logo ASTRY

CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 10 (89) 2010

table of contents:

burning issue

Council of Europe debates women’s access to lawful medical care. On 7th October, a report drafted by Mrs McCafferty, UK socialist group, on "Women's access to lawful medical care: the problem of unregulated use of conscientious objection" will be debated in the Parliamentary Committee of the Council of Europe (PACE). This landmark report is the first document that calls on the 47 Council of Europe Member states to develop comprehensive and clear regulations that define and regulate conscientious objection with regard to health and medical services, including reproductive health services. The report asks the Parliamentary Assembly to “invite member states to develop comprehensive and clear regulations that define and regulate conscientious objection with regard to health and medical services, including reproductive health services, as well as to provide oversight and monitoring, including an effective complaint mechanism, of the practice of conscientious objection.” It also recommends “that the Committee of Ministers instruct the competent Steering Committees and/or other competent Council of Europe bodies to assist member states in the development of such regulations and the setting up of such oversight and monitoring mechanisms.” The Rapporteur mentions that, in Poland, Croatia and Hungary, laws require physicians to inform patients of any conscientious objection to a procedure and refer such patients to other doctors, but they do not have an oversight mechanism to ensure that this happens, leaving many patients without a referral. McCafferty further criticizes the ability of public institutions to conscientiously object to healthcare services which impedes women’s ability to exercise their right to legal sexual and reproductive health services, and oversight mechanisms are crucial in ensuring that this practice does not occur. “For example, in Slovakia and Poland, conscientious objection is often abused by the top management of hospitals, who frequently have an unwritten policy banning some interventions (usually abortions or sterilizations) throughout their hospital, regardless of the opinion of the healthcare staff. In Poland, many institutions do not have a formal policy of conscientious objection and, in many instances, individual providers do not formally invoke their right or express it in terms of conscientious objection. In the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava, for instance, one of the public hospitals does not perform abortions. In the large regional capital of Trnava, no hospitals perform abortions” – says the report.

The report can be accessed at: Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe

regional updates

Regional Update - SRHR services in ASTRA member states.The countries of the Central and Eastern Europe share common characteristics that led to inadequate policies in the area of SRHR. Political transformation resulted in strengthening conservative trends and challenging the gains of the past. The general feature of SRHR policy in the region is criticism towards liberal SRHR legislation and growing influence of religious powers. These combined with the rise of anti-choice movements provide to generalization of anti-choice strategies region-wide. Further, lack of access to SRHR services is the outcome of poor condition of national health care systems. Since the 1990s when Romania’s and Albania’s restrictive abortion legislation have been liberalized, in many countries of the region, abortion and other SRHR services have increasingly become hot political issues, influenced by the growing political role of religious institutions. Similarly, access to contraception and sexuality education has also become politicized, controversial and ignored by policy-makers. Although in theory abortion is available on request during the first trimester in CEE countries (except Poland), there are various restrictions in law and in practice, which make abortion services hardly accessible. For example, in Georgia abortion is inaccessible in clinics belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. In Croatia abortion can be performed only in a hospital but it is often related with stigma and medical professionals tend to abuse conscientious clause and deny women access to abortion. Therefore many women decide to undergo the illegal procedure in a private consulting rooms. Although the procedure is illegal, it is safe and more comfortable because private clinics do not register their clients. On a more positive note, Croatia has just registered emergency contraception pill. This step caused protests from the side of Catholic Church that tends to interfere with laws regarding intimate citizenship. Finally, the recent change in Croatian law regulating assisted reproduction led to development of IVF tourism. According to the new law only ova and sperm can be frozen, and as a result, fertilization attempts undertaken in Croatia are less successful and couples tend to travel to Czech Republic or Slovenia where using frozen embryos makes the procedure more efficient. Access to abortion is easy in Belarus women often undergo numerous procedure simply because they lack information and resources to pay for contraception. The contraception prevalence is really low. According to official data, the number of abortions in the Republic of Belarus decreased practically in 2.3 times (89 000 cases in 2002, in 2007 – 38 000 cases).However, induced abortion is still widely used as a primary method of birth control. According to data of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Belarus, hormonal contraception is used only by 17.4 per cent of women. The numbers are equally striking for Russia, where in 2008 there were 1.7 million births in Russia and 1.2 million abortions. Lithuania struggles with problems stemming from the concept of the family that was introduced in 2008. The concept of the family understood as a married couple influences strongly the whole spectrum of regulations and approaches to SRH. There are repeated efforts on behalf of conservative members of parliament to restrict access to abortion but so far they have only managed to make abortion more expensive. Important problem is lack of comprehensive, systematic and obligatory sexuality education in the school curricula. Poland has the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the region. Polish physicians can refuse to perform abortion on the grounds of conscientious objection even to women who are entitled to abortion according to the law. Conscientious objections restricting access to SRHR services is a problem in Slovakia as well: multiple clinics refuse to provide abortion to women entitled to received according to the law. Medical abortion remains unregistered in most of the countries in the region including Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia. .

