EWL News

European Women’s Lobby is deeply concerned about a new attempt to undermine women’s rights

[Brussels, 10 April 2014] The European citizen’s initiative "One of us", calling to protect the "dignity" of the embryo, was presented today in a Public Hearing in the European Parliament. This initiative, which has collected more than 1.700 thousand signatures, requests “the prohibition of EU financing of activities which involve the destruction of human embryos, especially in the areas of research, development cooperation and public health.” It calls on the European Union to prohibit EU from “directly or indirectly” funding abortion services in developing countries by banning funding to organisations that “encourage or promote abortion”. The European Women’s Lobby is deeply concerned about this new attempt to undermine women’s rights and especially women’s sexual and reproductive rights and advance the anti-choice agenda. Furthermore, the consequences that this initiative could have on the lives and health of millions of women around the world are unacceptable.

During the hearing, the organisers of the European Citizen’s initiative "One of us" explained how their understanding and moral opinion about the "dignity of the embryo" lead them to do two requests: to stop funding research activities that destroys human embryos or that presumes their destruction; and to ban EU Development Aid that can “directly or indirectly” fund abortion services in developing countries by banning funding to organisations that “encourage or promote abortion”.

Teresa Riera MEP (Spain, S&D) expressed the opinion of the ITRE Committee of the European Parliament (Industry, Research and Energy) regarding the initiative. She clarified that the EU Framework Programme for Research and Inovation Horizon2020 has been carefully debated and considered the agreement reached in 2007 has to be maintained for the future. She informed that research activities on human embryos are strictly regulated by the European Union and are object of numerous safeguards. Furthermore, the EU does fund this type of research only for countries which allow these research activities and only after going through very strict ethical and scientific committees. Ms. Riera also explained that the legal basis presumed by the organisers of the European Initiative is not complete.

The EU gives funding only to research activities involving existing human embryonic stem cells lines derived from 7-days-old leftover embryos from assisted reproduction which are granted by couples for research and which would be destroyed otherwise.. This is a research area which has a huge potential in the treatment of a number of degenerative diseases being crucial for every citizen’s health (e.g. heart failures, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s).

From the European Commission, which at this stage is in a listening mood but who will have to reply to this initiative by the end of May,
remarked all the safeguards concerning this type of research and its full respect with the legislation in place.

After the first panel on Research, a very heated debate took place and very much centred on abortion. The organisers of the initiative explained "Contraception and abortion breaks the family: the basis of the society". MEP Sophia in’ t Veldt (Alde, Netherlands) and MEP Ulrike Lunacek (Greens, Austria) stressed that this is a matter of women’s rights. That the debate about the dignity of the embryo is not a legal debate is a moral debate. Ms. In’ t Veldt asked about the dignity of millions of people who believe in science and about the millions of women who will be abandoned to unsafe abortion. MEP Ana Gomes (S&D, Portugal) asked the organisers of the Initiative about their links with extremist religious organisations in the US and inquired if this initiative is an attempt to replicate the US Mexico city policy- which had chilling consequences.

Despite the several attempts from the organisers to impede his intervention, Michael Cashman (S&D, UK) expressed the opinion of DEVE Committee in the European Parliament. He said that this initiative would concern a large range of sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes and services. These agencies also provide essential maternal health services such as family planning, pre-natal health care and are necessary in the fight against maternal death (About 800 women die every day in the world during pregnancy and childbirth). He mentioned that the EU development policy is in line with International Agreements and such as El Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and stressed EU’s commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including maternal health (MDG5).

Markus Cornaro, Deputy Director-General, DG Development and Cooperation, European Commission, insisted on the accountability and transparency of all and every EU funded activities and insisted that all activities are in line with the international agreements such as the Millennium Development Goals.

The President of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), Ms. Viviane Teitelbaum, was present at the hearing together with other European NGOs working on Sexual and reproductive health and rights IPPF-EN, EPF, DSW, EHF, MSI. More than 20 Civil society organisations have sent a letter to the European Commission urging to maintain strong SRHR commitment.

The EWL is deeply concerned about this new attempt to undermine women’s rights and especially women’s sexual and reproductive rights and advance the anti-choice agenda. The agenda of the organisers of this initiative is transparent and clear: they aim at imposing a conservative definition of the embryo in order to ban the right to abortion.

The “One of Us” initiative is not a pro-life posture; it is an open threat against women’s rights and against the basic human’s right to live in dignity. It is an attempt to impose their beliefs about the embryo in Europe and abroad and no matter at what cost. They don’t care about life when they know that calling the EU to stop all the funding on maternal health will have dramatic consequences and will put at risk women’s lives and health. Moreover, the legislations in these countries in which abortion is safe and legal, are based on scientific analysis of the viability of the foetus. Therefore, it is not a matter of beliefs.

Furthermore, this initiative is in total opposition with International Agreements such as El Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the EU’s commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including maternal health (MDG5). Such a ban would threaten existing achievements in the field of maternal and reproductive health: the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action has contributed to fewer women dying in pregnancy and childbirth; skilled birth attendance has increased by 15 per cent worldwide since 1990; more women now have access to education, work and political participation; more children are going to school, and fewer adolescent girls are having babies .

As several studies of the World Health Organization (WHO) restriction on abortion has never prevented women from choosing whether or not to continue a pregnancy: it merely resulted in doing so at greater risks in clandestine and unsafe abortion practices.

The only proven way to diminish abortion is to provide information on sexuality and contraception.

This is why the EWL calls on:

  • The Commission to refuse to act on this initiative, which would put the health and lives of millions at risk.
  • The European Commission to keep their funds for development towards improving maternal health sector in developing countries.
  • And the European Union to reaffirm their support to gender equality and women’s rights.

This is a matter of gender equality: women cannot be considered equal to men if they are not able to take their own informed decisions about their lives.

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Credit of this article’s logo to the European Humanist Federation (www.humanistfederation.eu).

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