On 5 December, the Commissioner for Human Right of the Council of Europe, Mr. Nils Muižnieks released a report on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe. The document provides an overview of the obligation of European countries under international and European laws in terms of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The report highlights shortcomings which have to be addressed such as the case of Northern Ireland, Ireland, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and San Marino where abortion legislation is highly restrictive (including sometimes life imprisonment sentences).
It also mentions the case of Italy where 7 out of 10 practitioners refuse to perform an abortion on the grounds of conscientious objection, thereby impeding access in practice to a right that is safeguarded by law.
At the occasion of release of the report, the Commissioner said:
Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. Regrettably, however, women in Europe still have these rights denied or restricted as a result of laws, policies and practices that ultimately reflect continuing gender stereotypes and inequalities. States must acknowledge and address these violations and resolutely commit to advancing gender equality in this crucial sphere of life
He followed on by saying that “the Sexual and reproductive rights protect some of the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives. Ensuring these rights for women is a vital component of efforts to achieve women’s rights and gender equality. Given the resurgent trends seeking to roll back protections in this field, we must ensure that we remain committed to these rights, which were established only after a long struggle. States have the duty to provide all women with accessible, affordable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care and services.”
The Commissioner also set forth 54 recommendations aimed at helping European states address the pressing need to:
- renew political commitment to women’s rights and guard against retrogressive measures that undermine women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights;
- establish health systems that uphold and advance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights;
- ensure the provision of comprehensive sexuality education;
- guarantee the affordability, availability and accessibility of modern contraception;
- ensure all women’s access to safe and legal abortion care;
- ensure that refusals of care by health care workers on grounds of conscience or religion do not endanger women’s timely access to sexual and reproductive health care;
- respect and protect women’s human rights in childbirth and guarantee all women’s access to quality maternal health care;
- eliminate coercive practices and safeguard women’s informed consent and decision-making in sexual and reproductive health care contexts;
- ensure all women’s access to effective remedies for violations of their sexual and reproductive rights;
- eliminate discrimination in laws, policies and practices and guarantee equality for all women in the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.