"One of Us" : the new European anti-Choice Offensive on

Research and Maternal Health 

EHF campaign 2014

On April 10, the European Parliament held a public hearing on "One of Us", the anti-choice citizen initiative which requests the "protection of the human embryo" in Europe and the end of EU funding for "activities that assume or carry out the destruction of human embryos". 

More specifically, One of Us calls for the end of EU funding for human embryonic stem cells (hESC) research and for NGOs which provide sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services in developing countries.

If it becomes law, "One of Us" will have dramatic consequences for research, women and public health.

The EHF has mobilised with other human rights organisations to oppose this initiative and guarantee freedom of research in Europe and SRHR services in developing countries. We have worked on the two issues attacked by One of Us : research in Europe and maternal health in developing countries by : providing EU decision-makers and citizens with objective and detailed information on One of Us ; mobilising pro-choice Members of the European Parliament to speak out against One of Us ; alerting the media on the extremist religious lobbying acting at the EU level.

On this page, you will find more information about the objectives, the potential impact and the organisers of One of Us. You will also find information about EHF actions.

Download the pdf document 


What is an European Citizens Initiative ?

What does One of Us want ?

Who is behind One of Us ?

What's wrong with the legal basis ?

Which consequences on research ?

Which consequences on SRHR and maternal health in developing countries ?

Media coverage


What is an European Citizens Initiative (ECI) ? 

The European Citizens’ Initiative is a new mechanism which allows EU citizens to organize and collect 1 million signatures to request the EU Institutions to take action in a given area of EU competence.

Who can organise an ECI ? 

An initiative needs to be created by at least 7 EU citizens, residents from 7 different member states. Because it aims at improving the participation of citizens in the European Union, ECIs can not be initiated by organisations or MEPs.  In reality, initiatives have a very low chance of meeting the criteria without the back up of lobbies and partner organisations.

The One of us initiative has been financed up to 96% by organisations controlled by two MEPs: Carlo Casini and Mayor Oreja. The initiative has received a strong support from pro-life and religious organisations and has been widely backed by religious media. Pope Francis has officially expressed its support to the ECI and churches have been the biggest signatures collection places.

How are signatures collected?

Aside from setting an initiative in the scope of EU law, the major difficulty for organisers is to collect 1 million signatures within a year from at least a quarter of the EU Member States with a minimum quota per country. Those signatures need to be collected through online collection software. Civil society groups have complained about the complexity of the administrative and security measures of ECIs. 

What happens when a citizens' initiative gets 1 million signatures?

After verification of the signatures by the European Commission, the organisers can present their proposal in details at a public hearing in the European Parliament. The Commission then decides to act upon the initiative or not (justification is needed in both cases). If the Commission does, the new law will  have to follow the usual political process (adoption by the European Parliament and the Council or the Council only). Maroš Šefčovič, EU Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations thinks that the significant pressure of the will of one million citizens would influence the institutions. And that is what is intended by the One of Us organisers. Although 1,7 million signatures is quite an insignificant number compared to the  505 million of EU citizens, it will give the impression of a broad popular support which could influence EU law makers. 


What does One of Us want ?

The “One of Us” citizens' initiative aims at imposing the protection of the “dignity” and “integrity” of the human embryo throughout Europe, by stating that the embryo is “one of us”. With the ultimate aim of forbidding abortion in Europe.

The ethical conception and the “protection” of the human embryo are not of EU competence. The “One of us” organisers therefore found two indirect ways to impose their restrictive agenda by proposing to halt all EU funds for activities involving the destruction of the human embryo in two areas: research and development aid.

On human embryonic stem cell research

One of Us calls on the EU to stop funding research activities that destroy human embryos, including those aimed at obtaining stem cells, and - larger - research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC).

On development aid and SRHR

The initiative requests that the assistance of the European Union should not be used to fund abortion, directly or indirectly, through the funding of organisations that “encourage or promote abortion”. This could negatively affect a whole range of sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes and services. One of Us indeed wishes to de-fund aid agencies that provide abortions or advice that might lead to abortions. But these are the same agencies that provide a much wider range of essential maternal health services such as family planning, pre-natal healthcare, etc.


Who is behind One of Us ? 

Close scrutiny of the initiators and supporters of the “One of Us” campaign reveals them  to be nearly exclusively anti-choice organisations acting on the basis of personal religious ideology to influence public policies regardless of whether those affected by the policies share the same religious beliefs.

