European Union Parliament Votes for "Right" to Abortion

Dublin Ireland -- In a narrow 280-240 vote (with twenty-eight abstentions), the European Parliament voted Wednesday to establish sweeping new norms for "reproductive and sexual rights," including a recommendation that "abortion should be made legal, safe and accessible to all." This call to remove all remaining legal barriers to abortion applies to current members of the European Union, including Ireland, Spain and Portugal, as well as to nations seeking EU membership, like Poland and Malta.[Our bold printing]

The abortion recommendation was contained in a controversial report written by Anne Van Lancker, a Socialist member of the EU Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunity. The report asserts that women's sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, are fundamental human rights demanding special protection, and it "Calls upon the governments of the Member States and the Accession Countries to refrain in any case from prosecuting women who have undergone illegal abortions."

The report also urges EU countries to provide adolescents with sexuality education "starting early in life" and to ensure access to comprehensive reproductive services, including "emergency contraception." No mention is made of parental knowledge or consent.

The report calls for the widest possible distribution of "emergency contraceptives," including their provision "over-the-counter and at affordable prices," by claiming that doing so will reduce the European abortion rate. However, since these pills destroy already-created human embryos, and therefore cause abortions, themselves, European pro-life and pro-family groups like the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children vehemently contest the report's logic.

The report relies heavily on United Nations conventions and treaties, making frequent reference to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing and to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo. It also seems to vindicate the concerns of pro-family legal scholars, who have long argued that vague reproductive language in UN documents would eventually be translated into very specific abortion laws. For instance, according to the report, the "international legal framework" for a Europe-wide right to abortion is based upon Recommendation 21 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which does not mention abortion by name, but, instead, calls for the "availability of family planning services" and "the regulation of fertility."

When the structure of the EU was negotiated, it was agreed that social issues such as abortion would remain under the discretion of individual countries. Even the Van Lancker report admits that "reproductive health policies remain merely within the competence of the Member States." However, the Parliament's approval of the report signals increasing pressure on EU member states and candidate countries to accede to the social agenda endorsed by most EU states and spearheaded by the Nordic countries. It has already become commonplace for countries like Ireland to remain silent as the EU pushes for the expansion of abortion rights at the UN.

Follow up article (November 15, 2002).

Source: Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute; July 2, 2002

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