(PRESS RELEASE) In a 351 to 319 vote Tuesday, members of the European Parliament delayed the adoption of a report calling on all European Union members to improve women’s ability to get essential services such as contraception and safe abortion services, as well as comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents. In a clearly political move from conservative members of the European Parliament, the report was sent back to the Women’s Rights Committee for “further consideration”—even though the Committee already has adopted the report by overwhelming majority.
Said Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“The European Parliament should be deeply disturbed that a woman’s access to essential reproductive health care in Europe depends so heavily on where she lives. Yet the conservative voices in the European Union have imposed their ideology on women seeking to control their reproductive lives—putting off a critical vote.
“Guaranteeing reproductive health services and information for all women equally is not only good public health policy, but also absolutely essential to protecting women’s and adolescents’ fundamental human rights.
“We urge the progressive voices of the European Parliament to work harder alongside the Women’s Rights Committee to get the report back on the floor. We cannot allow those who oppose women’s and adolescents’ reproductive rights to set the health agenda using scare tactics.”
Access to modern contraception is still at low levels in Eastern Europe. In Poland, only 28 percent of women ages15-49 report using a modern method. Modern contraceptive use is slightly higher in Lithuania, at 33 percent, compared with 81 percent in Great Britain.
In several countries in the European Union, sex education is mandatory under national law, but even those countries rarely have a universal requirement for what is taught. Countries with restrictive reproductive health policies either have no sexuality education at all or focus narrowly on marriage and family—primarily promoting abstinence and traditional methods of family planning—and addressing very little on sexuality, contraception, gender equality, or sexual diversity. As a result there are high rates of teenage pregnancy in Bulgaria (44 births per 1,000 girls) and Romania (40 births per 1,000 girls), compared to countries like the Netherlands and Sweden with the lowest rates ranging between five and nine births per year.
Earlier this year, Rapporteur Edite Estrela—a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament—spearheaded a report on sexual and reproductive health and rights (the “Estrela Report”) to demonstrate how investment in reproductive health care in Europe is essential in achieving gender equality. The report was endorsed by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on September 18. What will happen with the report now is unclear, but the Chair of the Women’s Rights Committee has vowed to do everything in his power to get in back in the plenary of the European Parliament as soon as possible.