Source: ASTRA Secretariat

The Polish Government’s Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment shows incompetence and homophobia.In an interview in the Catholic weekly "Gosc Niedzielny", The Polish Minister for Equality, Elzbieta Radziszewska declared that lesbian could not take a Catholic school to court if the school did not want to employ them. "The new law clarifies these situations. Catholic or denominational schools can follow their own values and principles" said the Minister. While taking part in a television programme shortly after, she further reaffirmed her opinion that catholic schools would be right to discriminate against teachers on grounds of their sexual orientation. Mrs. Radziszewska outed her opponent in the debate as a gay person. The fact that the minister criticized her opponent ad hominem and revealed his sexual orientation on air, fails to demonstrate the professional restraint her position requires. Plenipotentiary’s activities caused growing row protests, demonstrations, letters to European Commission, MEPS, among human rights activists and intellectuals, civil society who urge the Prime Minister to remove the unprofessional Minister from the office and replace her with a more competent candidate.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

To read the letter to MEPs regarding the Plenipotentiary go to: ASTRA

To read appeal for dismissal addressed to the Polish Prime minister go to: ASTRA

Prague considers legalizing prostitution.The Prague City Council will consider a bill to legalize prostitution. The advocates of regulating prostitution and embedding it in the legal system expect that it will help control the market of sexual services. This is not the first time government officials have considered similar steps. The City Hall and the Interior Ministry again sought to legalize abortion in 2001 and 2003 before, but among the deal-breakers was the requirement that the Czech Republic withdraw its signature from the 1950 UN Convention for the Suppression in the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Such a move requires parliamentary approval, which was not forthcoming at the time. The City Council will formally request that Parliament take such a step now. An Interior Ministry report from earlier this year found the Czech Republic was a destination country for sex workers from Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia and a source country for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Policies on prostitution differ throughout Europe. In the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, it has been decriminalized and is regulated for prostitutes who register with authorities. Swedish law makes procuring a prostitute illegal but does not prosecute prostitutes themselves. Male sex workers are almost completely ignored in policies related to prostitution all over the world.

Source:The Prague Post

Reproductive tourism thrives in Spain.Relaxed laws on embryo donation in Spain draw increasing number of foreigners from European countries. Because of some of Europe's most liberal assisted reproduction laws, Spain has become one of the continent's most popular destinations for women trying to overcome infertility problems. Though no official statistics exist, experts estimate that between 6,000 and 8,000 foreign women undergo assisted reproduction treatments in Spain each year, often using donated embryos - a practice that is banned in many other European countries. According to data from the Spanish Fertility Society, in 2005 there were 42,000 in vitro fertilisation procedures carried out in Spain, of which between 15 percent and 20 percent were performed on foreigners. The SEF's figures are gleaned from data offered voluntarily by fertility clinics nationwide. The total number could therefore be considerably higher, particularly as Spain has gained a reputation as a destination for so-called reproductive tourism in recent years. People undergo fertility treatments in Spain in order to escape restrictive national laws.In France, for example, fertility treatments are not available to single women or homosexuals, while in the United Kingdom donations of embryos are not anonymous, resulting in very few people being prepared to donate. In Italy, meanwhile, advertising fertility treatments involving donated embryos - even if the procedure is carried out in another country - can carry a prison term of two years and a fine of up to EUR 600,000.



The 15th session of the Human Rights Council: 13 September – 1 October 2010, Geneva. In cooperation with organizations: Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD), and CREA, Federation for Women and Family Planning participated in the 15th session of UN Human Rights Council. During the session the delegations of the Member States of the United Nations worked on the drafts of the following resolutions (inter alia): resolution on human rights of migrants, resolution on the elimination of discrimination against women, resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights, resolution on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, resolution on forensic genetics and human rights. The most important resolutions in terms of activity and profile of the Federation are: resolution on the elimination of discrimination against women and resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights. The procedure for their adoption and process of creation a satisfactory compromise by UN Member States is complicated and long. It seems that the best prepared to discuss on the texts of those resolutions are delegations from countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, or the United States. Their delegates most took the floor. During the discussion on the text of resolution on the elimination of discrimination against women all participating states agreed that, despite the continuous actions that are taken to eliminate it, this phenomenon still exists. During negotiations on resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights the most controversy aroused provisions designed to create mechanisms to prevent maternal mortality of women. Some states expressed concerns that it can open the way of the use of abortion - which is illegal in their national law. ACPD team members from Kenya and Guyana took the floor and gave their speeches at the United Nations during a panel session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and Cynthia Rotshild, an independent gender expert, participated - as a panelist - in the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective in the work of a Human Rights Council.

