22nd May 2022

MEPs urge inclusion of abortion rights in EU charter

  • Protests in Poland in 2020. The EU does not have a say over sexual and reproductive rights (Photo: Spacerowiczka)
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MEPs have pushed 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.

"Women should not be forced to have children," the Spanish leader of the socialist group, Iratxe García Pérez, said on Thursday (20 January) during a plenary debate.

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"An abortion prohibition does not mean that more children are born, it means more women die," she added.

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

In the EU, 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.

And many EU states have legal barriers to abortion, such as mandatory counselling or waiting periods.

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

But Macron, whose country currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, wants to discuss including the right of abortion into the 20-year old EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - a move that would require an agreement among member states.

"If we live on a continent of rights and freedoms, then we live on a continent in which rights and freedoms can change and develop further," the French minister for European affairs Clément Beaune told MEPs.

"I know that's not going to be easy, but it is a worthy discussion," he added.

Some conservative EU lawmakers called on the French presidency to withdraw this proposal, arguing that countries like Poland and Hungary would never be part of a Union that does not respect the right to life.

Dutch Liberal MEP Samira Rafaella, meanwhile, called for a European solution to the backsliding on women's rights in some member states.

"If member states refused to sort out safe abortion… let's make it possible for women to go somewhere else in Europe to have a safe abortion. We have to help one another," she said.

'We will be watching you, Metsola'

Sexual and reproductive rights have become a hot topic during this week's plenary, where anti-abortion Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola was elected as the president of the European Parliament.

Although she pledged to represent the "majority voice" on reproductive rights issues, some MEPs are concerned about her voting track record on sexual, reproductive, and abortion rights.

"Denial of sexual reproductive health and rights including abortion care is the ultimate oppression of women…We will continue this fight and we will insist that our new president, Roberta Metsola, stands with us in this fight," said Swedish left-wing MEP Malin Björk.

"If we really want to achieve gender equality, there is one indispensable condition: the respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights … We will be watching you, president Metsola," said French liberal MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou.

For her part, Austrian centre-left MEP Regner Evelyn, who chairs the women's rights committee, regretted that such debate was still needed decades after Simone Veil - the first woman elected president to the EU Parliament who strongly defended women's and abortion rights.

"Supporting women's bodily integrity and choice, and sexual and reproductive health decisions, is central to equality," said Irish centre-right MEP Frances Fitzgerald.

This is a "societal responsibility" of both women and men, she added.

And the French presidency pledged to make progress on other files on gender inequalities, such as the pay transparency proposal and the women on boards directive, which has been stuck in the EU Council for years.

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.

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