MEPs demand the inclusion of right to abortion in EU Charter of Human Rights

MEPs demand the inclusion of right to abortion in EU Charter of Human Rights
Debate on global threats to abortion rights: the possible overturn of abortion rights in the US by the Supreme Court. Credit: European Parliament

European lawmakers have called for safeguarding women's right to safe and legal abortion in Europe after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn abortion access in the US in June. On Thursday, MEPs adopted a non-binding resolution to safeguard abortion rights in the EU after widespread fears that the US decision could impact women's rights in the EU.

The motion was adopted with 324 in favour, 155 against and 38 abstentions. The proposal will be submitted to the Council to amend Article 7 of the EU Charter for Human Rights to say that "everyone has the right to safe and legal abortion."

"The EU needs to lead by example and protect its women. Therefore, we are calling on the Council to urgently include the right to safe and legal abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," said Swedish Heléne Fritzon, the vice-president for women's rights in the parliament's social-democratic group.

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"Every woman in Europe must have the right to decide over her own body - it is not a question of politics, opinions or religion. It is, and always must remain, a person’s free choice."

MEPs expect the European Council to meet to discuss a Convention to revise the EU Treaties.

The limits of EU treaties

Currently, the EU doesn't have the competency to legislate on public health, which remains the domain of national governments. The EU can only influence and coordinate health together with governments, according to the EU treaties, which is the authority given to the EU by member states.

MEPs may expect Council leaders to gather, but is unclear if the Council has the will to change the treaties given that member states such as Malta has completely banned abortion, and with restrictive measures, Poland has in practice banned the procedure.

The Maltese question

The European Parliament's President, Roberta Metsola, has said she will advocate for the position of the European Parliament. However, the Maltese politician has previously opposed resolutions calling for women to have safe access to abortion. In 2015, she issued a statement with other Maltese MEPs from the Conservative EPP group that maintained that they were "categorically against abortion."

Previously, she stressed to Maltese newspaper Lovin Malta that the EU has no jurisdiction on abortion. "Without the approval of our national parliament, the EU institutions cannot impose any legislation on Malta in this area."

Yet the threat to women's lives in Malta has recently been underlined in June after an American woman on holiday there had to flee to Spain to get life-saving treatment because she could not get the abortion she urgently required in Malta.

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