allow health workers to deny care based on personal beliefs.

Malta, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Lithuania...

In particular, Malta has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world, and Poland is not much better, with the PiS government constantly looking for new ways to gain control over women's bodies.

The Polish near-total ban on abortions is part of the witch-hunt of women carrying through abortions, but it is just the tip of the iceberg in Europe.

Similar restrictive laws are being discussed in EU states such as Croatia, Slovakia and Lithuania.

And even in member states without legal obstacles, there are still financial, cultural and informational barriers.

For instance, Italian women face substantial difficulties when seeking access to abortion services, as seven out of ten gynaecologists refuse to perform abortions.

Make no mistake; these draconian laws hit marginalised women, vulnerable women and women of colour significantly deeper, isolating them further from meaningful economic and societal inclusion. It is simple injustice.

Evidently, European women are already struggling against the anti-women rights, gender equality, and anti-abortion backlash. The news from the US feeds the anti-women movement with renewed energy to keep fighting the gains made over the last decades.

But we will not go back. We refuse to back down one millimetre on our fundamental rights. Renew Europe, the liberal group in the European Parliament, has been vocal about ensuring access to abortion and propose to amend the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU, so that the fundamental right to abortion is written in stone.

This week, with a resolution on the table of the European Parliament, we also put pressure on the US Supreme Court and emphasise the direct impact their decision will have on millions of women and girls in America, and the emboldening of anti-abortion movements in the rest of the world.

First of all, the EU and its member states must urge the US government to establish federal legal protections for the right to abortion. We should also offer all possible support, including financial aid, to US-based civil society organisations protecting and providing sexual and reproductive health services in the country.

And there is a lot to do within our own region. The European Commission and all EU countries must ensure access to a full range of high-quality sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination. Every member state should offer safe and legal abortion care with feasible time limits covered by the national health system.

That includes the accessible right to abortion, contraceptive methods and supplies, information on contraception as well as sexual education. All obstacles must be removed, particularly in Malta and Poland, and it should not be possible for health providers to refuse to provide health services on the basis of the so-called conscience clause.

Finally, for that to actually happen, we must do more than just sign resolutions. We must do more than condemn the rogue actors, the fundamentalist lobbyists and the misogynist ideologies. The legal protection of the right to abortion within EU's borders must be integrated into the EU Treaties.

Renew Europe will continue to be at the forefront of fighting against the extremist ideology that questions women's autonomy. Once and for all, politicians all over the world must keep their dirty policies away from our bodies.

Author bio

Samira Rafaela MEP is Renew Europe negotiator on the resolution on global threats to abortion. Soraya Rodríguez Ramos MEP is Renew Europe’s coordinator in the Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

MEPs urge inclusion of abortion rights in EU charter

MEPs have recalled their demands to include the right to legal and safe abortion into the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, a day after French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to open such a debate in the EU Council.

MEPs urge putting abortion in EU rights charter

The European Parliament has called to include the right to legal and safe abortion into the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, following the critical ruling overturning abortion rights in the US.

Column

'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements

Some modest headway in recognising the unrelenting tide of discrimination and violence facing women worldwide was made at last week's largely self-congratulatory and mostly irrelevant G7 talk-fest. But no one mentioned abortion, just days after the Roe vs Wade decision.

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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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