The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, the EPF, brings together a dozen EU member states. It just published a report on the state of reproductive rights in Europe. Access to contraception is the main criterion for determining if reproductive rights are respected, according to the document available online, as well as access to counselling and availability of information.
The report shows a growing distinction between Western European countries and the countries of the former communist bloc. In Western countries, access to contraception is extremely common and easy. It is used by a majority of women, and is promoted by public institutions and other parallel organisations. Belgium tops the list, on par with France and the UK: 91.1% of women in these countries use contraception.
The second step of the podium is occupied mainly by Northern European countries, such as Luxembourg (85.2%), Sweden (82.9%), and Germany (75.1%).
The lower levels are occupied by Central and Eastern European countries, such as Slovakia (49.7%), Hungary (44.9%), and Croatia (44.3%). Poland is at the bottom of the list, with a rate of “only” 33.5%, which is 1.6 percentage points lower than the previous year.
The aim of the report’s sponsors is naturally to castigate the behaviour of those deemed to be the worst performers in the class. Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum (EPF), does not hesitate to describe those at the top of the league table as “champions.” He stresses that the high rate of access to contraception is a guarantee that abortion will be controlled. This is a fallacious argument, since contraception and abortion are part of the same mentality that is hostile to the acceptance of life. The causality between the strength of one and the weakness of the other is absolutely not proven, as the French case shows: France has one of the highest rates of access to contraception in Europe, but this has been accompanied by a constant increase of abortion over the last thirty years.
The ‘poor’ results in the East demand “vigilance” on the part of EU member states, according to EPF members. But there is little room to intercede, since contraception is still a matter for the states, not the EU. “So can we intervene directly? No. But can we push it on the agenda? Yes,” said Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld.
In June 2021, the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution on the initiative of Croatian socialist MEP Predrag Matić on sexual reproductive health and rights of women, including contraception. The UN and WHO are already actively working in this direction. “It is time to accelerate at the European level,” says MEP Irene Tolleret of the Renew Europe Group. She believes that what is happening in Poland could happen everywhere else, due to the rise of “populist” governments, driven by religious considerations. The document published by the EPF should help “trigger legislative changes in European countries as well as at the EU level.” We have to “put gender equality and SRHR [sexual reproductive health and rights] at the core of the European agenda,” she added.
New European communication offensives in favour of contraception and abortion are therefore certainly to be expected in the coming months.