The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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EP may declare abortion a ‘human right’ in vote on Tuesday

Malta Independent Sunday, 20 October 2013, 09:30 Last update: about 11 years ago

The European Parliament will vote on Tuesday 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.

The issue is a red line etched in stone for Malta.

Critics see the move as an attempt to dictate abortion policy to individual European Union governments, despite an acknowledgement by leading EU institutions that there is no consensus on the matter across the EU’s 28 member-states.

The EP’s committee passed the controversial draft report last month on women’s rights and gender equality.

Twenty EU member states legally permit abortion on demand, while six others have limitations that are either interpreted broadly (Britain, Finland, Cyprus) or restrictively (Ireland, Poland, Luxembourg).

Malta prohibits all abortions.

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 counselling”. Some EU countries have compulsory waiting period of up to seven days and pre-abortion counselling, either for all women or in some cases for adolescents only.

The measure seeks to 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 to the proposed legislation 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 per cent of all gynaecologists and 40 per cent of all anaesthesiologists 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 European Convention on Human Rights nor customary international law can accurately be cited as establishing or recognizing such right,” she said.

“All EU institutions, bodies and agencies must remain neutral on the issue of abortion.”

Ms 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 organisation based in Brussels, slammed the attempt to establish “a so-called ‘right to abortion’”.

“The majority who voted in favour of the report in committee bluntly ignores that such a right exists nowhere in international law and is ready to sacrifice internationally-recognised 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 the EU to finance abortion in developing countries as part of the EU development aid programme, 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”.

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