Women’s human reproductive rights and lives at risk: The ETUC Women’s Committee calls for the rejection of all restrictions to women’s human rights and rights to safe and quality healthcare

Adopted by the Women’s Committee 

The ETUC Women’s Committee stands beside women from across Europe who are fighting to fulfil their human rights, and namely their reproductive rights and their right to safe, legal and fully comprehensive healthcare in any circumstance[1].

Women’s rights cannot be taken for granted and genuine equality remains an objective. It is not yet a reality. Family planning and sexual and reproductive rights have often been the target of attacks, in legislation or de facto, across Europe, because women’s bodies continue to be seen as a instrument for political control and an ideological battlefield. It cannot be ignored that, at present, a great risk of degradation of women’s rights goes hand in hand with the growth of far-right movements in Europe.

These trends represent the fall back on biological determinism that feeds stereotypes and inequalities in our societies. Also, such trends menace the values at the heart of the Treaty of the European Union and thus the strategic engagement on gender equality – namely freedom, justice, equality, human rights, tolerance, non-discrimination, and solidarity.

As recalled by the United Nations, laws restricting abortion and restricting access to voluntary termination of pregnancy to a form of "torture" and "gender-based violence.”

In many EU Countries, women face a series of discriminations[2] and thus the risk - by law or de facto – of reduced access to healthcare. In some European regions, access to healthcare in case of abortion is allowed by law but de facto impossible to practice in public structures. In others, the legislation is still weak  covering all the possible circumstances that women can undergo when facing abortion and reproductive related healthcare, including those that pertain to life-saving medical care.

The fiscal trends in public expenditure for healthcare only worsen the situation. The quality of the service for women in need of assistance for reproductive related healthcare has dramatically dropped in the last decades. Not only access to public and free medical services has shrinked, but also the care services accompanying surgery interventions, such as psychological assistance for those requiring it, have been dramatically reduced.

The many barriers in attempting to access abortion healthcare are exacerbated by the current pandemic crisis. Across many countries, many hospitals have stopped performing abortions following governments’ decisions to postpone all planned surgeries due to the risk of Covid-19 infections - effectively limiting guarantees for women to have access to safe and timely abortions during the pandemic.

The situation in Poland is emblematic of such retrograde trends. A recent Bill puts into serious danger the rights of women to access healthcare in case of abortion, even for therapeutic reasons. Not only the Polish Government has proposed a Bill which undermines the human right to healthcare. It should also be emphasized that the matter which caused protests was not subject to public consultations, as the Bill was adopted de facto bypassing all the parliamentary discussions and the dialogue with social partners and civil society. Moreover, the governmental decision caused protests across the whole country that were unacceptably addressed by the use of violence against female protesters. The disrespect for the right to peacefully demonstrate and for social and civil dialogue mirror the disrespect towards the democratic values that include the equal participation of women in the political debate, especially about their own bodies and when their own rights are at stake.

The ETUC Women’s Committee always stands and will stand up for people fighting for their rights, including the right to protest, and particularly for Polish women who are protesting against a Bill which aims to introduce a full ban on abortion. 

The ETUC reiterates its support to women across Europe, in their struggle for women’s reproductive rights and opposes all measures which try and control women’s access to public, free and high quality healthcare. 

[1] UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore compared laws restricting abortion and restricting access to voluntary termination of pregnancy to a form of "torture" and "gender-based violence. See also https://reproductiverights.org/press-room/un-human-rights-committee-asserts-access-abortion-and-prevention-maternal-mortality-are

[2] The committee for the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, or the Treaty for the Rights of Women), has consistently stated that restrictive abortion laws constitute discrimination against women. This applies to all women and people who can become pregnant, as the CEDAW Committee has confirmed that CEDAW’s protections, and states’ related obligations, apply to all women