Abortion: EU Parliament Stepping on Member States’ Toes

At its plenary meeting on June 24, 2021, the European Parliament voted to adopt the highly controversial motion for a resolution regarding reproductive and sexual health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health“, which is specifically intended to restrict the conscience clause of health professionals on abortion. The motion for a resolution resulting from the report presented by the Slovak MEP, Preda Fred Matic, erroneously presents abortion as an alleged “right” connected to women’s health, encouraging Member States to facilitate access and remove “all barriers” to abortion, without taking into account the ethical, social and cultural dimensions of abortion.

Two alternative proposals were not adopted. A proposal put forward by the ECR (Conservatives and Reformists) group reminded the EU parliament that “formulating and implementing policies on sexual health and education, reproduction and abortion fall within the legislative competence of the Member States”. This proposal would have clarified the real competence of the EU which tends to override the legitimate autonomy of the Member States in these matters.

The alternative proposal presented by the EPP Group (European People’s Party) called for respecting the subsidiarity of Member States’ decision-making in this area and appropriately pointed out the distinction between ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and abortion. Their recommendations focused on women’s maternity and reproductive health to ensure suitable assistance for mothers, to prevent infertility and fight violence against women. Their text clearly insisted on the right to conscientious objection in matters of abortion.

As Alliance VITA pointed out when the Matic resolution was adopted in committee last May: ‘The term ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ is essentially ambiguous. Without giving a clear definition to it, the phrase is used in this context to trivialize, under the guise of protecting women’s health, the sensitive issue of abortion, a practice which is not with the EU’s jurisdiction.”

Although the European Union has jurisdiction in the field of fundamental rights, obviously extending access to abortion does not qualify as a fundamental right. On the contrary, this EU resolution is an unlawful and unduly attempt to restrict the right to conscientious objection for healthcare professionals, whereas this right is distinctly recognized as a fundamental freedom by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 10.2).

The real challenge for elected representatives in France and in Europe is that of preventing abortion. In France, statistics on abortion have been linked to income tax data, demonstrating that women with a lower income resort to abortion more frequently than others. Abortion can be a distinctive marker of social inequality that should signify a red alert to public authorities in France and Europe.

On the other hand, a more explicit common policy to fight against human trafficking, which has been condemned by several European texts and on which surrogacy is based, would have had its rightful place in this text. EU representatives should be the forerunners in the fight against a reproductive market that is an ominous injury to the rights of women and children.

Although this type of document is not binding, it does raise numerous questions as to its legitimacy.

The European Union’s absence of authority regarding abortion has been confirmed on several occasions by the three EU institutions (European Parliament, European Commission, and Council of the EU). On April 30, 2012, the European Commissioner for Health, John Dalli, answered MEP’s question (E-002933/2012): “Considering the ethical, social, and cultural dimensions of abortion, it is for Member States to develop and implement their policies and legal frameworks. The Commission does not have the intention to complement national health policies in this respect.”

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