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

Alarming pushbacks have been progressing across regions of the globe”, through what the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice described as “alliance of conservative political ideologies and religious fundamentalisms,” in its report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Practices such as polygamy, child marriage, female genital mutilation, so-called honour killings, and criminalizing women for sexual and reproductive behavior, have no place in any society,” said a statement from the working group, adding that “there is no acceptable justification for waiting for the elimination of discrimination against women.”

Citing “rising authoritarianism, economic crises and rocketing inequality”, the Working Group warned that hard-fought gains risk being reversed.

The expert panel also noted positive changes, including the recent Irish referendum to repeal a near-total constitutional ban on abortion.

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The global women’s movement has fought for many years to affirm safe and legal abortion as a fundamental right, and the global trend has been the liberalization of abortion laws. Progress is not linear, however, and persistent barriers prevent these laws and policies from increasing women’s access to services. One such obstacle is the growing use of conscience claims to justify refusal of abortion care.

Often called “conscientious objection,” a concept historically associated with the right to refuse to take part in the military or in warfare on religious or moral grounds, the term has recently been co-opted by anti-choice movements. Indeed, accommodations for health care providers to refuse to provide care are often deliberately inserted into policies with the aim of negating the hard-fought right to abortion care.Existing evidence reveals a worrisome and growing global trend of health care providers who are refusing to deliver abortion and other sexual and reproductive health care. This phenomenon violates the ethical principle of “do no harm,” and has grave consequences for women, especially those who are already more vulnerable and marginalized.

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New factsheet by Center for Reproductive Rights

In many European countries where abortion is legal, domestic laws and regulations allow medical professionals to refuse to provide abortion care or other forms of reproductive health care on grounds of conscience or religion. However, evidence indicates that in some of these countries the failure of state authorities to effectively and proactively regulate and monitor such refusals and enforce safeguards undermines women’s ability to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortion care.

International human rights law and standards require states to ensure that medical professionals’ refusals of care do not jeopardize women’s access to legal reproductive health care. As a result, where European governments fail to ensure that medical professionals’ refusals of care do not impede women’s access to legal reproductive health care, they contravene international human rights law and standards.

This publication clarifies and summarizes these obligations and presents an overview of European human rights jurisprudence related to medical professionals’ refusals to provide abortion care and other forms of reproductive health care on grounds of conscience or religion. 

Access the factsheet here

Ireland voted decisively to repeal one of the world’s more restrictive abortion bans, sweeping aside generations of conservative patriarchy and the vast influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

The long awaited results, reflected in the numbers announced on Saturday, May 26th, cemented the nation’s liberal shift at a time when right-wing populism is on the rise in Europe and the Trump administration is imposing curbs on abortion rights in the United States. In the past three years alone, Ireland has installed a gay man as prime minister and has voted in another referendum to allow same-sex marriage.

The “yes” camp of the #Repealthe8th referendum took more than 66 percent of the vote, according to the official tally, and turnout was about 64 percent. This was preceded by years of advocacy on national, regional and international level by Irish women’s groups, human rights activists and international organisations.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said that he would introduce legislation allowing for abortion on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and thereafter in specific circumstances and seek to have it passed by the end of the year.

The positive result of the referendum and repealing of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution will have vast consequences for the entire Europe and women across the globe.

Additional read

Exit polls point to landslide vote to relax Irish abortion laws

Ireland’s Yes vote ushers in a new era for women’s rights in Europe

After Ireland’s abortion vote, where does the Catholic church go now?

How Savita Halappanavar’s Death Spurred Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign

Group of feminists and pro-choice activists, the Platform for Reproductive Rights, on the eve of the so-called March for Life held on Saturday, May 20th which year after year further silences women’s voices staged a night-time street action which inscribed women’s experiences into the city of Zagreb (housing blocks, churches and hospitals) with the aim of speaking out about issues faced by women who seek abortion.

In a symbolic night-time action women’s stories and experiences became an extension of all the silenced voices of anonymous women. Invisible experiences are written on the body of the city – we live among you, and so do our experiences. Projected into the public space of the city, these experiences became the voice of the people and women's stories became – both our stories and your stories.

See photos from the action on Facebook

Armenia, a small landlocked post-soviet country was on international news headlines recently and the reason, luckily, was not a natural disaster, mass killings or a terrorist attack that usually attracts global media attention in less developed world but the phenomenon of exceptional character of civil disobedience acts bringing to the unprecedented non-violent bottom-up revolution in the post-Soviet territory. Protests and marches took place initially in response to Serzh Sargsyan's third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in the government of the Armenia and later against the Republican Party-controlled government in general. Pashinyan declared it a Velvet Revolution. Read the article by ASTRA’a representative, Anna Arusthyan from Society Without Violence about what really happened in Armenia this year:

The winning recipe of Revolution ‘Love and Solidarity’: Armenian style

In April and May pro-choice billboards with the slogan “Women in Poland demand legal abortion” have appeared in different cities and towns across Poland. This campaign was organised by an informal women’s group, which managed to gather financial means in a crowdfunding campaign. The organizers and supporters wished to protest with these billboards against manipulative messages of the anti-abortion fundamentalists and to make their voice in the public sphere more distinctive. The billboards were meant to support pro-choice people in smaller, conservative towns and to empower them to show that they possess agency and can change the reality. Their action reflects a solid and growing support for the liberalization of the anti-abortion law.

