CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights 

No 4 (26) 2005


table of contents:




Abortion Rights in enlarged EU. Before 2004 enlargement of the European Union most EU member states allowed wide access to abortion. Only Ireland and Portugal had very restrictive laws related to abortion. This situation was not an outcome of Union policy as such, since the EU has limited authority in relation to national laws on abortion, but rather the general liberal European approach to the issue of reproductive rights and/or women’s rights. While the debate about the access to abortion continued in Ireland and Portugal, there was no evidence of abortion laws being a regional issue. This situation, however, changed when the number of countries restricting access to abortion expanded as a consequence of EU enlargement.  Three of the 10 new member nations either restrict or ban abortion, and some of the other seven have restrictions on abortions occurring after the first trimester. Additionally, the anti-choice movement seems to be much stronger in Europe today then it was in the past. It is true that antiabortion groups in Europe may not be so well established as those in United States, but never the less they are supported by the Roman Catholic Church, an are given legitimacy by the continent's low birth rates.  As the consequence abortion is becoming increasingly important, polarizing and contradictory issue in Europe. As it was already said in a number of new member states access to abortion is restricted. At the same time pro-choice activists in some of the new EU countries (for example in Poland) have been hoping that EU membership will provide new avenues for ensuring reproductive rights of women in their countries. Unfortunately quick achievement of reasonable uniformity of laws and approaches to reproductive rights across the EU is unlikely. In Portugal, a conservative Catholic country, new Prime Minister Jose Socrates has promised to hold a referendum on whether to liberalize the abortion law. At the same time even his Socialist Party colleagues are divided on the issue. More information on abortion referendum in Spain is provided in ‘Global Updates’ section of this Bulletin.  In contrast in Poland, despite the efforts of pro-choice lobby, the ruling Democratic Left Alliance Party did not live up to its promise to change strict antiabortion law. This is regardless the fact that surveys show most Poles support introduction of more liberal law. According to Wanda Nowicka, head of the Federation for Women and Family Planning based in Warsaw, Poland "Politicians think it's better to listen to what the church is saying, not the society,". The situation is different in Roman Catholic Slovakia, which has retained its pre-transformation laws allowing abortion on demand. Olga Pietruchova, head of Pro-Choice Slovakia says that "It's a political issue, because the country is really quite liberal. On Sundays, most people go to shopping malls, not to church." Despite this, the pro-choice activists say, a growing number of doctors and hospitals refuse to perform abortions. Further, anti-abortion lawmaker Anna Zaborska of Slovakia was elected to head the European Parliament's women's committee in July.
Abortion laws in EU member states
Allowed on demand in first trimester or later: Austria, Belgium, Czech
Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy,
Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden
Allowed for health, economic and social reasons: Finland, United Kingdom
Allowed for health reasons or in cases of rape, incest or fetal
: Cyprus, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain
Allowed only to save woman's life (including from suicide): Ireland
Banned: Malta
 Source: IPPF

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Kazakhstan: need for HIV awareness amongst youth needed. Despite efforts to raise the level of HIV/AIDS awareness in Kazakhstan, young people continue to feel embarrassed to speak openly about the issue and how it may impact their lives. HIV remains largely a taboo in the country. Most young people still do not know much about AIDS. As part of the government's efforts students (grade 5 to 11) are educated on reproductive health and HIV. The program is in place since 1998, but much more is needed before student will transfer their knowledge into everyday practice. Unfortunately awareness development is constrained by lack of financial resources: Kazakhstan is not a rich country and further, it spends only 2.6 percent of its GDP on healthcare as a whole.

What makes the situation even worse is that most parents continue to simply instruct young people not to have sexual relations at all before marriage, and as the consequence young people don not know how to speak openly about HIV, or other risks associated with sex. At the same time increasing number of youth engage in premarital sex. According to Kazbek Tulebaev, deputy director general of the Kazakh National Centre for Problems of Healthy Lifestyle Development 44% of young people have sexual relations before marriage, with 17% of them having more than 10 sexual partners during a one year period. Dr Issidora Yerassilova, general director of Kazakhstan's Republican AIDS Centre believes that although at the moment the country has a low prevalence of the HIV/AIDS, the risk of its spread is very concerning. Officially some 4,600 HIV/AIDS cases have been registered in Kazakhstan, the majority through intravenous drug use. Experts believe, however, that the real number is closer to 20,000.

