Reproductive rights: Nationalist MEPs stay away from Beijing resolution vote

MEPs voted for access to safe and legal abortion services as key elements that guarantee women’s rights and save lives

Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola did not vote on a resolution adopted on Thursday which assessed the progress made in women’s rights over the past 25 years.

Labour MEPs Alfred Sant, Alex Agius-Saliba, Josianne Cutajar, and Cyrus Engerer voted in favour of a resolution marking the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) in which  MEPs complained that no EU member state has fully attained the targets set in the text.

Although voting in a day replete with resolutions and other motions, no vote against or abstaining was registered by the two Nationalist MEPs on this motion.

In the resolution adopted by 505 votes in favour, 109 against and 76 abstentions, MEPs expressed deep concern on the current pandemic exacerbating existing gender inequalities, which threatens to reverse the progress made and which could push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line worldwide.

But in a comment to MaltaToday, the two MEPs said that as always, they voted against any amendments calling for abortion to be mandated in member states.

The two MEPs argued that the process leading to the vote was premature, and that they would have preferred negotiations to continue on a text that could have found stronger widespread support, without infringing upon Member States' rights to legislate themselves on this issue before a final vote.

“This is particularly important in Malta's case, that has a declaration on abortion annexed to our accession treaty. The delegation therefore did not support the process that led to the vote on this resolution, which in their view, was premature,” a spokesperson for the PN MEPs said.

The resolution makes note of sexual and reproductive rights under COVID-19 pandemic, a red flag for Maltese politicians due to the taboo on abortion. “These impacts range from a worrying increase in gender-based violence and harassment to unpaid and unequal care and domestic responsibilities, as well as restricted access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and significant economic and work impacts for women, particularly healthcare workers and caregivers,” MEPs noted.

In order to tackle violence against women, MEPs reiterated their call to ratify the Istanbul Convention and urged the European Commission to come up with an EU Directive to prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence. “The increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic must be urgently addressed by providing protection services for victims, such as helplines, safe accommodation and health services,” they said.

MEPs said they are particularly worried by retrogressive tendencies regarding access to health services in some EU countries. They notably condemned the recent de facto ban on abortion in Poland. 

Access to family planning, maternal health services and safe and legal abortion services are key elements that guarantee women’s rights and save lives, they underline. Finally, MEPs also call for the universal respect for, and access to, sexual and reproductive health and rights services, as agreed in the Beijing Declaration.

The Beijing Declaration was adopted by the UN at the end of the 4th World Conference on Women on 15 September 1995 to promulgate a set of principles on gender equality.

The MEPs reiterated the call on EU member states to unblock the Women on Boards Directive, and pushes for EU targets, action plans, timelines and temporary special measures to move towards a balanced representation in all executive, legislative and administrative positions.

Adopting EU legislation to increase pay transparency would help to close the gender gap, MEPs stressed, who regret that the Commission proposal on that issue has not yet been presented as planned.

MEPs also called for specific measures are also needed to eradicate cyber violence, including online harassment, cyberbullying and hate speech, which disproportionately affect women and girls.

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