On 9 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on global threats to abortion rights. The resolution condemns “the backsliding in women’s rights and SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] taking place globally, including in the US and in some EU Member States.”
Confirming that the right to a safe and legal abortion is a fundamental right, the resolution calls on “Member States to decriminalise abortion and to remove and combat obstacles to safe and legal abortion and access to sexual and reproductive health care and services.”
Notably, the resolution, “condemns the fact that women cannot access abortion services due to the practice common in some Member States for medical practitioners, and, on some occasions, entire medical institutions, to refuse to provide health services on the basis of the ‘conscience’ clause, which leads to the denial of abortion care on grounds of religion or conscience, and which endangers women’s lives and rights.”
The use of “conscientious objection” to refuse abortions by gynaecologists in some parts of Europe is extremely high. For example, conscientious objectors among Italian gynaecologists amount to just over 70%. In one region in Central Italy, Molise, 93% of gynaecologists are conscientious objectors.
Currently, one EU country, Malta has a complete ban on abortions. In Poland, the Constitutional Tribunal rolled back women’s right to terminate pregnancies in 2020, ruling that women can undergo an abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or if their life is in danger.
On 31 May 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) unanimously adopted a resolution on “Access to abortion in Europe: stopping anti-choice harassment.”
The resolution expresses its concern about harassment and violence perpetrated by anti-abortion activists in many member States, targeting persons who want to protect access to free and safe abortions. Those targeted include women’s rights defenders speaking out for the right to abort, healthcare professionals, politicians, and people seeking abortions.
The resolution underlines that such harassment and violence is progressively eroding the right to abortion as stipulated in the legislation of most member States and may be considered as “part of a wider attack on women’s rights.”
It called on member States to ensure actual access to abortion, where provided for by national legislation, and to guarantee that any obstruction “is prohibited and criminally sanctioned,” stressing that conscientious objection should never restrict actual and timely access to abortion.
In consultation with its European members, Humanists International made a submission ahead of the PACE resolution, presenting evidence around the issue of harassment and violence perpetrated by anti-abortion activists on the continent.