Council of Europe Pushes Abortion as Part of Cairo Conference Anniversary

This week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will vote on a resolution that calls on European states to achieve "universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services" including "safe abortion" by 2015.

The report, "Fifteen Years Since the International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action (ICPD)," was prepared by UK parliamentarian and longtime abortion rights advocate, Christine McCafferty, who called for increased funding for "sexual and reproductive rights." According to the summary of the report, this should include "a range of family planning, including emergency contraceptives, safe abortion, skilled birth attendants and obstetric emergency care" which "must be accessible, affordable, appropriate and acceptable to all, irrespective of age, community or country."

The resolution contains a number of other recommended actions including: providing "sexuality and relationship information and education" in schools, ensuring access to a variety of "modern methods of family planning services," ensuring that European donor countries allocate 10% of their development assistance to "population/sexual and reproductive health and rights" and to start developing a European convention on sexual and reproductive health.

A major theme of the accompanying explanatory memorandum is the need to reduce maternal mortality as part of the development agenda, particularly by reducing unsafe abortion. While the report pays lip-service to state sovereignty by mentioning that the legality of abortion remains in the hands of national governments, it also attempts to make the case that "restrictive abortion laws” increase the incidence of unsafe abortion.

The report fails to mention that the two countries in the EU with the most restrictive laws on abortion – Ireland and Malta – are also two of the countries with the lowest maternal mortality in the world, not just in Europe.  Conversely, the report cites Moldova as a country where maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion is high. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Moldova is listed a country with one of the most liberalized laws in the world.

The European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has released a memo blasting the draft recommendation and report. The ECLJ flatly states that the Council of Europe has "no authority or competency to promote abortion." The group is "extremely concerned about the promotion of population control in general and abortion as a means of family planning and population control in particular.”

According to the ECLJ, the recommendation and its explanatory memorandum go much further than a previous PACE resolution on Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Europe, which acknowledged "that abortion can in no circumstances be regarded as a family planning method" that "must, as far as possible, be avoided."

The Council of Europe is set to take action on the report this Friday, as part of the preparation for the upcoming International Parliamentary Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Program of Action meeting, according to the ECLJ. The meeting is being organized by the United Nations Population Fund and will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the end of October.

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