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

Two days ago, on Valentine’s Day, the Polish Government announced that it accepted a project proposing to restrict access to the only emergency contraception pill available over the counter. This project is to be discussed in plenary and voted upon in the next session of the Sejm, possibly already in March.

As result of the C(2015)51 ruling from the European Commission, and upon recommendation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), in January 2015 emergency contraceptive with ulipristal acetate, registered in Poland under the brand name ellaOne, received the authorization to be sold without prescription across the European Union (EU). The ulipristal acetate emergency contraceptive pill (UPA ECP) became available in Polish pharmacies without prescription from April 2015 contributing to rising the standard of reproductive health services and supplies for Polish women and girls, and expanding the postcoital contraceptive choices of women

In November 2016 the Polish Minister of Health announced that he is finalising a project which aims to restrict access to UPA ECPs and reinstate the provision of a mandatory doctor’s prescription for emergency contraceptives, citing the ‘misuse of the pill’ by teenage girls in Poland. Today we can see how his words were put into actions.

While there is limited data on the patterns of use of ECP among different age groups, a recent market study by Millward Brown, the biggest age group purchasing UPA ECPs are women between 25 and 30 years of age (45%), followed by those between 30 and 35 (18%). Young women below 18 make up around 2% of all buyers.

The planned restrictions would greatly impede the lives of women and girls and contribute to the sales of this product from unsafe sources and also cause a rise in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions in a country, where access to a safe and legal abortion is already incredibly difficult.

ASTRA together with ASTRA Youth, as part of coalition of civil society organizations working on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – You Act, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality and the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception, sent a letter on December 1st, 2016, to the representatives of the European Commission, to voice our concern on the current developments in Poland with regards to women and girls’ reproductive health and rights. That letter was resent today and is available HERE.

The Contraception Atlas -- a map that scores 45 countries throughout geographical Europe on access to modern contraception was launched on St Valentine’s Day in Brussels.

The rankings -- which are based on access to contraceptive supplies, family planning counseling and online information -- reveal a very uneven picture across Europe.  

The European Parliamentary Forum on Population & Development (EPF) has produced the Atlas in partnership with Third-i, while experts in sexual and reproductive health and rights designed the methodology. 

“Access to contraception should be a key concern of governments in empowering citizens to plan their families and lives. Yet every country we analysed should be doing more to improve access. Our findings show that for many European countries, ensuring that people have choice over their reproductive lives is not a priority.” commented Neil Datta, EPF Secretary.

“This is borne out by statistics on unintended pregnancy: over 43% pregnancies in Europe are unintended. Contraception is used by 69.2% of European women aged between 15 and 49 who are married or living with a partner -- lower the usage rates of both the North America and Latin America/Caribbean regions.”

“For a relatively small cost, governments can provide reimbursement for contraception -- particularly long acting and reversible contraception, such as implants and IUDs. Official government websites with information about contraceptive types and where to get them are a miniscule expense for governments, but can make a big difference to citizens seeking accurate information.”

The findings and more information about contraception in Europe are available on www.ContraceptionInfo.eu.

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ASTRA sent letter to the recently elected new Chair of the European Parliament Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committe (FEMM) - Ms Vilijia Blinkeviciute (S&D) from Lithuania. She will chair the FEMM Committee for the next two and a half years.

Four vice-chairs were also elected, together with the chair they will form the new FEMM bureau.The four vice-chairs elected are as follows:
- 1st vice-chair Barbara MATERA (EPP, IT)
- 2nd vice-chair João PIMENTA LOPES (GUE, PT)
- 3rd vice-chair Mary HONEYBALL (S&D, U.K)
- 4th vice-chair Jana ŽITŇANSKÁ (ECR, SK)

Read the letter ASTRA sent to Ms Blinkeviciute HERE.

Attacks on women’s right to choose are regular and come from both the anti-choice civil society and the Government. In November 2016 Human Rights Committee recommended that Polish authorities should refrain from adopting any legislative reform that would amount to a retrogression of already restrictive legislation on women’s access to safe legal abortion. It is especially important in the light of the another petition for introducing a total ban on abortion which is pending in the parIiamentary Petition Committee right now. The women’s groups expected it to be rejected on 26th January 2017 beceause of its many imperfections. However, the Committee resolved the matter through issuing a formal request to the Prime Minister. Beata Szydło is expected to address the Petition Committee with information about the Government’s activity in the field of “life protection”. Based on this feedback the Committee will decide on the petition’s next steps.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

An investigation by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting recently discovered that hundreds of girls from the ethnic Avar community in eastern Georgia, in the villages of Tivi, Saruso, and Chantliskure, are being forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). The shocking news was covered by national media and created a joint movement towards crimizalizing this practice although many people in the local communities believe it is connected to religion and part of local tradition.

