On international safe abortion day Helena Dalli says all women deserve right to 'body autonomy'

European Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli says sexual and reproductive health rights are fundamental rights but insists abortion is a member state competence

European Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli
European Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli

Sexual and reproductive health rights are fundamental rights and key to gender equality, Helena Dalli told a round table discussion on safe access to abortion.

The European Equality Commissioner said she was “committed to ensure access to high quality sexual and reproductive healthcare services” and urged listeners to “push back” against an erosion of rights.

All women across Europe deserved the right to "body autonomy", she said.

However, Dalli also underscored that regulatory powers on sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, lie with the member states.

The Brussels executive has no jurisdiction on abortion laws and Dalli’s home country, Malta, remains the only EU member state with a complete ban on abortion. A woman who undergoes an abortion in Malta risks a three-year jail term.

Those who choose to terminate their pregnancy do so in clinics abroad, which means that access to abortion is denied to those from poorer backgrounds.

The round table organised by the European Public Service Union and the Socialists and Democrats, commemorated the international day for access to safe and legal abortion.

Dalli treaded carefully and referred to abortion alongside other sexual and reproductive health services, which she said experienced cutbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: Surge in requests for abortion from Malta during COVID-19 pandemic

She said the stigma on abortion had to be addressed through education on sexual and reproductive health.

“Body autonomy for all women across Europe independently from where they live must be guaranteed,” she added.

Dalli said a European Commission study to be published towards the end of the year on the state of sexual and reproductive health services in European countries is expected to give a picture of the situation across the bloc.

Abortion remains a taboo subject in Malta although there is a fledgling pro-choice movement that includes young doctors and women’s rights advocates, which is campaigning for abortion to be legal.

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