The EU’s top court has dealt a blow to anti-abortion activists, ruling that the European Commission was justified in its refusal to propose a ban on EU funding for abortion services.
In a ruling on Monday (23 April), the European Court of Justice stated that the ‘One of Us’ citizens’ initiative “cannot require the Commission to submit a proposal for a legal act”.
It added that the EU’s executive arm had demonstrated that “the ban on abortion funding would constrain the EU’s ability to attain the objective of reducing maternal mortality”.
Meanwhile, the Commission had also been entitled to take account of the new healthcare treatments that could result from human embryo stem cell research in its decision.
The European citizens’ initiative was an innovation introduced by the Lisbon treaty, under which citizens could demand that the EU executive table legislation on an issue, provided they obtained at least one million signatures from at least seven EU countries.
In 2014, the One of Us campaign became the second citizens’ initiative to reach the one million signatures required. More than 600,000 of the 1.8 million signatories came from Italy, followed by 250,000 from Poland, both predominantly Catholic countries.
The campaign, supported by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church, and coordinated by a number of religious organisations, sought to ban the use of EU funds for research, foreign aid programmes and public health activities that are linked to the destruction of human embryos, including abortion.
After the Commission refused to take any action, on the grounds that EU support is intended to improve maternal health and is subject to strict controls, the campaign took the Commission to court, seeking an annulment of its decision.
Ahead of the ruling, One of Us stated that “failure to respect the voices of 1.7 million citizens would make real the perceived democratic deficit and would render the entire ECI procedure meaningless.”
However, the Court stated that controls were put in place as part of the bloc’s Horizon 2020 framework to ensure that the EU does “not fund the destruction of human embryos.”
EU funding is directed to providing safe abortions in a number of developing countries. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals included a target to reduce deaths from childbirth by 75% and provide universal access to reproductive healthcare.
The Court said that EU support for healthcare in developing countries had “contributed substantially to a reduction in the number of abortions, because it increased access to safe quality services, including good-quality family planning, a broad range of contraceptive methods, emergency contraception and comprehensive sexual education.”