They have done this by leveraging the organizing force of religious hierarchies, thus highjacking well-intentioned religious sentiment, as well as turning to extremist, foreign-backed organisations for assistance.

Anti-choice organisations & the Pope

These are predominately anti-choice Catholic organisations but the movement has also spread beyond the Catholic world to reach other religious communities, such as the Orthodox Church in Romania.The initiative is funded by the Italian anti-choice organization Fondazione Vita Nova. It has officially been supported by Pope Francis and is represented by Patrick Gregor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an Evangelical anti-choice NGO based in Strasbourg (France). The ECLJ is the European part of the American Centre for Law and Justice and has specialized in litigation at the European Court of Human Rights where it attempts to limit recognition of LGBT’s and reproductive rights. 

The initiators of “One of Us” used the well-developed religious organisational structures to gather signatures advocating the faithful to support the initiative. Many national “One of Us” partners are local anti-abortion movements and this initiative has received clear support from bishops' representatives at the European level (COMECE). 

In politics, while individual politicians from several political backgrounds have expressed their support to “One of Us”,” the only European level political family to do so is the youth network of the small and minoritarian political party called European Christian Political Movement (ECPM). ECPM is composed of small political parties with a mainly Traditionalist Protestant leaning, as opposed to mainstream Protestant creeds. This includes a Dutch political party, the SGP (Staatskundige Gereformeerde Partij), which does not believe women should vote.

Misleading and manipulative information

The information provided by these anti-choice groups has been both manipulative and misleading : the initiative was portrayed as a move to ban human cloning, forced or coercive abortions and gendercide. Considering this modus operandi, and considering that about 250 million Europeans are Catholics, the collection of 1.8 million signatures is rather unimpressive - especially for an initiative explicitly endorsed by the Pope. 

Read More

"Behind the European Citizen's Initiative" - Intelligence Brief by EPF

There is a major cross-over between the groups supporting “One of Us” and those who have spearheaded attacks on women’s and gay rights at European Parliament level. These groups are also behind national attacks on equality and SRHR – same-sex marriage in France, Spanish abortion law, referendum on marriage equality in Croatia.

(Part of the text was retrieved from EPF Intelligence brief)


What's wrong with the legal basis ?

In order to push forward its anti-choice conservative agenda, One of Us has ignored the long-established EU development policy and manipulated the jurisprudence of the EU Court of Justice. 

Faulty legal interpretation of the Court of Justice of the EU's ruling on human embryos

“One of Us” extensively relies on the 2011 “Oliver Brüstle v. Greenpeace” decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which ruled that patent protection for inventions based on human embryonic stem cells (hESC) was forbidden in the EU and gave an extensive definition of the human embryo. According to CJEU’s ruling, any human egg cell must, as soon as fertilized, be regarded as human embryo since fertilization commences the process of development of a human being. 

However, in its ruling, the CJEU clearly stated that the definition it gave of the human embryo was limited to the area of the patentability of biotechnological inventions and could not apply to other areas:

 “As regards the meaning to be given to the concept of ‘human embryo’ set out in Article 6(2)(c) of the Directive, it should be pointed out that, although, the definition of human embryo is a very sensitive social issue in many Member States, marked by their multiple traditions and value systems, the Court is not called upon, by the present order for reference, to broach questions of a medical or ethical nature, but must restrict itself to a legal interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Directive [Directive 98/44/EC on  Legal protection of biotechnological inventions]” (par.30)

it must be pointed out that the purpose of the Directive is not to regulate the use of human embryos in the context of scientific research. It is limited to the patentability of biotechnological inventions.” (par.40)

The Attorney General also underlined it in its final remarks: “the definition of the human embryo in the framework of the patent right is not comparable with the definition of the human embryo in other areas, explicitly with regard to the termination of pregnancy that needs to take into account the individual’s situation of conflict”?

Contrary to what One of Us argues, this definition of the human embryo can neither apply to research on the human embryo (only to its patentability) nor to SRHR. 

One of Us is at odds with long-established EU development policy and EU international commitments

Read more 

The EU and the Millennium Development Goals

"The Commission contributes to improving maternal health by helping countries to strengthen their health policies and systems and to include quality family planning and reproductive health services.

It also cooperates with governments, NGOs and UN agencies to strengthen the rights of women to make informed choices." 