To find more information on the 15th session of HRC go to:OHCHR

European Commission Adopts Strategy On Gender Equality 2010-2015.The Commission adopted a five-year strategy for promoting equality between women and men in Europe. The strategy aims in particular to make better use of women's potential, thereby contributing to the EU's overall economic and social goals.It translates the principles set out in the European Commission's Women's Charter into specific measures, ranging from getting more women into company boardrooms to tackling gender-based violence. Meanwhile, a new Eurobarometer survey shows 87% of Europeans support EU action to tackle domestic violence. One out of four knows someone who has been a victim of such violence. The gender equality strategy spells out a series of actions based around five priorities: the economy and labour market; equal pay; equality in senior positions; tackling gender violence; and promoting equality beyond the EU.

More:European Commission.

European Parliament debates the recognition of same-sex union in the EU. Members of the European Parliament met the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship to discuss same-sex couples’ fundamental rights throughout the European Union. Currently, same-sex couples in a marriage (Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) or civil partnership (Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Great Britain) often lose custody, fiscal and consular rights when moving from one EU Member State to another—despite EU law guaranteeing freedom of movement. MEPs expressed dismay at the patchy application of a 2004 Directive on Freedom of Movement for citizens in same sex unions, and called on Commissioner Viviane Reding to ensure all married or in-civil partnership couples could exercise their fundamental rights. The Commissioner affirmed she was currently working on the issue through bilateral meetings, and bringing national governments to apply EU law. Source: LGBT-EP

Maternal Deaths Worldwide Drop By Third. The number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased by 34 per cent from an estimated 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008, according to a new report, "Trends in Maternal Mortality", released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank. The progress is notable, but the annual rate of decline is less than half of what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015. This will require an annual decline of 5.5 per cent. The 34 per cent decline since 1990 translates into an average annual decline of just 2.3 per cent. The report, together with a detailed description of the methodology and the underlying data used to develop the estimates, are available at: WHO.

Summit on the Millennium Development Goals 20-22 September 2010. The UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals concluded with the adoption of a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by their 2015 target date and the announcement of major new commitments for women's and children's health and other initiatives against poverty, hunger and disease. At the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off a major concerted worldwide effort to accelerate progress on women's and children's health. With pledges of more than $40 billion over the next five years, the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health has the potential of saving the lives of more than 16 million women and children. "We know what works to save women’s and children’s lives, and we know that women and children are critical to all of the MDGs," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "The 21st century must and will be different for every woman and every child." Federation for Women and Family Planning in cooperation with Amnesty International urged Polish Government to change its position on access to legal abortion services. Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning.

publications and resources

European Commission publishes an overview of their contribution to the MDGs. The European Commission released a publication which summarises how EU programmes have contributed to the progress of the MDGs thus far. In regards to MDG 5, the Commission acknowledges that contribution to improving maternal health, including SRH is reached via support to help strengthen health policies and family planning services on a national level. This is in line with the Commission’s development strategy of promoting ownership and increased responsibility of the national governments, achieved by delivering aid primarily through budget support as well as supporting NGOs and UN agencies. Statistically the Commission has recognised that since 2004 their support has accounted for more than 10 million reproductive health consultations and more than 4 million births attended by skilled health workers.

For access to the complete publication, please see the following link:European Commission

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting - Data & Trends - 2010 Update. There is growing recognition that harmful traditional beliefs and practices underscore violence and discrimination against girls. Traditionally condoned forms of discrimination include: son preference as tradition; early and forced marriage; and female genital mutilation (FGM). The newest report on FGM is available here:PRB

What Works for Women and Girls.A comprehensive review of data from HIV/AIDS interventions for women and girls in nearly 100 countries has revealed several overarching themes. The publication highlights successful interventions for a range of women and girls living with or at risk of HIV: adolescents, adult women, sex workers, injection drug users, orphans, women who do not know their serostatus, women who want to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their infants, HIV-positive women who have an unmet need for contraception, women living with HIV who are co-infected with malaria, tuberculosis, or Hepatitis C, and women who provide the bulk of care and support to their families.

Direct Link to Full Publication:: What works for women

Human Rights Defenders.The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which supports, monitors and protects human rights defenders throughout the year, is published its 2010 Annual Report. The report focuses on the year-round fight for human rights throughout the world. This Annual Report shows that even in the most accomplished democracies - or those which consider themselves as such - vigilance must remain the order of the day, and shows that the defence of fundamental rights can be questioned anytime, for purposes of efficiency of questionable policies, or of a greater control of social bodies. It shows how defenders, everywhere, play an important role as a bulwark against arbitrariness and abuses, and that they remain, more than ever, a cornerstone of the rule of law.

Direct Link to Full Publication:: FIDH

A Missing Link? An Exploratory Study of the Connections Between Non-Consensual Sex and Teenage Pregnancy - 2010 Report.While international research findings demonstrate connections between sexual abuse, coercion and intimate partner violence and teenage conception rates, whether or not teenage pregnancies are a result of non-consensual sex has yet to be specifically addressed in the substantial UK evidence base on risk factors, conducive contexts, interventions and outcomes. This report presents findings from the first contemporary UK study to focus on association of health, education and crime.

Direct Link to Full Publication:: CWASU