Parliament fails to pass report on women's reproductive rights
By Honor Mahony
The European Parliament erupted in internal bickering on Tuesday (10 December) after an alliance of right-wing MEPs managed to sweep a report on sexual and reproductive rights for women from the table.
The report by Portuguese Social Democrat MEP Edite Estrela puts such rights on a par with other human rights and speaks of the "problematic reality" of teenage pregnancies, the importance of making contraception widely available, of comprehensive "non-judgemental" sexuality education and of "quality family planning services."
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It also says that "women have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, timing and spacing of their children" and underlines the importance of safe abortions.
Estrela summed up the report as being about giving everybody the right to make "their own informed and responsible choices on their sexual and reproductive life."
However, controversy has long being brewing over the document, even though it is non-binding.
It was approved by a strong majority in the gender equality committee in September. But the following month, MEPs narrowly voted to send it back to the committee for a rethink.
The committee made few changes and resubmitted it for plenary vote.
But Tuesday saw MEPs narrowly vote in favour (334 to 327) of a counter resolution by an alliance of conservative, eurosceptic and far-right deputies.
Their resolution said the entire debate was an issue to be dealt with at the national level. Their successful bid meant that the Estrela report fell. The result was greeted by catcalls and jeering from the right in the house.
Estrela said the alliance had opened a "new front against the EU's founding principles of human dignity, freedom, equality and non-discrimination."
Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialists, said conservatives were "throwing away many years of progress on women's rights" and condemned the "misleading and demagogical campaign" against the report.
Corinne Lepage, a French Liberal MEP, tweeted: "I invite all women to look at who vote what on their rights and freedoms and with whom their shared their votes."
Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek said the centre-right had brought "shame" on the parliament and criticized the "ugly scenes" surrounding the vote.
She added that "contrary to the claims of those lobbying against it" the report "did not seek to impose a universal view on pregnancy termination, other than that where it is provided, it should be safe."
Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld said Tuesday's events illustrated that the European Parliament was no longer the focus just for big business lobbying - such as tobacco firms - but also for social and rights issues.
"The conservative religious lobby has found us too," she said.