ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Oct 11 2016

Brussels, 11th October 2016 // European Youth advocates welcome the decision by the Polish parliament last week to dismiss the “Stop Abortion” bill , but stress that the European Parliament needs to do more to monitor legislative developments and increasing restrictions to sexual and reproductive rights and services across Europe.

Recent developments in Poland have served to highlight the precarious state of women’s health and rights in Europe with rising political support for increased restrictions to women’s reproductive health; such as access to contraceptive and abortion services.

Driven by their commitment to human rights and concerns over increased restrictions to reproductive health and services; youth advocates from Poland, Spain, Croatia, Romania the Netherlands and the United Kingdom will be meeting with MEPs and policy-makers on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th October to demand a stronger European parliamentary response to increasingly regressive legislation in Europe.

Their action builds on the recent mobilization of thousands of Polish women, men, girls and boys, supported by solidarity movements throughout Europe; who have raised their voices in opposition to Poland’s plans to further restrict the law on abortion. Their actions influenced the Polish Parliament’s decision to dismiss  the “Stop the Abortion” bill; however the threats to fundamental reproductive rights remain with the development of new legislative proposals which seek to further restrict access to essential services. 

Following the anti-abortion campaign in Poland, anti-choice movements in neighbouring countries; Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Croatia have called for increased restrictions on women’s health and rights. Evidence shows that restricting access to safe abortion only forces girls and women to resort to private, illegal or unsafe services, which pose a serious risk to their health and lives.

Belgian Socialist MEP Maria Arena comment: Denying women access to abortion
is denying them access to health, as there could be a risk of death if access to abortion is denied."

Marta Szostak, ASTRA Network Coordinator comments: “For a few years we are now observing various steps, sometimes very small, sometimes very drastic, to limit women’s reproductive rights and influence their reproductive health choices throughout Europe. Already this year we have worked tirelessly to combat further restrictions to abortion access in Poland, mobilising thousands to challenge the Polish Governments regressive stance on sexual reproductive health and rights.

Despite recent success with the “Stop the Abortion” bill being dismissed from Parliament, we count on solidarity and support from our colleagues in Europe, and politicians and representatives within the European Parliament, to do more to uphold fundamental reproductive rights, such as access to contraceptives and abortion throughout the European Union”

During their meetings with Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th October the youth advocates will discuss and share their concerns and suggestions for what the European Parliament could do to safeguard young people’s and women’s rights and will call for;

  • Increased Access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education
  • Fulfilment of access to safe and legal abortion services for all women and girls without stigmatization, discrimination, intimidation or victimisation of women and girls requiring these services;
  • Increased funding for the development of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive services
  • Implement a funding stream for the monitoring of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in European Member States
  • Relevant monitoring of number and conditions of illegal abortions;

Swedish GUE/NGL group MEP Malin Björk comment: "History has shown that we can never take women's rights for granted. When rights are threatened somewhere, they are threatened for all of us. We are in this together."

Marta Szostak, ASTRA Network Coordinator comments; "International support, especially the one coming from European groups working on reproductive rights and youth groups, has proven to be a major source for mobilization and inspiration for Polish women and girls. European Parliamentarians must do their part in upholding fundamental human rights and European values in demanding and upholding universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights throughout Europe".

Coalition of CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, You Act, ASTRA Youth and ASTRA Network

Press contacts: 

Monty Aal, CHOICE for Youth & Sexuality - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.(Brussels)

Marta Szostak, ASTRA Network - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Oct 07 2016

On Friday, September 23rd, the Polish Sejm sent to further proceedings draft legislation aiming to introduce a total ban on abortion and criminalize women for terminating pregnancies with up to 5 years of prison. Women and doctors could face prison if convicted of causing what the proposed bill called "death of a conceived child". Moreover doctors would be discouraged from doing prenatal testing, particularly if that carried the risk of miscarriage.

Major mobilization among Polish women and civil society organizations resulted in a “black protest” (#czarnyprotest). Launched on the day of the reading of both bills it became a leading theme of Polish women’s fight for abortion rights.

