Securing Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Securing Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. Humanists hold that everyone should have the freedom to decide if, when, how often and with whom one has sexual intercourse and their freedom to decide if, when and how often to reproduce.

The EHF therefore promotes and defends sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for women and men, for boys and girls, and especially the right to modern contraception, to safe abortion and to adapted sexual education, including for minors.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are a relatively new concept. For a long time, they were not recognised by the international community as human rights as such. A major change happened in the 1990s with two key world conferences where 189 governments finally agreed to protect and promote these rights, especially for women (the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing).

Like the United Nations, we hold that SRHR are related to several key human rights: the right to health, the right to life, the right to be free from torture and degrading treatments, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination.

SRHR are regularly violated

A woman’s health cannot be protected if her sexual and reproductive health is not guaranteed. Unfortunately, this is still not the case in many countries around the world, including in Europe. Violations of SRHR can take many forms, including forced sterilization, forced virginity examinations, female genital mutilation, early marriage, denial of access to safe abortion or pre-natal care, poor or biased sexual education.

These violations are often rooted in patriarchal and/or extremist religious concepts of women’s roles within the family and society, i.e. their value is based on their ability to reproduce. This is why we think that gender equality is much needed to promote people’s sexual and reproductive rights, and especially women’s.

Abortion is a matter of choice and health

As humanists, we believe that the right to be the master of one’s own body is a fundamental human right and women should therefore be allowed to decide whether or not to continue with a pregnancy.

Abortion is already legal in several European Union member states but some countries still impose tight restrictions on this fundamental right under the influence of conservative religious principles. Malta is for instance the only country in the European Union to prohibit abortion in all cases. Having an abortion is punishable by up to three years in jail – and those who carry them out can be imprisoned for four years and barred from practising.

In Cyprus, it is illegal except in case of rape or for medical reasons. In Poland as well abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, when the woman’s life is in jeopardy or if the foetus is irreparably damaged.

We believe that these reactionary laws must be changed. First because they are an offence to women’s free choice, second because they can create tragic situations (complications from unsafe abortions – e.g, haemorrhage, sepsis – still account for 13% of maternal deaths worldwide) third, because they create massive discriminations between women who can afford to travel abroad to get an abortion and those who cannot.

The EHF is committed to defend abortion right and has campaigned much these past years to protect it where it exists and promote it where it remains illegal. Alone and with our partners from High Ground, the Alliance for Choice and Dignity in Europe, we contributed to the change and the adoption of key European legislations, opposed conservative attacks from anti-choice/extremist religious organisations and trained EU decision-makers on issues related to SRHR.

Abortion right and conscientious objection

Freedom of conscience is a fundamental right which should be protected and promoted. On sensitive issues, national legislation often provides for the ability for people to opt out from performing acts they morally oppose – including performing abortion or delivering the morning-after pill.

However, over the past few years, anti-choice activists, several churches, public officials and professionals in various areas have increasingly expanded the use of conscience clauses to deny women’s rights on the grounds of freedom of conscience.

The consequences of allowing unregulated appeal to conscience are ethically and substantially harmful. In countries like Italy or Spain for instance, it has led to dramatic situations for women seeking a legal abortion. Where abortion is legal, legislation should ensure that the right to conscientious objection does not limit the effective right of every woman to have access to a medical abortion service.

Therefore, the State must ensure that:

  • An effective solution is available to address any refusal to procure an abortion;
  • An obligation is imposed on every medical practitioner exercising his right to conscientious objection on grounds of religious duty to refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor who is willing to perform abortions
  • A qualified practitioner who undertakes abortions is available, including in rural areas and places remote from urban centers.
  • Conscientious objection remains an individual right and not an institutional one, i.e., an hospital cannot claim its right to conscientious objection to refuse performing abortions where it is legal.

SRHR services include:

  • Receiving information and education on sexuality and reproduction
  • Services related to modern contraception
  • Safe and legal abortion
  • Maternal and child health care
  • Sexually transmitted infections and HIV treatment, prevention and care
  • Prevention and support provided to the survivors of gender based violence and prevention of sexual abuse and care.

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