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Abortion is not a right, European bishops tell MEPs

19 April 2024

Alamy

Members of an independent commission on abortion at a news conference in Berlin on Monday. The commission has recommended that abortion in Germany should be made legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy

Members of an independent commission on abortion at a news conference in Berlin on Monday. The commission has recommended that abortion in Germany sho...

ROMAN CATHOLIC leaders have strongly criticised a European Parliament resolution demanding that “access to safe and legal abortion” be recognised as a fundamental right throughout the European Union.

“Opposition to abortion isn’t confined to Catholicism — the question boils down to whether the unborn are considered to have lives, and what right we have to terminate them,” the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, said.

“This a step backward, not forward, since it disregards the principle of safeguarding the rights of all, especially the weakest, who cannot advocate for themselves.”

The Archbishop was reacting to the vote on 11 April by MEPs, calling for abortion to be “completely de-penalised” in the EU’s 27 member-states, and criticising countries that continue to impose restrictions.

He told Vatican Radio that the move had shown a “complete disregard for the rights of the unborn”, signalling a “significant cultural regression, undermining societal values”.

The Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe accused MEPs of “using women as political pawns”, and dismissed the Parliamentary vote as “cynical political posturing” ahead of European elections on 6-8 June.

“Concrete social policies to support women and children would go much further than ideological declarations with no impact,” the Federation, based in Brussels, said in a statement.

“Abortion is not within the ambit of the European Parliament, since EU institutions are tied to the principle of subsidiarity which ensures member-states can legislate within their jurisdictions. . . Abortion is not a fundamental right, and there is no such thing as a right to take a life.”

The Parliamentary resolution, passed by 336 votes to 163, with 39 abstentions, in the 705-member Parliament, praised a “landmark vote” in March by French lawmakers to make their country the world’s first to guarantee abortion as a constitutional right, and deplored “backsliding on abortion rights” in the United States, Poland, Hungary, and Malta, as well as continued restrictions in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia.

The resolution also condemned the right of doctors and health-care facilities to opt out of abortions, and demanded “safe and free contraceptive methods and means” in all EU countries.

“Across the globe, regressive forces and ultra-conservative religious and far-right actors are trying to undo decades of human rights advances and impose a harmful worldview on gender roles in families and public life,” the resolution noted.

“Several member-states are currently trying to further limit access to sexual and reproductive health and rights through highly restrictive laws, resulting in limited access to healthcare, and gender-based discrimination and violence.”

Most EU member-states have taken steps to liberalise access to abortion, although at least a dozen still require mandatory counselling, and conscientious objection remains widespread among medical staff, especially in traditional Roman Catholic countries.

In Germany, where pregnancy terminations are still banned under the criminal code, a government commission has recommended decriminalising abortion up to 12 weeks, with support in opinion polls from about two-thirds of Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christians.

The planned liberalisation has been criticised by church organisations, however, who joined a “March for Life” in Munich on 13 April, and was condemned as unconstitutional and “relativising fundamental dignity” by the Bishop of Limburg, Dr Georg Bätzing, who chairs the Roman Catholic German Bishops’ Conference.

In neighbouring Poland, more than 50,000 citizens took part in a parallel “March for Life” on 14 April, co-sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference, after Warsaw legislators pressed ahead with plans to liberalise abortion, which remains restricted under a 1993 law and was tightened further by an October 2020 Constitutional Court ruling.

Although not binding, the vote in the European Parliament will increase pressure for further liberalisation across the continent, and for future inclusion of abortion rights in EU treaties and regulations, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights adopted in October 2000.

Reacting to the MEPs’ vote, the secretary-general of the Commission of EU Bishops’ Conferences, the Revd Manuel Barrios Prieto, told Vatican News that the EU’s bishops were “saddened” that the resolution had been backed by “representatives of parties referring to the tradition of Christian democracy”, and would “appeal to the consciences of politicians and voters” in the upcoming European elections.

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