In a 351-319 vote Tuesday, the parliament in Strasbourg, France, sent the measure back to its committee on women’s rights and gender equality, an outcome its supporters attributed to “intense lobbying by right-wing religious and political conservatives.”
The committee, which had approved the draft report last month, will now have to re-examine it.
Opponents found much to dislike in the report on “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” including a clause stating that “as a human rights concern, abortion should be made legal, safe and accessible to all.”
It said that even in those member-states where abortion is legal, obstacles were often present. These included “medically unnecessary waiting periods or biased counseling,” as well as “the abuse of conscientious objection or overly restrictive interpretations of existing limits.”
Under the measure, member-states would therefore be asked 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.”
The report also called on member-states to ensure compulsory sex education for all children, which “must include the fight against stereotypes and prejudices [and] shed light on gender and sexual orientation discrimination.”
Ahead of the vote the grouping of European Catholic bishops conferences in a statement underlined that abortion does not fall within the E.U.’s jurisdiction.
It pointed to a key E.U. treaty stating that individual member-states, not the E.U., have responsibility for “the definition of their health policy and for the organization and delivery of health services and medical care.”
“In many E.U. member states abortion is illegal,” the bishops said. “The E.U. should respect and not interfere with decisions that do not fall within its sphere of competence.”
European Dignity Watch, a pro-life organization based in Brussels, said the parliamentary panel would now have the opportunity to revisit the document’s many problematic elements.
“In the weeks leading up to the vote today, there has been growing awareness among MEPs [members of the European Parliament] of the deep problems related to an understanding of sexual and reproductive health that puts hypersexualisation of children from the earliest age on, a ‘right to abortion’ for all and a severe limitation of freedom of conscience at its center,” it said.
“Today, parliament has sent a clear signal that this radical approach is not shared by the majority.”
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children director John Smeaton also welcomed the outcome, and praised the U.K.-based group’s supporters who had lobbied MEPs.
Supporters of the report include the “LGBT Intergroup,” a forum of more than 150 MEPs "committed to upholding the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
It says elements of the document favorable to LGBT people include sex education teaching against sexual orientation stereotypes and recommendations for universal access to assisted reproduction for lesbian couples.
After the vote the group slammed “right-wing religious and political conservatives” for lobbying against it.
LGBT Intergroup co-president Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green MEP, called the outcome “shameful.”
“Right-wing bigots from the EFD, ECR and EPP groups argued against this report, and women’s right to a safe and healthy reproductive and sexual life,” she said, referring to the parliament’s main right-leaning political groups.
Tuesday’s vote coincided with the final days of the signature-gathering stage of a European citizens’ initiative (ECI) seeking to end E.U. funding for abortion and research practices that destroy human embryos.
Under a new E.U. process designed to improve participatory democracy, a first group of registered ECIs has until November 1 to obtain one million signatures in support of their particular cause, with a specified minimum number required from at least seven member-states.
A pro-life ECI entitled “One of us” has already passed the threshold and as of Thursday had more than 1.42 million signatures. It hopes to reach 1.5 million by the Nov. 1 deadline.
According to the ECI regulations, the E.U.’s executive commission then has three months to respond to an eligible initiative.
Although the pro-life ECI was not directly connected to Tuesday’s parliamentary vote, European Dignity Watch executive director Sophia Kuby said the voices of the 1.4 million citizens who have supported the initiative were “heard and represented” in the parliamentary vote.
A ban on E.U. funding for abortion would affect some of the world’s biggest abortion providers.
In the U.S., a similar ban was instituted by the Reagan administration in 1984. The Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. aid to organizations that promote or perform abortions around the world, was reversed by President Clinton in 1993, restored by President Bush in 2001, and then again rescinded by President Obama in 2009.