If One of us becomes law, the European union would be unable to match the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) it has committed to and especially MDG 5 to improve maternal health in developing countries.  

It would also have to cut its support to its international commitments related to maternal health ( 2010 UN Secretary General’s Plan on Maternal and Child Healt, 2010 G8 Muskoka Commitments on Maternal and Child health funding. 

EU funding on maternal health is based on the EU competence in international development cooperation, which is outlined in Article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty: “the Member States shall comply with the commitments and take account of the objectives they have approved in the context of the United Nations and other competent international organizations,” namely the Millennium Development Goals.

This EU commitment is also reaffirmed in the “European Consensus on Development” of 2005 : "the EU is seeking to meet the Millennium Development Goals, to which all the UN member states subscribe.”


Which consequences on research ? 

One of Us calls on the EU to stop funding research activities that destroy human embryos, including those aimed at obtaining stem cells, and - larger - research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC).

What are EU rules in this field?

In this research field, the EU has already established strict limits for it funding. It does not fund :

a) research activities direct towards the human cloning;
b) research activities directed to modify the genetic inheritance of human beings that could make such changes heritable;
c) research activities intended to create human embryos only for research.
Furthermore, because of resistance from several EU Member States, the EU has agreed not to fund activities which would lead to the destruction of the human embryo. This means that the EU does not fund the creation of new embryonic stem cells lines.


Read more 

EHF joint statement supporting funding for stem cell research in Europe 9.04

Keep Dogma Out of European Research- EHF campaign supporting embryonic stem cells research and scientists' call to maintain EU funding  

In short, the EU only funds research activities involving existing human embryonic stem cells lines derived from 7-days-old leftover embryos from assisted reproduction which are granted by couples for research and which would be destroyed otherwise. Furthermore, the EU does so only for countries which allow these research activities and after strict national and European ethical review of research projects.

This compromise between different national ethical views of the “beginning of life” was reconducted by the EU in Horizon 2020 (article 19), the new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation in Europe (2014-2020) which was adopted on 3 December 2013. 

Why should the EU keep funding human embryonic stem cells research? 

This field of research is very complex and quite new. Scientists and researchers need time and resources to explore the massive potential of all types of stem cells: this includes using adult, induced pluripotent, embryonic and fetal stem cells.

Because of their unique biological properties (they can multiply endlessly and create all types of cells of the human body), human embryonic stem cells have raised high therapeutic hopes for a number of degenerative diseases (e.g. heart failures, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s).



What is an embryonic stem cell ?           Why is stem cell research so important ?            Will this lead to human cloning ?


     What about ethics ?                                    A science Vs. faith issue ?                         Why is EU funding so important ?



Which consequences on SRHR and maternal health in developing countries ? 


One of us requests that the assistance of the European Union should not be used to fund abortion, directly or indirectly, through the funding of organisations that “encourage or promote abortion”.

It wishes to de-fund aid agencies that provide abortions or advice that might lead to abortions. But these are the same agencies that provide a much wider range of essential maternal health services such as family planning, pre-natal healthcare, etc. 

One of Us could therefore negatively affect a whole range of sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes and services. 
Pro-choice MEPs and activists mobilise at One of Us public hearing - 10 Ap. Photo Credit EHF 2014

Reproductive health is described by the Cairo Programme as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and...not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive  system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”


Organisations promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights would lose 120 million USD in EU development aid if the One of us initiative is adopted. SRHR providers work hard to ensure the health of pregnant women and the elimination of sexually transmitted infections through education, contraception and integration programmes.  

Almost 800 women in the developing world die every day during pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths could be avoided through SRHR services. The improvement of the health of mothers and children and the promotion of reproductive health have been described as a priority of the Millennium Development Goals in its article 5. Cutting this budget would have disastrous consequences for services helping pregnant women and children in developing countries.

(Photo credit: EHF 2014)


Media coverage 





"Le droit à l'avortement peut-il être remis en cause?" - Forum du Midi- RTBF radio (BE) 10 April

"Embryons humains" – L’Expresso – Matin première | La Première RTBF 11 April

"Controverse sur le statut de l’embryon. Une initiative citoyenne européenne « anti-choix » auditionnée jeudi"- Le Soir 9 April (article not available online)











































"Cellules souches : le progrès menacé par les ténèbres" - Mediapart 8 April