Monday, June 14, 2021
The Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) in the European Parliament issued a Report on the Situation of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the EU, in the Frame of Women’s Health (rapporteur: Predrag Fred Matić). The report is expected to be on the European Parliament plenary session agenda on June 23-24.
The report’s main focus is the so-called sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), an umbrella term chosen to include everything from sexuality education, gender ideology, sexually transmitted diseases/ infections, to abortion, contraception, obstetrics. The SRHR term has been specifically and increasingly used in reports to signify access to and funding of abortion, which we see as problematic. Beyond definitions and scope, though, there are many other issues raised in this report which are mis-characterized, mis-represented or simply wrong.
First of all, it is essential to note that the majority of the issues raised by this report fall under health policy, which is the exclusive competence of the Member States in the European Union, per Article 168, paragraph 7 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union. Even though the authors acknowledge that fact at one point, the majority of the report is written as if it was not. Worse, the Member States are maligned and criticized over their choices and management of their health systems (recital K, Paragraph 8, Paragraph 12, Paragraph 34, Paragraph 37), which ignores the principle of subsidiarity and challenges the national competence. Paragraph 12, in particular, calls for EU funds to be disbursed by the Commission to Member States in order to “guarantee universal access to SRHR”, which is extremely concerning. EU funds cannot be used to promote an agenda which falls outside of EU competence. We are reminding MEP Matić and the FEMM committee that in 2013 the European Parliament voted against a similar report, and instead, adopted an alternative resolution which “notes that the formulation and implementation of policies on SRHR and on sexual education in schools is a competence of the Member States” (Recital A, Art. 1).
Secondly, the authors are trying to evade the reality that these are health-related issues which the EU has no competence over by artificially connecting “sexual rights” and “reproductive rights” to human rights. We were not able to find any international law or treaty or European human rights law provision on “sexual rights”, no legally binding document where “sexual rights” were understood as human rights. Recital C of this Matić report claims that SRHR are protected as human rights under international law, and they name a few UN agreements, but that is simply false; there is no mention of “reproductive rights” in the cited international agreements. It is a blatant misrepresentation of international human rights law and a conflation of two very different things.
In addition, as pointed in the beginning, SRHR is used as a blanket term for many issues, including abortion. This report implies that the right to abortion is a universal human right, recognized in international law, which is false, again. It goes a step further to claim that denial of abortion services, counseling, reflection/ waiting times are “barriers to women’s health” and constitute “gender-based violence”. It is particularly harmful, as this minimizes the real, serious forms of violence against women. The (legally non-binding) international agreements the report refers to in defending their points actually says:
“Governments should take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning, and in all cases provide for the humane treatment and counselling of women who have had recourse to abortion” (ICPD PoA, Paragraph 7.24).
“In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. […] [E]very attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. […] Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process” (ICPD PoA, Paragraph 8.25)
Lastly, and perhaps the gravest, the Matić report suggests doing away with the medical providers’ right to freedom of conscience. Medical professionals are entitled to refuse taking part or performing procedures that go against the ethics of medicine or against their personal belief. This is explicitly mentioned in Resolution 1763 (2010)- The Right to Conscientious Objection in Lawful Medical Care of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:
“No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.” (Art.1)
The report also raised concerns against universally condemned practices, like female genital mutilation, violence against women and lack of access to basic sanitation, which are valid and reasonable points. However, the report does not give these issues the same attention or weight as it does to abortion, and other controversial aspects. The EP press release on this report does not even mention them.
In conclusion, for these reasons and more, this report is wholly unacceptable. Abortion, gender identity theory, comprehensive sexuality education curricula, contraception etc. are sensitive, controversial topics which are not prescribed in international or European law and on which there is no consensus. They are national health policy matters over which Member States have exclusive jurisdiction, cannot benefit from EU funds and the medical professionals’ right to conscientious objection cannot be infringed.
 The EU’s public health strategy post-COVID-19 resolution (2020/2691(RSP)):
Art. 25- “Calls on the Member States to promote and ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights services, including access to contraception and the right to safe abortion; calls on the Member States to consider access to contraception, including emergency contraception, and safe abortions where legally possible, as essential healthcare services to be maintained in times of crisis;”
Art. 26- “Deplores the fact that some Member States have failed to effectively guarantee safe and timely access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) during the COVID- 19 pandemic; reaffirms that the denial of SRHR services, including safe and legal abortion, is a form of violence against women and girls;”
 “Union action shall respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care. The responsibilities of the Member States shall include the management of health services and medical care and the allocation of the resources assigned to them.”
 Recital D: “whereas the European Union does not have direct competence to act in advancing SRHR within the Union but cooperation between Member States takes place through the open method of coordination”
 International Conference on Population and Development Cairo, 5–13 September 1994, Programme of Action. Retrieved: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/programme_of_action_Web%20ENGLISH.pdf
 Resolution 1763 (2010)- The right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Provisional edition- 7 October, 2010. Retrieved: https://www.consciencelaws.org/law/proposed/europe-001.aspx