The latest opinion poll conducted by IPSOS in cooperation with OKO.press, the online portal run by investigative journalists, reaffirms some continued trends, but it also surprises with new observations. The most crucial conclusions:

  • 37% of Poles are for liberalization, 44% for the status quo and 11% for a stricter law. Since January the percentage of anti-abortion radicals has dropped by 4%.
  • the poll exposes the dual-thinking of Poles. Opinion about the right to abortion is more liberal – among 20% of respondents – when people are faced not with the abstract law, but with a specific situation of a women in an unwanted pregnancy. 55% of interviewees claim that the law should not ban abortion in case of an acquainted in a difficult situation
  • among voters of the Law and Justice Party there are more supporters of liberalization than opponents
  • number of people appealing for a more restrictive law has fallen since January in almost all electorates
  • youth has become one of the most liberal groups regarding their stance on abortion, for a long time they were one of the most conservative groups.
  • acceptance of abortion is lower among people with higher income and with a higher level of formal education, which is not surprising in the light of the fact that they have resources in terms of money, information and contacts to arrange pregnancy termination beside the official system
  • Men are much more conservative than women

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

  • Comprehensive strategy document uncovered, plus information on clandestine meetings
  • Links to anti-abortion initiatives in Poland, Spain and at EU level; as well as anti-gay marriage movements in Croatia, Romania and Slovenia
  • Secret strategy also targets contraception, divorce and IVF

Book researched and written by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF)

A book released today in Stockholm reveals that campaigners from the US and Europe have been strategizing ‘achievable goals’ to roll back human rights in Europe since 2013. Documents have recently emerged showing a detailed, extremist strategy called Restoring the Natural Order: an Agenda for Europe, which seeks to overturn existing laws on basic human rights related to sexuality and reproduction.

The book examines that strategy document and the workings of the Vatican-inspired professional advocacy network, going by the name Agenda Europe, aiming for its implementation.

Agenda Europe is producing concrete results, such as the 2016 Polish bill to ban abortion, bans on equal marriage in several Central European countries and over a dozen comparable acts at national level and in European institutions aiming to limit women’s and LGBTI rights.

While the rise of ultra-conservatism in Europe has been apparent for several years, precisely how these actors are organising, fundraising and attempting to exert influence has not been clear. In shedding light on several of these questions, the book provides a fascinating insight into the clandestine workings and deliberate strategy of Europe’s anti-choice movement.

Commenting on the book, EPF President and Swedish MP Ulrika Karlsson said: “While compassion is a professed cornerstone of Christianity, it is entirely absent in the outlook of Europe’s anti-choice. This movement would force women to carry unwanted pregnancies, restrict access to contraception, decide who can marry and decide who can call themselves a family. Many will be surprised that they also target divorce and access to IVF treatment. In doing so, they are attempting to foist their personal religious beliefs on others via public policy and law.”

Being aware and understanding this ultra-conservative movement is essential for those who want to safeguard a modern, inclusive and tolerant Europe. Intended as a resource for politicians, political parties, civil society and journalists, this book aims to aid that understanding.

Access the book here.

Source: EPF

The 51st UN CPD took place in New York on April 9-13, 2018 under them theme of “Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration". Dr. Ion Jinga, Romanian Ambassador to the UN, was the Chairperson on behalf of the Eastern-European Group

ASTRA Network Advisory Board member from Romania, Daniela Draghici, represented the ASTRA Network at the 51st CPD thanks to the generous support of the International Women's Health Coalition, as part of the International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Coalition. Daniela had a unique opportunity to have a fruitful working collaboration, also thanks to the relationship she had established with the Romanian UN Mission key personnel in charge of CPD, as well as with the government delegate prior to the session. She supported the national delegation, and the ones from Republic of Moldova, Russia, and Serbia throughout the session and provided feedback on the process to the other activists gathered in New York.

This years’ CPD session did not end with a much expected outcome document as on the last day the Chairperson withdrew the draft resolution, reflecting compromise that was the product of careful negotiations and positive efforts of all national delegations. Unfortunately the United States refused to join the consensus, imposing their regressive view of sexual and reproductive health and rights on the global stage. In addition, the Ugandan delegate, on behalf of the African group, objected to the removal of the sovereignty clause, as well as the watering down of the Global Compact on Migration language.

To make up for this drawback, the representative of Tunisia read a powerful statement on behalf of 35 countries, highlighting the paramount importance of access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education underlining that We, as civil society, were deeply disappointed that after a week of intense debate the member states failed to adopt a resolution at the Commission on Population and Development. Despite this outcome, CPD remains a critical space for countries and advocates to affirm and advance their commitments to advance human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.

The special theme of next year’s 52nd  session of the Commission on Population and Development will be "Review and appraisal of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Additional reading:

Written statement of the Federation for Women and Family Planning on behalf of the ASTRA Network for the 51st CPD

International Women’s Health Coalition, The 2018 Commission on Population and Development and Prospects for the Future

Countdown Europe 2030, A roller-coaster of hope and despair for the international SRHR agenda!

  • All 46 countries researched must do more in providing comprehensive information and reimbursement for contraception
  • Schemes offering reimbursement for long acting and reversible contraception are powerful in increasing access to contraception
  • Unintended pregnancy is an avoidable burden for European States

BRUSSELS, 11 April 2017 Access to contraception should be a key concern of governments in empowering citizens to plan their families and lives. Yet every country analysed by the 2018 Contraception Atlas needs to do more to improve access. The findings show that for many European countries, ensuring that people have choice over their reproductive lives is not a priority. Now in its second edition, the Atlas tracks government policies on access to contraceptive methods, family planning counseling and the provision of online information on contraception in 46 European states.

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