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Demonstrators hold signs during an abortion rights protest in London

Protestors holding banners and placards in support of abortion rights gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in London on June 24, 2022. (Photo: Vudi Xhymshiti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Watching US With Horror, European Groups Push Leaders to Strengthen Abortion Rights

"This is an important moment for leaders across Europe who are committed to reproductive rights to lead by example and galvanize action in their own countries," said one campaigner.

Jake Johnson

Appalled by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down Roe v. Wade and concerned about the dark money-fueled global assault on abortion rights, advocacy groups from 28 European countries demanded Tuesday that their leaders take immediate steps to shield and strengthen access to reproductive care throughout the continent.

Expressing "profound solidarity" with people across the U.S. who will be or already have been harmed by the right-wing high court's unpopular ruling, the groups noted in an open letter that several European countries—including Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, and Poland—also have in place "highly restrictive laws in disregard of international human rights obligations and public health evidence."

"Last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court sent shockwaves across the world."

While "the general trajectory across Europe has been to improve laws and policies on abortion," the groups continued, "the need to reinforce and protect reproductive rights and abortion access across Europe is ongoing."

"In recent years, regressive attacks on reproductive rights in Poland have shocked the public conscience, and new procedural barriers to abortion have been introduced by lawmakers in some other Central and Eastern European countries," reads the letter, signed by organizations based in Romania, Switzerland, Croatia, Spain, and dozens of other European nations.

Poland enacted a near-total abortion ban in 2020, and earlier this month the country established a government database tracking people's pregnancies in what rights groups fear is an attempt to surveil and punish those who seek out and obtain abortion care.

Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights—one of the letter's signatories—said in a statement Tuesday that "last week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court sent shockwaves across the world and retrogression on that scale in the sphere of abortion rights is simply unprecedented in the global arena."

"This is an important moment for leaders across Europe who are committed to reproductive rights to lead by example and galvanize action in their own countries to remove legal and policy barriers on abortion that remain in place," said Hoctor. "Today we are calling on European decisionmakers to roll up their sleeves and take concrete steps to fully secure access to abortion care in Europe."

Specifically, the groups call on European countries to:

  • Fully decriminalize abortion and the provision of evidence-based information about abortion;
  • Eradicate mandatory waiting periods and biased counseling requirements prior to abortion;
  • Revise restrictive time limits on access to abortion and repeal harmful third-party authorization requirements;
  • Amend regulations on who can perform and manage abortion and where abortion care can be provided in order to ensure care can be provided in line with clinical best practice and [World Health Organization] guidance; and
  • Remove regulatory barriers regarding medication abortion and legalize telemedicine delivery as well as self-management of medication abortion care in line with WHO guidance.

The culmination of decades of legal maneuvering and political work by well-funded far-right forces, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling immediately drew outrage from political leaders around the world, including many Europeans.

"Making abortions illegal isn't pro-life. It's anti-choice,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel tweeted Friday. "It's a social and economic injustice. And just so, so wrong."

As the assault on abortion rights has intensified in the U.S. in recent months, observers have implored Europeans not to become complacent about access to reproductive care in their own countries. According to a recent investigation by the media outlet openDemocracy, many of the same deep-pocketed organizations that are masterminding rights rollbacks in the U.S.—from the Alliance Defending Freedom to the Federalist Society—are backing similar efforts overseas.

"Europeans are too naive in thinking that achievements in women's rights and sexual and reproductive health are irreversible," said Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, told the outlet in December. "The anti-choice movement does not only have a lot of money, they also have a plan and the determination. Europe should wake up, and it should wake up fast."

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