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Abortion: The Battle of the European Lobbies by Hélène de Lauzun

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Abortion: The Battle of the European Lobbies

Although not directly beholden to the purview of the European Union, the issue of abortion is currently at the heart of many discussions held at European level. Emmanuel Macron recently announced, in his speech to parliamentarians on the occasion of the French Presidency of the European Union on January 19th, his intention to add the right to abortion to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union

No mere symbolic statement, Emmanuel Macron’s desire to promote a “right to abortion” in Europe is consistent with policies that have been pursued for several years within European institutions. The coordinator of the Renew Europe parliamentary group within the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Samira Rafaela, does not hesitate to speak of a “bitter conservative wind [that] is blowing across Europe” and testifying to attacks on the practice of abortion in several EU member states. 

The EU has developed a political tool to counteract conservative winds while propagating progressive agendas. Since the last European elections, the European Parliament has established a special committee to investigate foreign interference in European electoral processes. Issues of disinformation, in the broadest sense, are part of the remit of this committee, which in March 2021 targeted European pro-life organisations, for example. “Disinformation” is used as a pretext to silence those organisations deemed guilty of voicing an alternative discourse on the right to life. The EU also uses development aid outside its borders to promote a discourse on “sexual and reproductive rights” that includes the promotion of abortion. Countries with restrictive abortion laws are regularly lobbied at the European level to amend them in a way that is deemed more in line with European values. 

These attacks on the right of the unborn child are not isolated initiatives. They are well thought out and coordinated. A survey by the European Centre for Law and Justice published in the French newspaper Valeurs Actuelles reveals the existence of a real pro-abortion lobby within European institutions.

On 25 March 2021, the FEMM (women’s rights and gender equality) and INGE (foreign interference and disinformation) committees organised a joint public hearing on the funding of “anti-choice” organisations. The aim was to demonstrate that pro-life organisations in Europe are illegitimately interfering in European affairs through disinformation operations. One of its objectives was to prove the existence of a powerful pro-life network on a global scale, and to develop conspiracy-type arguments (accusations of corruption, dirty money or manipulation). What it revealed instead, however, were the ties that pro-abortion organisations had to large foreign foundations, which were also invited to attend. The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF) is the main pro-abortion lobby at European level, and it receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

In both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Poland has become a privileged battleground for advancing the progressive cause of abortion. This struggle has been particularly visible since the Polish Constitutional Court’s decision of 22 October 2020, which banned abortion on the grounds of a baby’s disability. 

Today in Poland, lobbies such as the Helsinki Foundation and the Federation for Women and Family Planning carry out systematic legal activism to bring cases to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to have the Polish law condemned. The Federation for Women and Family Planning receives funding from the Open Society Foundations for this purpose. 

As of July 2021, the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) exposed that the ECHR orchestrated events for activist purposes–12 to be exact. None of the plaintiffs were “victims” of an inability to abort. In fact, those who were pregnant were expecting a healthy child and did not want an abortion; the others were unable or unwilling to become pregnant. But such facts remain silent in crooked courts where the collusion of ideological interests is total: seven ECHR judges between 2009 and 2021 have been members of the Helsinki Foundation committees during their careers.

The battle is fierce, but it is not won in advance. 

The issue of the “right to abortion” is regularly debated within the European institutions. The ECLJ recalls that in its case law, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognizes that the European Convention does not guarantee any right to undergo an abortion, to perform it, or even to assist in its performance abroad with impunity. It also held that the prohibition of abortion did not violate the Convention. Finally, it stressed that Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to personal autonomy, “cannot be interpreted as establishing a right to abortion.” Thus, nowhere does a “right to abortion” exist. 

As a matter of law, the ECHR takes an ambiguous line, holding that states may “legitimately choose to regard the unborn child as a person and to protect his or her life”—just as they may make the opposite choice. By remaining silent on the status of the human being before birth, the European Court avoids pronouncing on the child’s right to life and leaves it to each state to decide whether or not to allow abortion. In practice though, this is certainly more often a case of allowing abortion than of defending unborn life. A loophole has been opened in the Court’s rulings in terms of defending the mother’s right to privacy. The Court has ruled in the past that the right to have an abortion falls within the scope of a woman’s private life under the heading of respect for the “physical and moral integrity of the person,” which in practice provides ample opportunity to promote abortion. 

The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) is aware of these subversive developments and was moved by President Macron’s statements, which it rightly interpreted as promoting abortion. Through the Commission, the European bishops stressed the need to provide the necessary help and assistance to women in distress and their unborn children, so as to offer women an option other than abortion. The statement recalls that there is no right to abortion, neither in European nor in international law. “President Macron’s proposal to insert this so-called right can in no way be seen as ‘breathing new life into our fundamental rights’,” the EU bishops added.

In his speech, French President Emmanuel Macron linked the fight for the rule of law with the realisation of the right to abortion as a European value. But it remains unclear if his vision corresponds to the common perception of the rule of law held by all European citizens.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).

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