Wednesday, 18 December 2013

BHA Reacts To Blocking Of Estrela Report On Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights

We were very upset last week by the blocking in the European Parliament of the Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, authored by Portuguese MEP Edite Estrela and commonly known as the Estrela Report. The report recommended that all Europeans should have ease of access to sex education, contraception and safe abortions and was strongly supported by the European Humanist Federation, of which the BHA is a member. However, since the report was first brought to the attention of the European Parliament it has met with strong opposition from extremist religious groups, including the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe and European Dignity Watch.

The Bill had already been submitted to the plenary of the European Parliament once before, in October. It was blocked and returned to the Women’s Rights Committee to be amended. The Bill’s supporters hoped that an amended version of the report would have more luck passing the plenary of the European Court; however, vigorous campaigning by extremist religious groups saw that this was not to be the case. Throughout the report’s progress, MEP’s have received more than 80,000 e-mails from supporters of extremist religious groups demanding that they reject these reports. On some occasions, these e-mails even included personal threats. In place of the report, which had 90 unique recommendations, the European Parliament voted 334 in favour to 327 against to accept an alternative one paragraph proposal which noted “the formulation and implementation of policies on [sexual and reproductive health rights] and on sexual education in schools is a competence of the Member States.”

Edite Estrela was furious with this result, saying that this language is “a more conservative resolution than the previous text on this issue, adopted in 2002.” Along with ensuring Europe-wide access to sex education, contraception and safe abortions, the Estrela report also took gender-based violence and the treatment of STIs into account. The Bill would have helped to establish Europe-wide guidance on these issues. The report’s abandonment in favour of a statement which declares that these issues should be the soul preserve of member states seriously undermines any future attempts the European Parliament might make into insuring and improving access to these basic needs.

This move marks a huge setback for sexual, reproductive, LGBT and women’s rights movements in Europe, and exemplifies the stranglehold activist religious groups have on European decision making. For similar debacles to be avoided in the future, it will be necessary to galvanise support for these basic rights and show MEPs that a significant body of people across Europe care passionately about these issues.