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European Parliament adopts ‘historic’ report on abortion and women’s rights

'I am proud that in the 21st century we must no longer treat women as second-class citizens,' says Croatian MEP who proposed the report

Tatev Hovhannisyan
25 June 2021, 8.12am
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France
ifeelstock / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

European Union countries should ensure that women are offered “high quality, comprehensive and accessible sexual and reproductive health and rights” – including access to safe abortion care and modern contraception – says a "historic" new report adopted by the European Parliament on 24 June.

“Historic day!” Croatian MEP Predrag Fred Matić, who proposed the report, told openDemocracy after the result: 378 votes in favour of adopting the report, 255 against (42 MEPs abstained). “I am proud that in the 21st century we must no longer treat women as second-class citizens,” Matić added.

The report states that sexual and reproductive health is a “fundamental pillar” of women’s rights and gender equality that cannot “be watered down or withdrawn”. Instead, states must “remove all barriers impeding them from using these services”.

Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), welcomed the report’s adoption and thanked MEPs who “stood up for education and health over ignorance and religious ideology” – a reference to some ultra-conservative campaign groups who opposed the report.

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“This report is a lifeline to every individual who has had their life negatively impacted by restrictions on their personal lives,” Datta added.

Abortion and education

The report calls on EU countries to ensure that women have universal access to safe and legal abortion, and to guarantee that abortion on request is legal in early pregnancy, and later if the pregnant person’s health is in danger.

A European Parliament press release issued after the report’s adoption expressed regret that some member states restrict abortion access and allow medical personnel to refuse requests based on their “conscience”, thus “putting women’s lives in danger”.

It also said that EU countries should ensure access to high-quality contraceptive methods and supplies, family counselling and information on contraception.

EU countries also should ensure that sexuality education is taught comprehensively at schools, as it can “significantly reduce sexual violence and harassment”.

Matić’s report was opposed by groups including CitizenGo. This ultra-conservative organisation, based in Spain, is a partner of the World Congress of Families network of politicians and activists that campaigns against women’s and LGBT rights.

Among the MEPs who spoke against the report in the European Parliament was Rosa Estaràs Ferragut from Spain, who said: “You can’t ideologise a human right, this is not democracy and this is not what I want to see in Europe.”

Recent research released by the EPF showed that since 2009 more than $700m has been spent in Europe on ‘anti-gender’ activities against sexual and reproductive rights – with more than half (about $430m) coming from European sources, overshadowing $180m from Russia and $80m from the US.

While most EU countries have legalised abortion on request or under many circumstances, several have imposed restrictions on these rights. In some countries, including Italy, “conscientious objection” clauses limit access to legal abortions. In others such as Lithuania, medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions are still illegal. In Malta and Poland, which have the harshest laws, abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated challenges in accessing safe abortion across Europe, and has affected the supply of and access to contraceptives.

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