Source: Push Journal


Lithuania: Abandon Cult of Motherhood. Lithuanian Member of parliament Ausrine Marija Pavilioniene urges to live behind the "cult of motherhood" and to adopt legislation facilitating the right to pharmaceutical abortion and artificial insemination. In the MP's opinion, until artificial insemination and women's reproductive health is regulated by national legislation Lithuania is not protecting the rights of the woman as of a human being. She argues that as long as Lithuania's women will not have the right to their bodies they will effectively not have any rights at all. Draft reproductive health law was filed at the parliament already in 2002 but has not been discussed due to strong opposition by Catholic organizations. The procedure of artificial insemination in Lithuania is currently regulated by the health minister's 1999 decree on approval of artificial insemination procedure.

Source: Push Journal


Russia: HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic is a threat to the country's national security. He stated that the growth of AIDS is no longer just a medical problem, but an issue of strategic, social and economic security. Earlier this year there were more than 300,000 HIV cases register, which marks an increase from 270,000 registered last year. This means that currently there are about 860,000 HIV-positive people in Russia. Zhukov also said that the Russian government understands the extent and importance of this problem and realizes the need to prevent the development of the epidemic.  He called  not only on Russia's government, but also on businesses to join together to fight HIV/AIDS. Further, he stressed the role that pharmaceutical companies could play in improving access to treatment. Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov announced that Russia has reached agreements with several international pharmaceutical companies that will allow HIV-positive Russians to pay about $3,000 annually for antiretroviral medication. This is very good news, to patient who at the moment pay about $10,000 annually for treatment. Unfortunately, while $10 000 is a huge sum for a majority of Russians, $3 000 is still too much for many. World Bank Vice President warned that an Russians HIV/AIDS epidemic could have disastrous consequences for Russia's economy, with Russia's gross domestic product possibly decreasing by 4% if the number of HIV-positive people in the country reaches 1% of the population. 

Source: Keysernetwork

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CSW – follow up. Following information provided in last ASTRA Bulletin: during the second week of  the 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women on Review and Appraisal of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA ) which was held in New York UN Headquarters from 27 February till 11 March 2005 ten resolutions were approved. This included:  

1.      Gender Mainstreaming in National Policies and Programmes

2.      Trafficking

3.      Women’s Economic Advancement

4.      Women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS


The resolution on Trafficking was passed without a vote. It still focuses on demand, includes forced labor (not only prostitution and other forms of commercialized sex), it does have language on ensuring protection and assistance to victims of trafficking.


The text of all the resolutions should be soon available on the official website of the Commission http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/Review/english/news.htm



Reproductive Health and Rights Statement. On Monday, April 4, IWHC (International Women’s Health Coalition) addressed the UN Commission on Population and Development on women, girls, and HIV/AIDS. IWHC’s statement  "Reproductive Health and Rights: A Vital Strategy in the Fight Against
HIV/AIDS," is available in English at
http://www.iwhc.org/global/un/cpd2005/index.cfm. There is also a Russian version of the document available, but it is not on the web, so if you want to receive it please write to ASTRA Secretariat at


World Health Day: Mother and Infant Mortality. According to the experts expressing their opinion on 2005 World Health Day 2005, for too many women in too many countries, pregnancy is a threat rather then a reason for happiness. In contemporary time characterized by technological development and medical advances, the annual death of 11 million children and more then half a million mothers around the world seems paradoxical. Especially since most of death are caused by a lack of access to health care, malnutrition, or simple infections. Most of them happen among the poor in developing countries (Indian subcontinent and Sub Saharan Africa).

To counteract this World Health Organization and many other institutions, are trying to promote simple and economic ways to save millions of mothers and children. This includes provision of a basic delivery kits consisting of a clean blade to cut the umbilical cord, soap for washing of hands, and a plastic sheet to place the baby on. According to Dr. Tinker of Save the Children it is very important to improve chances of survival of the mother. Especially since in some regions in Africa and Asia, I the mother dies the child is very likely to die as well. Death is particularly probable for girl child because girls are considered less valuable.

Further, according to the World Bank, bad health is the main reason for households becoming poor and staying poor. Some experts say that this bad health includes reproductive health, especially since 70,000 women around the world die every year from unsafe illegal abortions. Dr. Elizabeth Lule is an adviser for Maternal and Child Health at the World Bank stated that about 200 million women have unintended pregnancies, and that they need access to reproductive health services including family planning.  

