Women’s sexual and reproductive rights are “under threat”, the Council of Europe has warned.
In a report published on on Tuesday (5 December), the institution constituted of 47 European states and tasked with upholding human rights said that “in recent years, resurgent threats to women’s sexual and reproductive rights have emerged in Europe”.
Stripping back abortion
These include proposals for near-total bans on abortion in Luthiania, Slovakia, Spain, Poland and Russia. Although rejected following public outcry, these proporals “provide a powerful illustration of the extent and nature of the backlash to the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality in some parts of Europe”, read the report.
In Armenia, Macedonia, Georgia, Russia and Slovakia, new requirements were introduced such as “obligatory waiting periods” and biased counselling, which according to the WHO serve no medical purpose but undermine women’s decision-making. Latvia, Lithuania and Romania also advanced similar proposals.
And even when abortion is legal, women may not be able to access a legal health service due to doctors refusing on the grounds of conscientious objection. In Italy, approximately 70% of medical professionals refuse to provide abortion care.
Attacking human rights defenders
The report also highlights the threat to human rights defenders: “The recent introduction of restrictive regulations and policies affecting civil society in general, such as those now in place in Hungary and the Russian Federation, have had direct and concrete implications for human rights defenders and civil society organisations working to advance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Hungary’s law on “foreign-funded NGOs” requires all organisations receiving donations or grants from non-Hungarian donors to declare their funding expenses – in an attempt to undermine the credibility of organisations with a progressive agenda.
Reka Safrani, of the Hungarian women’s lobby, is a recipient of grants from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. She says the law actually benefitted her, as many donors stepped in in solidarity, but she knows of many other, smaller NGOs working with women who have had to become volunteers due to funding cuts from the government – something that inevitably affects their beneficiaries – that is, women in need.