In June 2022, the European Parliament voted on a resolution to denounce the “questioning of the right to abortion” in the United States by the Supreme Court, whose preliminary draft had leaked. In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, this frenzy has been amplified by demanding the banning of pro-life NGOs from the democratic life of the European institutions, and by passing yet another resolution condemning the Supreme Court’s decision. Sadly, these steps are part of a wider burst of hysteria in certain quarters of the European Parliament, marked by false accusations and alarmingly divisive rhetoric that shows little regard for the European Union’s treaties, fundamental rights and freedoms, or women’s wellbeing.
U.S. Supreme Court places abortion in the hands of democracy
The Supreme Court’s overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade does not seek to ban abortion as it is often portrayed by its opponents. Rather, the justices of America’s highest legal authority sought to return the responsibility to protect life and right to legislate over women’s ability to choose abortion or not to the individual states. Instead of seeing it as a condemnation of abortion, we must understand the essence of the message: a recognition that abortion is not a right nor the best solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, in the spirit of the U.S. constitutional and historical tradition, it must be up to the citizens of each state to choose their legislation by electing their representatives and for decisions to be taken as close to citizens as possible. This is precisely the way in which the termination of pregnancy is governed in the EU: in line with the principle of subsidiarity, it is an exclusive competence of the Member States.
It should also be recalled that the Mississippi law, which gave rise to the new Supreme Court ruling, consists of the prohibition of abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This goes beyond the limit set by legislation in many European countries.
Seen in the wider context, it is indeed the choice of the people and democracy more broadly that is at stake. This is why we are alarmed by the level of interference into the domestic politics of our democratic ally, as well as the anti-democratic excesses of some EU politicians who continue to divide our society and question fundamental rights and freedoms.
Divisive behaviour that flouts democracy and freedom of expression
Today we live in a world where non-democratic actors continue to challenge the principles of freedom and democracy which are the foundations of our society. Instead of working together across the political spectrum to bring our society together to face the great challenges to our democracy and way of life, some politicians today sadly only continue to fuel the societal divisions which non-democratic regimes so often exploit.
In the European Parliament, hardly a plenary session goes by without a resolution on so-called ‘abortion rights,’ always pushing the debate to new extremes and looking for new enemies. This week’s debate and resolution highlighted the extent to which the ideological vision of some MEPs prevents us from responding to citizens’ concerns. Moreover, the request by some Renew Group MEPs to withdraw access to the European Parliament from pro-life NGOs reinforces this point and our concerns, since such despicable measures violate freedom of opinion and expression, which is fundamental in Europe and in any democracy.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that we are dealing with continued social, economic and political consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Citizens are asking EU leaders to make progress on issues that impact their daily lives—including in particular the rising cost of living—and which the EU institutions can work to address within their competencies. Abortion is not a citizens’ priority for the EU and, it is worth stating yet again, questions of abortion and health more broadly remain in the exclusive competence of EU Member States. This is a sensitive and complex subject and different Member States have different approaches to abortion: Malta and Poland particularly protect the unborn child; 13 European countries provide counselling and information to women by doctors; some have signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration which enacts the right to life in utero; in all EU countries abortion is illegal after a certain threshold.
We must never forget that, after the horrors of the Second World War, nations clearly defined fundamental human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaffirmed “the dignity and worth of the human person” and that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1989, provides that “the child … needs special protection … including appropriate legal protection, both before and after birth.”
Therefore, we cannot understand why some of our colleagues or the French President Macron feel they have the authority to unilaterally declare a so-called ‘right’ to abortion, in contravention of universal human rights, and of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child. It is equally beyond our comprehension why some voices in the European Parliament seek to contravene the freedom of expression and opinion by calling for the banning of pro-life organisations.
These moves only serve to divide Europe, not to unite it. The European Parliament, as a democratically elected body representing people across Europe, must serve as a space for a real debate, and it must equally respect both the EU treaties as well as fundamental rights and freedoms.
Acting as representatives of the citizens obliges us to hold the compass of the general interest by speaking out in defence of the most fundamental rights. We regret that some of our colleagues are instead deepening the disinterest and disillusionment of EU citizens. We should instead be working together to address the many challenges and hardships that our citizens are facing every day and where common European action can make a difference.
Miriam Lexmann MEP (EPP, Slovakia)
Michaela Šojdrová MEP (EPP, Czech Republic)
Bert-Jan Ruissen MEP (ECR, Netherlands)
Tomislav Sokol MEP (EPP, Croatia)
György Hölvényi MEP (EPP, Hungary)
Margarita de la Pisa Carrión MEP (ECR, Spain)