Source: Push Journal


Portugal: Abortion Referendum. The ruling Socialist party in Portugal has proposed holding a referendum on decriminalizing of abortion. The government led by Prime Minister Jose Socrates has promised a referendum on abortion in its recent election campaign. The proposal, tabled in parliament, was accompanied by a bill that would allow abortions to take place up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.  Under current law a women in Portugal can have an abortion only if her life is in danger, to protect her mental or physical health, or in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairment. But the Polls have shown that great majority of Portuguese, are in favor of liberalizing the national abortion laws. Its need to be added here, that more than 92 % of Portuguese are Catholics.  The annual number of illegal abortions in Portugal is estimated to be between 20,000 and 40,000. Additionally thousands of women go abroad to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Last September, the boat of ‘Women of Waves’ fighting for reproductive rights of women tried and failed repeatedly to dock in a Portugal. In 1998 referendum the Portuguese narrowly rejected a proposal to allow abortion on demand during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Source: Push Journal


Oral Contraceptives Reduce Breast Cancer. Studies have consistently shown that oral contraceptives reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Now another positive link between oral contraceptive and cancer has been shown. According to recent Australian research taking oral contraceptives reduces the risk of breast cancer in persons carrying ‘breast cancer genes’. The carriers of the gene, a proven risk factor for early onset breast cancer, were about four times less likely to develop the disease if they were taking oral contraceptives. The study was conducted by researchers from University of Melbourne on some 2,000 women under the age of 40, including 1,156 breast cancer patients in Australia, Canada and the United States. The findings contradicted the researchers' original hypothesis that the pill would increase breast cancer in high risk groups.  While the researchers do not say that oral contraceptive use is going to be the magic cure, they say that the use of oral contraceptives should not be discouraged among high risk women. Until now women genetically prone to disease were discouraged from using the pill. The results of Australian study are in line with the recent studies in the United States and Canada that also suggest that the oral contraceptive can reduce the risk to women with the high-risk gene.

Source: The Age (Australia)

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New Order of Catholic Priests Is Forming to Fight Abortions. The Roman Catholic Church plans to establish its first religious society devoted exclusively to fighting euthanasia and abortion. The Catholic Church already has similar organizations, including established in 1991 women's religious community called Sisters of Life, but this is a first male-only society which will focus exclusively on the issue. It is called Missionaries of the Gospel of Life.  Its founder Father Pavone said that the order will be political and will be proactive rather than passive. Its priests will be trained to be involved in variety of political activities, and this will include conducting voter-registration drives, using the media to promote the antiabortion message, and lobbing decision makers to restrict abortion rights. They will also be taught to organize and lead demonstrations outside points where abortions and family-planning services are provided. The society will begin accepting priests and seminarians this summer. There are also plans to trained lay activist.

Source: Push Journal


“Morning After Pill’ and Abortion. According to a recently published Canadian research easy access to emergency contraception is likely to prevented hundreds of abortions. The research was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal just before levonorgestrel becoming available at pharmacies without a doctor's prescription. The study, conducted be a researcher from the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia, found that women used emergency contraceptive rationally and promptly. They were also far more likely to get it directly from a pharmacist than from a doctor. The researcher believes that quick and easy access to emergency contraception has the potential to reduce unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions. Still the drug will be kept behind the pharmacist's counter rather than on the shelf. This approach to emergency contraception is still not the case in many countries around the world, including those in CEE/CIS region.

Source: Push Journal

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Medical Abortion Study. In the February issue (15th, 2005) of Obstetrics & Gynecology Magazine a study on medical abortion was published. Researchers from Gynuity Health Projects and other colleague organizations conducted the study to support the growing body of literature that shows that the dose of mifepristone can be lowered and misoprostol can be taken by the patient at home. For more information about this study and work with medical abortion go to www.gynuity.org or e-mail Beverly Winikoff, M.D., at bwinikoff@gynuity.org or Caitlin Shannon, the study’s lead author, at pubinfo@gyuity.org.  


Microbicides. The Global Campaign for Microbicides is a broad-based, international effort to build support among policymakers, opinion leaders, and the general public for increased investment into microbicides and other user-controlled prevention methods.  Specifically, the goals of the Campaign are to: raise awareness and mobilize political support for increased funding for microbicide research, female condom and cervical barrier methods; create a supportive policy environment for the timely development, introduction and use of new prevention technologies; and ensure that as science proceeds, the public interest is protected and the rights and interests of trial participants, users, and communities are fully represented and respected. For more info go to www.global-campaign.org/GCEurope. There is also a e-newsletter that provides regular updates. Latest edition is available at http://www.global-campaign.org/GCNews.htm

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Euromapping. ASTRA secretariat would like to inform you, that for some time now information regarding European Union and SRHR is available on the website of  ASTRA www.astra.org.pl To access the information  go to the European Union Information section.

In the section you will find, among others, lists of the members of the European Parliament from the new member states (CEE countries). Gradually following items will be added: profiles of the individual representatives focused on their approach to reproductive rights; Committees of the European Parliament  which are of interest for ASTRA, descriptions of the selected  European Union Institutions and more. The section of the website will be constantly updated. It will provide quick access to information related to potential lobbying in the EU in the area of SRHR.

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