Helena Dalli quizzed by socialist MEPs over Prudente abortion case

‘Women in the EU should enjoy equal rights,’ Dalli tells Socialist MEPs quizzing her on abortion rights

European Commissioner Helena Dalli
European Commissioner Helena Dalli

Socialist MEPs have taken Malta’s European Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli to task, in questions as to what she was doing to secure abortion as a human right in Europe in the aftermath of the Prudente case.

The question addressed to the Commission was filed by five MEPs in June in the wake of the case of Andrea Prudente, an American tourist in Malta who had to be flown to Spain to terminate a life-threatening pregnancy after Maltese doctors refused to.

The Commission currently has no competence over abortion rights in member states, but pressure is mounting for recognising abortion as a right in the European Charter of Human Rights.

The MEPs asked what steps the Commission was taking to ensure that access to abortion is recognised as a human right in all member states.

“Women living in the EU should enjoy equal rights in all aspects of their lives... all women in the EU should have adequate access to quality health care and treatment,” Helena Dalli said in her carefully worded reply to the five Socialist MEPs, who had asked what she is doing as Commissioner for Equality to ensure that abortion is secured as a fundamental human right for women.

The MEPs noted that Prudente could have developed a deadly infection as a result of her pregnancy complications. As the foetus’ heart was still beating, Maltese doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy, in accordance with Maltese law, although the foetus had no chance of survival outside the womb. The woman was subsequently granted an authorisation for a transfer to Spain, where she was given the treatment she needed.

The MEPs reminded the Commission that “this is not the first time that this Maltese law has almost cost a woman her life”.

In the final part of the written reply on behalf of the Commission, Dalli replied that “equality between women and men is a core value of the EU” and that “women living in the EU should enjoy equal rights in all aspects of their lives.”

She also told the MEPs that the Commission recognises every person’s fundamental right of access to quality healthcare. “All women across the EU should have adequate access to quality health care and treatment.”

But Dalli also recognised that “healthcare, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, falls within the Member States’ competence” and that when making use of their competences, “Member States must respect fundamental rights enshrined in their national constitutions and comply with their commitments under international law.”

But she also recognised that “gender inequalities may significantly affect sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”

While acknowledging the limited powers the Commission has on access to abortion in member states, Dalli pointed out that the Commission “continues to fund civil society organisations working on gender equality, including sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “support member states’ efforts in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals relevant to women’s health, universal access to sexual and reproductive care, family planning and education.”

The question was fielded by Italian Socialist MEPs Alessandra Moretti, Camilla Laureti, Giuliano Pisapia, Irene Tinagli, Pierfrancesco Majorino and Giuseppe Ferrandino (S&D).