Press releases

MEPs and NGOs sound the alarm on anti-choice threat to maternal health

[Brussels, 09 April 2014, Joint Press Release] European politicians and the undersigned civil society organisations called today for the European Commission to stand firm in the face of a European Citizen’s Initiative campaign that could have catastrophic consequences for maternal health in the developing world. The “One of Us” campaign, spearheaded by ultra-conservative, anti-choice movements, is the subject of a hearing at the European Parliament on Thursday, April 10th. The Commission must comment formally on the ECI by May 28th.

“One Of Us” seeks to ban EU funding for any activities that could involve the destruction of human embryos. It is demanding that the Commission cut off all funding for research on human embryonic stem cells and funding for any organisations that are involved in the provision of indirect or direct abortion or “abortion-related” services in low and middle-income countries. Almost 800 women in the developing world die every day during pregnancy and childbirth.

This initiative seriously risks hampering our fight to reduce these deaths. “This is a dangerous and regressive initiative which would abolish essential EU support for maternal healthcare, pre-natal care and voluntary family planning services in some of the world’s poorest countries,” said Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF).

"Women’s rights are human rights,” said Sirpa Pietikäinen, Finnish Member of the European Parliament for the centre-right EPP Group. “Universality of these rights prohibits no one from choosing whether or not to apply these rights. Women’s right to decide on their own body is fundamental and cannot be overruled by religion or on any other grounds."

The “One Of Us” campaign is totally at odds with the EU’s longstanding development aid policy, and its international commitments as part of the Millennium Development Goals. Civil society trusts that, by rejecting this Initiative, the Commission will re-affirm the EU’s commitment to supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights. It must continue to play a strong global leadership role reducing maternal deaths. “The organisers of this initiative, driven by ultra-conservative anti-choice forces, are trying to impose their beliefs at any cost no matter if women’s lives are put in an immediate and significant high danger. This 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”, said Viviane Teitelbaum, president of the European Women’s Lobby.

The “One of Us” initiative is the latest in a series of recent attacks on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe and around the world. Ultra-conservative and anti-choice groups and politicians in Europe – some of whom who currently sit in the European Parliament – are now seeking to undermine the EU’s strong stance in support of women in the world’s poorest countries. “The organisers of One of Us have used the pretext of the protection of life to seek to impose anti-choice legislation that would be damaging for women’s health, researchers’ work and regenerative medicine,” said Pierre Galand, President of the European Humanist Federation. “We all value life in all its forms, and seek to create an environment where mothers and their children can thrive” added Vicky Claeys, IPPF EN Regional Director. “But the reality is that this campaign, if successful, would immediately and substantially increase the number of deaths in the developing world caused by pregnancy and delivery complications and unsafe abortions,” Claeys added.

Nicole Kiil-Nielsen French Member of the European Parliament for the Greens group added: “The EU – which has always played a leading role on this issue- should continue to promote the protection of maternal and reproductive health through its development aid."

Note to the editor

• Signatories: European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF), IPPF EN, European Women’s Lobby (EWL), Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), European Humanist’s Federation, DSW ((Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung)

• The European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) was created by the Lisbon Treaty in 2010, and acts a mechanism by which European citizens can create a petition and bring it to the European Commission. A citizens’ initiative has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens, coming from at least 7 out of the 28 member states.

• The One of Us ECI requests the following:

o Juridical protection of the dignity, the right to life and of the integrity of every human being from conception in the areas of EU competence in which such protection is of particular importance

o A ban and end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health; this includes a ban on funding for abortion, directly or indirectly, through the funding of organizations that encourage or promote abortion

• Approximately 120 million USD in EU development aid is currently spent each year to protect maternal and reproductive health. The ECI calls these funds into question.

• The EU’s position is clear – EU development funds to maternal health only goes to fund safe abortion services in countries where abortion is legal. This position has been restated by Development Commissioner Piebalgs on numerous occasions, reflecting aims and objectives of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the “Muskoka Initiative” on improving maternal, newborn and child health and other international initiatives.

At the conclusion of the One of Us public hearing (09.00-12.30) at the European Parliament on Thursday 10th April, there will be an informal press point outside the hearing meeting room (JAN 4Q2).

The following people will be available for interview and comment on the outcomes of the hearing:

• Michael Cashman MEP (UK, S&D)

• Ulrike Lunacek MEP (Austria, Greens/EFA)

• Francoise Castex MEP (France, S&D)

• Veronique de Keyser (Belgium, S&D)

• Viviane Teitelbaum, President of the European Women’s Lobby

• Irene Donadio, Manager Public Affairs IPPF EN

• Neil Datta, Secretary, European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF)

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