MEPs push for right to abortion to be enshrined in EU Charter

MEPs hold plenary debate calling for right to abortion to be included in EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

“Women should not be forced to have children,” the Spanish leader of the socialist group, Iratxe García Pérez, said during the debate.
“Women should not be forced to have children,” the Spanish leader of the socialist group, Iratxe García Pérez, said during the debate.

MEPs have pushed for the right to legal and safe abortion to be included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, shortly after French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to open such a debate in the EU Council.

MEPs addressed the European Parliament’s plenary on Thursday, a day after Macron addressed the plenary at the start of the French presidency of the European Union.

“Women should not be forced to have children,” the Spanish leader of the socialist group, Iratxe García Pérez, said during the debate.

She emphasised that sexual and reproductive health should not be pigeon-holed into merely an abortion debate. “We're talking about something that goes much further than that. Regular health check-ups to ensure women and men are healthy, providing healthcare to pregnant women and mothers, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive treatment for men and women, fertility treatment, assisted reproductive techniques, contraception.”

García Pérez pointed out that “an abortion prohibition doesn't mean more children are born it means more women die”, explaining how women have to engage in unsafe backstreet abortions because they don't have the money to go to another country where it is permitted.

In the EU, Malta is the only country where abortion is completely prohibited. But Poland imposed in 2020 a near-total ban, triggering mass protests across the country.

The EU does not have a say over sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission, recalled that “legislative powers on health lie within the member states. Member states are thus responsible for the definition of their health policy and work done in the area of public health, the EU only has complimentary competence and is limited to encouraging cooperation between member states and if necessary to lend support to their actions.”

However she did infer that women should have access to abortion included under the umbrella of  “good quality healthcare, treatment and sexual and reproductive health”.

Jourová explained that high quality sexual and reproductive health services are fundamental to the overall health and wellbeing of individuals and families, and go well beyond abortion. In her view comprehensive sexual education was key for young people to form healthy skills and equal relationships with themselves and each other, and the withholding or barring of access to these services was “tantamount to violence against women and hinders progress towards gender equality.”

The French secretary of state attending the plenary on behalf of the presidency of council, Clement Baune, said” “When it comes to the specific question of the right to abortion once again the legal framework is important here and the European Court of Human Rights has handed down rulings on this. There is leeway for member states on the questions of when and how this right is valid at MS level. If a member state does decide and it does tend to decide on the major number of cases, there is an obligation nevertheless to set out framework to allow a pregnant women to carry out their right to abortion pursuant to the human rights court.”

Baune stated that the commitment of the presidency is clear: the French wants to support this right.

But the situation presents clear problems because member states like Hungary or Poland would likely never agree to enshrining such a right in the charters as the ruling parties and large numbers of their citizens are, from an ideological standpoint, diametrically opposed to such changes.

Renew MEP Samira Rafaela said: “it is absurd that here I stand in 2022 asking for support for sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, the right-wing conservative wind is overtaking Europe.”

She argued that if member states refused to provide safe abortion the EU should make it possible for women to go somewhere elsewhere in the Union to have the procedure performed.

Sexual and reproductive rights have become a very hot topic during this week's plenary, since the election of anti-abortion Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola to the post of President of the EP.

Although she pledged to act in accordance with the will of Parliament and the EU institutions, MEPs are concerned about her voting track record on sexual, reproductive, and abortion rights.

Metsola was immediately grilled on this topic following her ascension to the Presidential seat.

“If we really want to achieve gender equality, there is one indispensable condition: the respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights … We will be watching you, president Metsola," said French liberal MEP Chrysoula Zacharopoulou.

Metsola has already lived up to her commitment in one sense by agreeing to sign the Simone Veil pact, the first aim of which is to guarantee “women’s access to contraception and abortion, as well as to information and education.” The pact is promoted by Macron’s European political family, Renew Europe.

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