On the 10th December 2013, the European Parliament rejected a Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (the Estrella Report), and voted for a rival conservative resolution. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right (SRHR) is one of the most divisive topics in our society. It has been fascinating to see that the European Parliament (EP), renowned for its multilingualism and diverse constitution is no more able to come to consensus than any other societal group.
I feel it important to make my views clear before I proceed, if only to clearly state my bias. I am a believer in the right of a woman to decide on matters affecting her body. I feel that the man may of course seek to advance his concerns if he wishes the women to carry on with the pregnancy, but that the final choice can only be the women’s choice. To be a little provocative, I will also mention that I am also supportive of legislative measures to make sure fathers financially support their children, even if they do wish to participate in the child or woman’s life. Some friends of mine have argued that this, at least seems, to “favour” the woman. Given the degree of sexism still prevalent in our society, and the fact that men and women are physically different, put simply, as long as only one gender carries the fetus, rules and norms will need to be made to take that into account. I was therefore very supportive of the Report and was disappointed by the result.
SRHR is a complex issue, to quote the Report itself, “sexual health is defined as ‘a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity”. However, the Reports stance on abortion is, at least from my perspective, what galvanised conservative opposition. The Report argued that Abortion should be available to all women (twenty Member States offer abortion as needed, the UK, Finland and Cyprus retain a liberal approach with limiting grounds in place, Ireland, Poland and Luxembourg taking a conservative line with limiting groups in place and Malta being the only Member State to ban abortions). This provision was designed to prevent the need for women to travel from one Member State (i.e. Ireland) to another (i.e. the UK) for an abortion. This process poses a financial burden, creates the possibility of women being open to prosecution, and the negative psychological ramifications this process has on an individual.
Opponents of the Report, especially on the abortion component, looked to preventative contraception as an alternative. Naturally, I also prefer the idea of taking precautions beforehand (indeed, I have long argued for the need for the state to subsidise the production of condoms, in order to reduce their cost). In some restrictive Member States, a woman is forced (not offered) counselling before an abortion can be carried out. Once again, of course services should be available for women, especially young, economically and socially vulnerable women, to see if abortion is the best solution. But forcing, making it mandatory for a woman to discuss this most personal of issues regardless of, for example the fear of violence, detrimental to the right of a woman to decide her own biological future.
This argument (nor the Report) was not “pro-abortion”. This is not about advocating abortion as the first, only, or even desirable solution. Adoption or preventative contraception is of course preferable. No one denies that. Indeed there are many examples of unplanned pregnancies leading to happy and secure families and individuals. But when a woman takes the decision, no man has an insight to decide what is better for her. (And I would at this point note that it was a chamber with a majority of men that voted down this Report, as well as male-dominated chambers across Europe and the world that make and enforce anti-abortion legislation)