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EU Set to Vote on Major Policy Initiative

UPDATE: In an unexpected turn of events, a coalition of conservative members of the European Parliament forced a vote to send the report on sexual and reproductive health and rights back to the Women’s Rights Committee for further discussions. The controversial move delays what could have been a milestone for policy advancement of sexual and reproductive rights in the European Union. Despite this setback, the issue will remain on the Parliament’s agenda in the coming months, and the Center will work with other progressive groups to push to make sure that the members ultimately vote on the report.

10.21.13 - On Tuesday, October 22, the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on a report on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that if adopted, will serve as a key policy guideline for all European Union member states and institutions.

It is a major policy initiative put forward by pro-choice members of the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee, calling for among other things, comprehensive sexuality education for all young people, sexual and reproductive health and rights funding in EU development cooperation, respect for sexual diversity, and access to modern contraception and legal, safe, and accessible abortion for all women.

Many may be surprised to learn that there is a need for the promotion of SRHR within Europe. But in a number of Eastern European countries such as Poland and Slovakia, the use of contraception is worrying low. And women in countries like Poland and Ireland where abortion is almost completely banned are often forced to resort to illegal abortion or so-called “abortion tourism”-–or carry to term if they lack the necessary resources to do so.

In addition, opposition to SRHR is on the rise within and beyond the EU with reactionary groups opposing the concept of sexual diversity and seeking to restrict women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy and rights.  According to the UK organization the National Secular Society the report comes at the best time:

Its call for convincing and positive action to promote SRHR comes within the context of virulent anti-choice opposition in several EU countries (e.g. Spain and Hungary) as well as within European institutions (e.g. the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Committee of Social Rights and in the Parliament itself).

During the committee stage, the report met with opposition from a group of conservative MEPS. They tabled a vast number of amendments, most of which sought to restrict the reproductive and health rights of women. Many related to the protection of the human embryo (relying on the controversial ECJ Brüstle decision) and the extension to the scope of conscientious objection. These amendments were rejected however, with the report instead noting the role of conscientious objection in denying many women access to reproductive health services, such as information about, access to, and the purchase of contraception, prenatal testing, and lawful interruption of pregnancy. The report highlights the need to regulate and monitor the use of conscientious objection, so as to help guarantee that reproductive health care is provided as an individual's right.

It recommends that high-quality abortion services, as a human right and public health concern, should be made legal, safe, and accessible to all within the public health systems of EU States.

The report also stresses the importance of providing comprehensive and non-discriminatory SRHR information, education and services, through a rights-based approach, that promotes a positive view of LGBTI persons, and helps in the fight against stereotypes and all forms of gender violence.

Despite the Women's Rights Committee rejecting the conservatives' amendments, we understand from MEPs that religious groups have been vigorously mobilising and lobbying MEPs to vote down the report.

The Center has provided input to the drafters of the report from the very beginning, ensuring that a rights perspective permeates the whole text and that its recommendations are based on recognized international human rights standards. We are also, together with a network of SRHR organizations in Europe, actively promoting it and striving to counter the dangerous and systematic attacks on it from reactionary forces within and outside of the European Parliament.