Winners and Losers? EP rejects the Estrela Report Yet Again

MEP Edite Estrela. Photo: flickr/SOLIDAR

MEP Edite Estrela. Photo: flickr/SOLIDAR

The European Parliament rejected the controversial Estrela report yet again on the Dec. 10, with 351 members voting to send it back for further revision. The Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, put forward by Portuguese MEP Edite Estrela, was rejected once before in October. Despite the changes made by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, the EP did not budge.

While the report looks at paternity leave and condemns female genital mutilation, the main point of concern for both pro-life and pro-choice advocates is the statement that abortion is a human right and hence that it should be available within all healthcare systems of EU’s member states.

Other issues that caught the eye of MEPs and lobby groups include calls for compulsory sex education in primary schools and its opposition to the right of doctors to refuse to perform an abortion because of moral or religious objections. The report stated that even when abortion is legal in a country, it is often unavailable because doctors abuse their right of conscientious objection or interpret existing limits in an overly restrictive fashion. While the report would not be legally binding if passed, some regulations to ensure that reproductive health care are guaranteed, which would place pressure even on pro-life nations like Ireland, Poland and Malta to legalize abortion on demand.

The idea of such pressure on the member states led the Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, John Smeaton, to write , “The Estrela report represents one of the most concerted recent attempts to get the European Parliament to exceed its [purview] and try to impose abortion on European Union member-states”. SPUC was not the only organisation to show its opposition to the report. The Estrela No- Respect Subsidiarity group attracted over 4,300 fans on Facebook in 72 hours and organized a 200 people protest outside the Parliament when the debate was taking place.

The other side of the debate raised some important questions as well. The European Humanist Federation led a joint statement by civil society organisations across Europe calling on MEPs to vote in favor of the report as they see sexual and reproductive health rights as an integral part of human rights. They argue the report is fair and balanced because it does not impose any obligations on member states and it looks at gender-based violence and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Paul Murphy, the Dublin MEP, took to the social media to say that the mobilization of anti-choice groups to exert pressure on MEPs to vote against the report “is a worrying reflection of the growing aggressiveness of the pro-life movement.”

The main issue is the negative focus on the showdown between the pro-abortion and pro-life camps. It ignores the argument of pro-choice. Laura Klitsch, European Studies student at King’s College London, women’s rights activist and organizer of SlutWalk London, a march to defend the rights of rape victims, said “while the right to life is an undeniable staple of recognized human rights, so is the right to liberty, including the liberty of choice. Women should not have to be forced to choose a life they do not want and legalizing abortion or making sure it is available is essential in ensuring them the right to liberty.  The more moral, ethical and scientific issues regarding the embryo are problematic not only for institutions, but also for the woman herself that needs to make this decision. Having an institution decide for her is an imposition on her right to liberty and the pro-choice stand caters specifically to this issue.”

The EP’s decision will not serve as a victory for either side because it has steered clear of adopting any position other than the status quo. While is represents a halt in what is considered progress for sexual and reproductive health rights, it does not mean a step forward for the pro-life campaign as it is merely a choice to maintain these areas of competence under member state jurisdiction, at least for now.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The European Parliament rejected the controversial Estrela report yet again with 351 members voting to send it back for further revision. The Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, put forward by Portuguese MEP Edite Estrela, was rejected once before in October. Despite the changes made by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, the EP did not budge. While the report looks at paternity leave and condemns female genital mutilation, the main point of concern for both pro-life and pro-choice advocates is the statement that abortion is a human right and hence that it should be available within all healthcare systems of EU’s member states. Read more on the Estrela Report. […]

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