[Brussels, 19 May 2022] Worried by the latest deeply concerning news in the EU, at its borders and in the United States, EWL reiterates its call to make safe abortion legally and practically accessible to all women and girls in Europe and worldwide.
In all parts of the world, many obstacles have been hindering women’s access to abortion services, ranging from the conscientious objection used by medical practitioners to the lack of reimbursement of the needed drugs or operation. Women’s access to safe abortion has also been challenged by the long waiting periods and mandatory counselling before intervention. The lack of proximity to medical centres or the impossibility to access them have also been significant hurdles as it was noticed during pandemic times. On top of these barriers, women willing to have an abortion can also suffer from stigmatisation.
Over the last weeks, these obstacles have been particularly visible in different countries:
- In Croatia, Mirela Čavajda saw her right to abortion declined despite the doctor’s diagnosis of a brain tumour of the foetus that would eventually trigger its death. All hospitals she contacted in the country’s capital, Zagreb, had refused to perform the procedure. Although termination of pregnancy at this stage is legal in Croatia under these circumstances, some hospitals refused to even examine Čavajda with claims that all of their gynecologists are conscientious objectors and do not administer abortions. Čavajda has been forced to travel to neighboring Slovenia and terminate her pregnancy there as she was prevented from exercising her reproductive rights in her own country, despite the public support, the decision of the special second-instance commission, and the fact that this right is guaranteed by Croatian law. It was only thanks to the press coverage of her case that she eventually had access to abortion care;
- In Poland, on top of the already very restrictive abortion law, conservative anti-abortion groups such as Ordo Iuris are putting pressure on health care practitioners to prevent Ukrainian women refugees from having abortion care if cases of rapes have not been proved through criminal procedures;
- In Italy, similar pressures coming from conservative and religions anti-abortion groups have been reported while the use of the conscientious objection is widespread with 7 in 10 gynecologists refusing to conduct abortions, according to the figures shared by the Italian Ministry of Health;
- - In Romania, women’s rights organisations notice that doctors and even sometimes hospital managers, systematically refuse to perform abortions on request, mostly on the basis of the conscience clause and for religious reasons. Anti-choice organisations have crisis pregnancy centres in almost every county, where they persuade women to keep the pregnancy. They do so using moral and religious motives but also using pretexts such as the lack of abortion drugs or the lack of malpractice insurance. During the pandemic, more than 200 women in Romania had abortions at home, without a doctor, using improvised instruments. Also, a woman was left to bleed to death on the table in a private clinic in 2021, as the doctor drove his nurse home. Only the woman’s daughter was left to take care of her mother, she called an ambulance, but the woman died.
- Simultaneously, in the United States, a leaked draft of the Supreme Court hints at the possible overturn of the 1973 Roe.v.Wade ruling that guarantees abortion rights in the country. If confirmed, this overturn could considerably restrict or even ban abortion rights in the US.
We cannot and we will not stay silent when women’s rights to bodily autonomy are violated.
Although abortion laws in the EU are dealt with at national level, the European Parliament has sent strong positive signals over the past months, stressing that Member States’ discretion cannot be used as a pretext to hinder access to abortion. In particular, the resolution adopted on 24th June 2021, on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health, urged “the Member States to decriminalise abortion, as well as to remove and combat obstacles to legal abortion”. One month later, the Parliament’s report on recommendations to the Commission on identifying gender-based violence as a new area of crime listed in article 83 (1) TFEU stated that “reproductive coercion and the denial of safe and legal abortion care is also a form of gender-based violence”. We welcomed this call from the European Parliament and EWL will propose several amendments to the proposal of Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence issued by the Commission on March 2022 , including an amendment to recognise denial of safe and legal abortion care as a form of VAWG.
You can read EWL’s full analysis of the European Commission proposal of Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence here.
EWL President Réka Sáfrány commented: "EWL stands with all women, calling for free, safe, legal and destigmatised access to abortion and reproductive services, highlighting that full access to reproductive justice for all women and girls is a crucial part of a feminist Europe where all can live free from violence and oppression."