The culmination of women’s solidarity and mobilization was October 3rd when women went on a strike – did not go to work, schools, took a day off and went to protest in the streets in Warsaw and other cities in Poland. In total 100 000 people protested against the total abortion ban in 143 locations in the country. This mass mobilization caught great interest in international media and was widely captured via social media with #czarnyprotest, #strajkkobiet, #solidaritywithpolishwomen (Reuters, Buzzfeed, Independent). Supporters of Polish women protested in cities across Europe – i.e. in Paris, Oslo, Berlin.

On Wednesday afternoon the Senate announced a stop their proceedings  on their proposal on a “compromise” to the proposed abortion ban and claimed that protests against the bill had given ministers "food for thought". They also assured that Poland will not criminalize women nor ban abortion in case of rape or incest and in situations when the pregnancy is risk to women's health and/or life

Around 6 pm on the same day the Commission for Justice and Human Right held a session and recommended the Parliament to reject the “Stop Abortion bill”. This caused a lot of criticism as the meeting was not planned in advance hence a second reading of the bill took place very late at night. On Thursday morning the process ended with the dismissal of this bill with a majority of 352 votes. 58 MPs were in favour of further proceedings, 18 abstained from vote. Beata Szydło, Polish Prime Minister, announced a future bill that will support all women experiencing so called "difficult pregnancies". She also announced the creation of a programme of support for families raising children with disabilities and start of a national campaign in support of “pro-life” values.

On Wednesday, October 5th, the European Parliament held a debate on the situation in Poland, initiated by ALDE Group – Liberals and Democrats and Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament.

This is a won battle - so far. We are certain that the anti-choice groups and the Catholic Church will not step down this easily and another anti-choice bill banning abortion in all cases (but not criminalizing women) is already pending for further proceedings. The ruling Law and Justice party also announced their readiness to start working on their own bill which will ban abortion in case of fetal damage. The Catholic Church announced that they do not approve of criminalizing women and put a green light for further attempts to ban abortion in case of fetal damage. This may be another battle we will have to face, together with attempts to restrict access to emergency contraception.

The current law on abortion in Poland, even more restrictive in practice than in theory, the so called "abortion compromise", is too not a solution to realisation of women's reproductive rights. The series of ongoing protests which began in early April this year were a chance to advocate for liberalisation of the law (see the "Save the Women" civic proposal) - the only real option to ensure women's sexual and reproductive health and rights and their human rights.

This victory on abortion has empowered Polish women – we’ll never be the same said Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning to the Guardian. Years of pro-choice advocacy, public mobilization, grassroots work, women’s solidarity and working across movements and various groups has given fruits which can make a change.


Sep 29 2016

Just this month the Armenian Government introduced several changes in the law on abortion without any consultations with civil society and other medical or women’s groups. Abortion remains accessible until the 12th week yet a separate provision is added to the Article 10 of the Law on Reproductive Health and Rights, which bans sex-selective abortion from 12th to 22nd week of pregnancy. A mandatory 3 day waiting period had been added in the same Article. During this time a gynecologists will provide the woman with information on abortion.

The approach of the Armenian Ministry of Health is quite worrying as one of its representatives confidently stated that the Ministry aims to prevent women from performng abortions with the use of this new 3 day waiting period.  At the same time the Ministry claims that these new legal changes will not question the right and access to legal abortion.

The Women’s Resource Center published a statement on the issue, it is available here.

Changes in the law accepted on 29.06.2016, in Armenian, can be found under this link.

Source: Women’s Rights Center, Women’s Resource Center, Society Without Violence

Sep 28 2016

On the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion the Sexual Rights Initiative is holding a panel discussion in Geneva during the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council at 1PM, Room XXVII. The event is sponsored by the Permament Mission of the Republic of Slovenia in Geneva.

The panel will share different country experiences of advocating for safe and legal abortion, highlight the human rights obligations of States to provide access to safe and legal abortion, and discuss opportunities to utilize HRC mechanisms to effect policy and legal changes at the national level.

Among the speakers is Krystyna Kacpura, Federation for Women and Family Planning.

See the poster HERE.

Sep 28 2016

Speaking ahead of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, a group of United Nations human rights experts* called on States across the world to repeal restrictive abortion laws and policies, and all punitive measures and discriminatory barriers to access safe reproductive health services.

The experts also expressed their support for the call of several non-governmental organisations to make 28 September an official UN day for safe abortion worldwide, to urge Governments to decriminalise abortion and provide reproductive health services in a legal, safe and affordable manner.

See more HERE

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