MEPs call for the US to ensure protection of abortion rights

Abortion rights proponents participate during an 'emergency rally' after a leaked draft opinion by the US Supreme Court suggested the nation's highest court would soon overturn the landmark Roe v Wade decision, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 3 May 2022. [EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER]

The European Parliament approved a resolution on global threats to abortion rights on Thursday (9 June) in light of the potential overturning of the US Roe v. Wade ruling, following a heated plenary debate on the state of abortion rights, also in the EU.

A leaked document from the US Supreme Court, which surfaced in May, revealed that a majority of judges are in favour of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 legal ruling which enshrined a woman’s right to access abortion across the US. The news sparked global outrage and fierce protests against the removal of abortion rights.

On Thursday (9 June), the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution expressing concerns about the backsliding on abortion rights across the Atlantic – both at the level of the Supreme Court and individual states such as Texas, which have implemented rafts of legislation to de facto restrict women’s access to pregnancy termination.

“President Biden said such a decision would be radical and mark a fundamental shift in the US law and put other rights into question, namely women’s access to reproductive health care and control over their own lives and bodies,” said vice-president of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, at the beginning of the plenary debate.

“We fully share this concern and indeed consequences will be radical, not only for the US, but globally. This will notably lead to an increase of unsafe abortions,” he added.

“In the US we are now seeing powerful forces working actively to put an end to the right to abortion,” said MEP Arba Kokalari from the European People’s Party (EPP).

“The right to abortion is a question of liberties. And it is fundamental to all women’s opportunities to shape their lives as they themselves see fit. This resolution is so important. It is a signal that the EU stands for freedom, human rights, women’s rights and that we have zero tolerance for those who try to undermine women’s rights,” she added also referencing the “de facto abortion ban” in Poland.

The Parliamentary resolution addresses concerns about abortion bans and restrictions disproportionately affecting women of marginalised groups or with lower socioeconomic status while urging for better federal protection of abortion rights and support for single mothers and pregnant teenagers in the US.

The resolution also includes calls for the EU to support US-based civil society organisations working for abortion rights and for EU member states to “offer a safe haven for all medical professionals who might be at risk of legal persecution or other forms of harassment as a result of their legitimate work in providing abortion care.”

A final decision on the matter by the US Supreme Court is not expected until the end of June or the beginning of July. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 26 US states are estimated to further restrict or outright ban abortion.

At the same time, fears have risen over estimations that an abortion ban in the US could result in a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths.

EU Parliament condemns Poland's restrictive law on abortion

A year after the Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling that de facto banned abortion, the European Parliament called on the government in Warsaw on Thursday (11 November) to lift the ban that puts women’s lives at risk.

A touchy topic within the EU

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic of abortion, the debate on the resolution in the European Parliament was heated, with MEPs being asked by the chair to remove “symbols” in the form of scarves with pro-abortion rights statements, speakers raising their voices and many extra questions for speakers throughout the debate.

While the starting point of the discussion was the possible changes in the US, some MEPs insisted that we should not take our rights for granted in the EU, bringing attention to related issues in European countries.

Samira Rafaela from the Renew group highlighted that many Italian doctors refuse to help women wanting an abortion, and that doctors in Germany are not allowed to provide information about abortions. In that context, she argued that abortion rights should be protected by the Treaty of the EU.

“We need to ensure that fundamentalists are not given an inch of leeway in this anti-woman agenda. Abortion right is a human right and that’s something that we need to lay down in the European treaties now,” Rafaela said.

The road to including abortion rights in the EU treaty would be a long one. In January of this year, the Parliament called for the inclusion of abortion into the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Bruno de Witte, a professor of European Union law at Maastricht University, told EURACTIV at the time that this was most likely not going to happen, despite being supported by the French Presidency.

Despite many voicing their concern over threatened abortion rights during the debate, some MEPs did express their opposition to the resolution. Christine Anderson from the Identity and Democracy (ID) group said: “This parliament has no competence to lecture sovereign countries on how they should govern themselves”, while others MEPs expressed their concern over the lack of rights for unborn babies.

EU’s call for abortion as fundamental rights – a political bluff?

MEPs call for abortion to be included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights is supported by the French presidency, but according to an EU law expert, this is “not going to happen” – and having an anti-abortion Parliamentary president is not the only obstacle.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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