The European Parliament will vote on highly controversial Draft Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) during October. The report has already been adopted by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on September 18. Rapporteur Edite Estrela — a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament — argued strongly in favour of legalizing abortion in all European Member States with no consideration for the fundamental rights to life and conscience recognized by the EU.

In a statement after the committee vote, Zita Gurmai, an MEP for the Hungarian Socialist Party, said the report’s “clear stance in favour of legalizing abortion in all member states and the recommendations that abortion should be made legal, safe, and accessible to all, is an encouraging position. We Socialists have always believed that women, everywhere in Europe, should have the same opportunity and access to fully carry out their choice — a choice, which should not be determined by geographical location or by social status.”

Estrela recommends that abortion be made legal, safe, and accessible to all — despite the obvious encroachment on at least a couple of internationally accepted norms. For instance, the radical claim is made in the Draft Report that “Member States should regulate and monitor the use of conscientious objection so as to ensure that reproductive health care is guaranteed as an individual’s right” (§11). 

To justify such heavy-handed state policies, the same paragraph claims that “even when legal, abortion is often prevented or delayed by obstacles ... such as the widespread use of conscientious objection”. And in Section G, the report deplores the fact that “access to safe abortion ... remains widely unavailable, though legal, through the abuse of conscientious objection or overly restrictive interpretations of existing limits”. It even trots out statistics from Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia — “where nearly 70% of all gynaecologists and 40% of all anaesthesiologists conscientiously object to providing abortion services”.

“These barriers clearly contradict human rights standards”, the report argues. Her claim is that the internationally granted right to conscientious objection — and, consequently, the fundamental freedom to not participate in a practice contrary to one’s conscience within the boundaries prescribed by law — is an obstacle to the establishment of 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 recognized rights, such as the right to conscientious objection.

The Draft Report — which is due for a vote in European Parliament’s plenary session next week —mixes so-called “abortion rights” with facts. But it then goes further, calling on EU Member States “to ensure compulsory, age-appropriate and gender-sensitive sexuality and relationship education for all children and adolescents (both in and out of school)” (§15). Sexuality education “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; but there is a clar political will that some of these radical ideas would be transmitted to pupils through the educational system.

This isn’t the first attempt to push such an extreme project at the European level. The Estrela report reminds us of the controversy at the Council of Europe in 2010, when a radical attempt to limit freedom of conscience was introduced by British politician and pro-abortion activist Christine McCafferty. In a report that has since been known as the McCafferty Report, an attempt was made to severely diminish the freedom of medical practitioners, nurses, and hospital staff to oppose unethical medical practices such as abortion or euthanasia for reasons of conscience.

The initiative was eventually defeated — and then turned on its head: Instead of restricting the right to conscientious objection, a majority in the Parliamentary Assembly acknowledged and strengthened it by adopting Resolution 1763 which invited Member States to “guarantee the right to conscientious objection in relation to participation in the medical procedure in question”. The Assembly also stated that “in the vast majority of Council of Europe member states, the practice of conscientious objection is adequately regulated”.

Despite this consensus for a strong protection of the right to conscientious objection, the Draft Report is reminiscent of the McCafferty Report: It not only puts the fundamental right to conscientious objection, politically speaking, at stake but makes serious legally unfounded recommendations — such as promoting abortion “as a human rights concern” and making it “legal, safe, and accessible to all” (§10). That such extreme positions are being actively promoted in the European Parliament by some MEPs despite the numerous objections from the other two main EU institutions, the European Commission and the European Council — both of which have stressed that the EU has no competence under its treaties to deal with the issue of abortion — should be a cause of great concern for several reasons.

First, Estrela and most of the Women’s Committee in Parliament who voted in favour of the Draft Report have blatantly ignored European trends which point to greater protection of human life from conception onwards.

At the level of European institutions, the European Court of Justice has been crystal clear, about the right to life, establishing in Brüstle vs. Greenpeace that the human embryo deserves legal protection from the very first moment of its existence. In addition, a new study on “Abortion and the European Convention on Human Rights” undertaken by the European Centre for Law and Justice reveals that the Convention does not contain — nor does it create — a right to abortion. On the contrary, abortion on demand violates the Convention, harming the interests and the rights guaranteed to citizens without any proportionate justification.

At the grass-roots level, too, there is increasing consensus among European citizens that there should be more protection of the human embryo within the European Union. An example is the remarkably successful European Citizen‘s Initiative “One of Us”, which asks the EU to end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos; it has already collected over 1 million signatures.

Unfortunately, none of this seems to mean much to the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality who voted in favour of the report. 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.