On 24 January, the Georgian government approved the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on combatting domestic violence and violence against women, which includes criminalising FGM.
A similar act against a pregnant, disabled or underage woman will be considered an aggravating circumstance. Moreover, punishment will be tightened for stalking, forced sterilization and domestic violence.

Source: Georgia Today, IWPR

A study commissioned by MEP Heidi Hautala, Perspectives on anti-choice lobbying in Europe, was published last week to reveal the networks and identify the actors who are part of the anti-choice movement that is active in the EU.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), women’s rights and gender equality play an enormous role in ensuring fair, prosperous and equal societies. Despite the clear progress towards enhancing women’s reproductive choices both in the developed and developing countries, at national, European and international levels, there are those who aim to move backwards.

Anti-choice forces have increased their efforts, among others in the European Parliament, to push their ideas further into the political mainstream, mobilising through social media campaigns and co-opted moderate political group members to their cause. The study is to call out these questionable tactics and those who apply them, in order to make the wider public aware of them. It is crucial for pro-choice forces across the political spectrum to mobilise together to defend the rights that have been fought hard to secure.

Access the Study for policy makers on opposition to sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe by Elena Zacharenko HERE.

Source: Heidi Hautala

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its new General Comment on Adolescents which includes very progressive and strong language on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of adolescents. Among other advancements, the new general comment:

  • Recognizes that states should remove parental authorization requirements for SRH info and services (para. 60)
  • Urges states to consider introducing a presumption of capacity for adolescents seeking preventative and time-sensitive SRH commodities and services (para. 39)
  • Urges states to decriminalize abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that pregnant adolescents’ views are always heard and respected in abortion-related decisions (para. 60)
  • Recognizes that the voluntary and informed consent of the adolescent should be obtained whether or not the consent of a parent or guardian is required for any medical treatment or procedure (para. 39)
  • Calls on states to take into account the need to balance protection and evolving capacities in defining the legal age for sexual consent and avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity (para. 40)
  • Calls for age-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexual and reproductive health education, based on scientific evidence and human rights standards and developed with adolescents to be  part of the mandatory school curriculum and reach out-of-school adolescents (para. 61)

Read the full text of the General Comment here.

Brussels, 10th January 2017 // European Youth advocates concerned by recent developments in Poland call on the European Parliament to act now 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 contraceptives and abortion services. We are alarmed by statements being made by senior Polish government officials about the intention of the Polish government to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention “Istanbul Convention” on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Driven by their commitment to human rights and concerns over increased restrictions to reproductive health and services; youth advocates from ASTRA, ASTRA Youth, YouAct and CHOICE for Youth & Sexuality will be meeting with MEPs and policy-makers on Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th January to demand a stronger European parliamentary response to increasingly regressive legislation in Poland and throughout Europe.

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The Ministry of Justice has prepared a project concerning Poland’s withdrawal from the Instanbul Convention. It went on to be negotiated between ministries. That information was received on January 3rd by the Advocate for Citizens' Rights, Adam Bodnar from the Prime Minister’s Office. In a December interview Prime Minister Beata Szydło assured that the government was not working on a withdrawal. Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak stated in December: “There is no government position that would aim to withdraw the Instanbul Convention, which does not imply that the members of the government do not debate it.”

In 2016 The Polish Federation of Saving Life Movements submitted a petition aiming to alter the current law on family planning and termination of pregnancies (the so called “anti-abortion law”). The petition introduces a total ban on abortion – anyone who is found guilty of causing death of a conceived child will face a three year prison sentence (women will not be punished for illegal procedures).

The Sejm Petition Committee will debate in the morning on Thursday, January 12th whether this petition is recommended for further works. The ruling Law and Justice party already claimed, possibly one of the consequences of the vast protests last autumn, that they are not open for discussing such “difficult matters”.

The Sejm Bureau of Research issued a very negative opinion of the proposal.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

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