Ireland finally legalises abortion – What is the situation in the other EU Member States?

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Brussels, 28 May 2018

AEDH welcomes the success of the referendum held on the 25th of May 2018 in Ireland which abolished the Eighth Amendment of its Constitution. Until then, the Eighth Amendment recognised “the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn”. On the sole condition that the woman’s life was in danger, abortion for any other cause (rape, fetal malformation, incest, unwanted pregnancy) was punishable by up to 14 years in prison and a fine, one of the most restrictive laws in Europe with Malta, Andorra and Saint Martin. As a result, Irish women were forced to travel to another country in order to have an abortion. Abortion therefore became a privilege, accessible only to those with travel documents and who are able to finance such travel. Thanks to the success of the yes to the referendum won at 66. 4%, with an impressive turnout of 64%, and an important young people participation, the government now has the opportunity to introduce a bill to legalize abortion in Ireland. The executive should enact the new legislation by the end of the year.

While Ireland takes a step forward, Poland is getting ready for tougher legislation to limit access to abortion. Authorized in the country in case of rape or incest, if the life of the pregnant woman is threatened, or in case of malformation of the foetus, a new bill would abolish the latter condition, which constitutes 96% of abortions performed in Poland. At the same time, families of children born with disabilities protest in Warsaw to receive the financial aid promised by the ultra-conservative PiS Party when it was in opposition. There is therefore a contradiction in the actions of the government which wants, on the one hand, to force women to accept any birth, and on the other hand, does not provide the necessary help to its families to cope with the disability of their child.

In Poland, as in Hungary, abortion has lost its free nature and requires a medical prescription. In addition, in Hungary, national programmes on family life education are given in schools to raise awareness among young people and promote anti-abortion awareness.

This setback can also be seen in the reappearance of pro-life campaigns in Europe. Often influenced by the Catholic Church, these anti-abortion movements try to return to more conservative legislation by trying to influence the young population. To do so, they misuse the legal vocabulary specific to human rights in which the embryo becomes a subject of law, and abortion a crime against humanity.

In Italy, where abortion has been legal since 1978, doctors have the right to refuse to perform abortions on the basis of a conscience clause, whether for religious or ethical reasons. 70% of Italian doctors refer to them and the Catholic Church has mobilized to have Catholic doctors appointed to head public maternity hospitals. Thus, access to abortion remains extremely difficult in this country. In Spain, although abortion has been legal since the 1970s and one of the most widely practised medical interventions, it is still absent from medical syllabi to this day.

The Council of Europe warns against a legislative setback in Central Europe. Especially in Slovakia, Latvia, Romania, and Lithuania, which are moving towards more restrictive laws, thus dignifying a worrying setback in women’s rights[1] [1]. For gender equality also requires the liberalisation of the body. It is therefore fundamental to respond to its retrograde regulations and to the concerted offensives of obscurantist religious forces to prevent body police from interfering in the freedom of choice in the face of the right to reproduction. AEDH is committed to this fight and encourages EU member states to make abortion legal, safe and accessible to all women.