European Parliament backs ‘extreme’ abortion report despite protests

A plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium A plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. | MichalPL via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The European Parliament voted Thursday in favor of a report describing abortion as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

Members of the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, voted on June 24 by 378 votes in favor, 255 against and 42 abstentions, to adopt the text, known as the Matić Report, at a plenary session in Brussels, Belgium.

The report also declares that violations of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” are “a form of violence against women and girls.”

Parliamentarians had earlier rejected two attempts to block the controversial report.

An alternative motion for a resolution by the EPP Group in the European Parliament failed, with 288 votes in favor and 373 against, reported the German weekly Die Tagespost.

Another motion for a resolution by the ECR Group, together with members of Hungary’s Fidesz party, gained 267 votes in favor, but 402 against.

Catholic leaders and pro-life groups had urged the European Parliament to reject the report, presented by the Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić and debated on June 23, the day before the vote.

Speaking in the debate, Matić said: “Tomorrow is a great day for Europe and the entire progressive world. Tomorrow we decide on positioning Europe as a community that chooses to live in the 21st or the 17th century. Don’t let history remember us as the latter ones.”

The Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI), based in Washington, D.C., described the report as “extreme” and “radical.”

The Secretariat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) expressed alarm at the text, saying that that it was “ethically untenable” to classify abortion as an “essential” health service.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, also criticized the report.

“Abortion is always a violation of the fundamental human right to life, a violation even more abhorrent because it concerns the life of the weakest and completely defenseless human being. It is, therefore, a manifestation of the most unjust discrimination,” he said.

The Matić Report, officially known as the “Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health,” was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on May 11.

An accompanying “explanatory statement” claimed that the report “comes at a crucial moment in the EU, with backlash and regression in women’s rights gaining momentum and contributing to the erosion of acquired rights and endangering the health of women.”

Two Members of the European Parliament, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión and Jadwiga Wiśniewska, set out a “minority position,” arguing that the report had “no legal or formal rigor.”

“It goes beyond its remit in addressing issues such as health, sexual education, and reproduction, as well as abortion and education, which are legislative powers belonging to the member states,” they wrote.

“It treats abortion as a purported human right that does not exist in international law. This is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the main binding treaties, as well as of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

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They noted that 154 amendments were tabled against the text.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an NGO based in Strasbourg, France, suggested that the report’s supporters were seeking “to introduce a new norm without it appearing at first sight to be imposed.”

It said: “The choice of the institution in this strategy is not to be underestimated, because although the resolutions of the European Parliament have no binding legal value, they are the expression of an opinion that the Parliament wishes to make known.”

“A resolution may subsequently serve to politically legitimize action by the member states or the institutions; it is intended to produce practical effects.”

“More importantly, it can express a pre-legislative intention that can later be used to justify binding acts. There is, therefore, no doubt that an act of the European Parliament represents the gateway to the heart of the normative system.”

David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, is expected to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican this weekend.

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