(CNSNews.com) – European lawmakers this month will vote on a measure that promotes abortion as a fundamental human right, while taking aim at the conscientious objection rights of pro-life doctors and health workers.
Critics see the move as an attempt to dictate abortion policy to individual European Union governments, despite an acknowledgement by leading E.U. institutions that there is no consensus on the matter across the 28 member-states.
The controversial draft report, which is being promoted by socialist members of the European Parliament (MEPs), was passed last month by the legislature’s committee on women’s rights and gender equality.
According to supporting documents, 20 E.U. member-states legally permit abortion on demand, while six others have limitations which are either interpreted broadly (Britain, Finland, Cyprus) or restrictively (Ireland, Poland, Luxembourg). Malta prohibits all abortions. (The 28th and newest member, Croatia, had not joined the E.U. when the legislation was being drafted.)
Even in countries where abortion is legal, the report states, it is often made unavailable “through the abuse of conscientious objection or overly restrictive interpretations of existing limits.” Other obstacles include “medically unnecessary waiting periods or biased counseling.”
(Some E.U. countries have compulsory waiting period of up to seven days and pre-abortion counseling, either for all women or in some cases for adolescents only.)
The measure would therefore require member states to “regulate and monitor the use of conscientious objection so as to ensure that reproductive health care is guaranteed as an individual’s right, while access to lawful services is ensured and appropriate and affordable referrals systems are in place.”
An explanatory note complains that objectors deny women information about and access to “lawful interruption of pregnancy.”
“There are cases reported from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ireland and Italy where nearly 70 percent of all gynecologists and 40 percent of all anesthesiologists conscientiously object to providing abortion services,” it says. “These barriers clearly contradict human rights standards and international medical standards.”
Aside from the anti-conscientious objection language, arguably the most explosive part of the draft report is a clause that says “as a human rights concern, abortion should be made legal, safe and accessible to all.”
In a minority opinion committee member Anna Zaborska, a pro-life Slovak MEP, said the report could not be used to establish a “right to abortion.”
“No international legally binding treaty nor the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] nor customary international law can accurately be cited as establishing or recognizing such right,” she said.
“All E.U. institutions, bodies and agencies must remain neutral on the issue of abortion.”
Zaborska, who represents the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and is a former chairwoman of the committee, also objected strongly to the language about conscientious objection.
“No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to practices which could cause the death of a human embryo,” she said.
European Dignity Watch, a pro-life non-governmental organization based in Brussels, slammed the attempt to establish “a so-called ‘right to abortion.’”
“The majority who voted in favor of the report in committee bluntly ignores that such a right exists nowhere in international law and is ready to sacrifice internationally-recognized rights, such as the right to conscientious objection,” it said in a statement.
“Their ideological zeal to trample on other rights and impose the ‘right to abortion’ on the rest of Europe embodies precisely the arrogant and patronizing attitude that threatens the freedom of conscience — and that we should all vociferously reject.”
Another part of the report says member-states should ensure compulsory sex education for all children, both in and out of school, which “must include the fight against stereotypes and prejudices, shed light on gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and structural barriers to substantive equality.”
“One can only speculate on the exact method of implementation of these noble-sounding but eminently dangerous aims,” said European Dignity Watch, “but there is a clear political will that some of these radical ideas would be transmitted to pupils through the educational system.”
The report also calls on on the E.U. to finance abortion in developing countries as part of the E.U. development aid program, which it says should have “a strong and explicit focus, and concrete targets on SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights].”
It argues that “investments in reproductive health and family planning are among the most cost-effective, in terms of development, and the most effective ways to promote the sustainable development of a country.”
The report heads for a vote by the full European Parliament later this month at a time when citizens are pushing back against abortion funding.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, an effort to reform and strengthen the E.U., a new tool called the European citizens’ initiative (ECI) was introduced with the aim of improving participatory democracy.
November 1 this year is the deadline for the first registered ECIs to pass a target of one million signatures, including a proscribed minimum number of signatures required from at least seven member-states. Currently only two are on track, and one of them is a pro-life initiative that seeks to end E.U. funding for abortion and all research practices involving the destruction of human embryos.
With three weeks to go to the deadline, the initiative known as “One of us” has attracted more than 1.2 million signatures. It has received the backing of the Pope, and the largest numbers of signatures so far have come from Italy, Poland, Germany, Romania and France.
Under the ECI rules, the E.U.’s executive commission will have three months to respond to an initiative that meets the requirements.
A European Dignity Watch study last year found that two of the world’s largest abortion providers, Marie Stopes and International and International Planned Parenthood Federation, are recipients of E.U. development funding.
Banning E.U. funding for abortion would be a similar move to the Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era measure that prohibits U.S. aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions around the world.
The politically-sensitive policy, which opponents call the “global gag rule,” was rescinded by President Clinton in 1993, revived by President Bush in 2001, and reversed again by President Obama in 2009.