Access to abortion in Europe appears to be a vested right. In reality, however, it is nothing of the kind. Attacks by anti- choice groups, both open and insidious, are increasing. Shaming of women remains the rule. Barriers to women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy are a manifestation of institutionalised sexism, and must be fought as features of injustice and inequality.
Beyond ideological barriers, the economic crisis and austerity politics have created new obstacles such as the closure of abortion clinics, increasing waiting times, and limited resources being dedicated to information campaigns.
Many women come under moral and psychological pressure and it is often suggested that having an abortion is irresponsible, even criminal. The Catholic Church’s discourse on the “culture of death” is now being taken up by the Orthodox Church which as well.
In Malta, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, they risk prison sentences, respectively 4 years, 20 years and life imprisonment! In Poland, abortion is authorized only in the very limited cases of severe malformation of the fetus, rape and if the mother’s life or health is in danger. Abortion is also often instrumentalised and portrayed as one of the causes of demographic decline and natalist policies and rhetoric stigmatize women who have an abortion.
Even in countries where abortion has been de-penalised, countless administrative, financial and moral obstacles remain and many women face difficult struggles when they want to exercise their right. In certain countries conscientious objection renders an acquired right virtually useless as more than three quarters of doctors refuse performing an abortion. In countries where abortion is apparently less controversial, anti-choice groups still try to exert their influence by spreading disinformation. In France for example, anti-choice websites were found to mimic governmental information websites to confuse visitors and serve them false information.
This is why the European Humanist Federation joined up with its Belgian Member Organisation, the Centre d’Action Laïque and the AbortionRight platform to create a status report comparing legislation across the European Union as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.