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International Safe Abortion Day: A call for full access to abortion for all women in the EU

“Prohibiting abortion pushes it underground and gives rise to unsafe abortions, violating the rights to life, health and bodily autonomy.” EWL joint statement at the 36th Human Rights Council Session (2017)

[Brussels, 28 September 2021] On the occasion of the International Safe Abortion Day, EWL reiterates its call to make safe abortion legally and practically accessible to all women and girls in Europe.

While we’ve been globally witnessing several significant legal achievements in Ireland (2018), Mexico (2021) and San Marino (2021) that decriminalised abortion recently, a lot remains to be done to transform words into action and to fully guarantee the recognition and respect of women’s fundamental sexual and reproductive rights, especially in Europe.

Beyond the law, the facts

While Poland and Malta have been rightly pointed out for having some of the most restrictive abortion laws at the European level, it is important to remember that legality should not be the only way to verify if a country delivers proper abortion care. In many other countries, still nowadays, different kinds of obstacles have been hindering women’s access to abortion services such as: the conscientious objection used by medical practioners; the lack of reimbursement of the needed drugs or operation; the waiting periods and mandatory counseling before intervention; the lack of proximity with a medical centre or the impossibility to access it, as it was noticed during pandemic times. On top of these barriers, women willing to have an abortion can also suffer from stigmatisation. At EWL, we believe that all these elements must be taken into consideration to draw a complete and genuine overview of abortion rights in Europe and to demonstrate that Poland and Malta are unfortunately not isolated cases.

Emerging hopes at the European level

Although abortion laws in the EU are dealt with at national level, the European Parliament 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 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 welcome this call from the European Parliament and invite the European Commission to follow through in its law against all forms of violence against women and girls to be issued in December.

Seizing this European momentum, 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.

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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