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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 1 (92) 2011

Table of contents:

burning issue

Long- awaited Decision of the European Court Of Human Rights. Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive medical care in life threatening cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled. According to the judgment, Ireland had violated its own Constitution by failing to provide abortion services to a pregnant woman who had cancer. Ireland has one of Europe’s most stringent anti-abortion laws, holding that abortion is illegal in every circumstance except where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life. Abortion was outlawed in Ireland by a 1861 rule which still sets life imprisonment as an option for women convicted of ``unlawfully procuring a miscarriage'. Ireland's constitution ``acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.' The ban was reinforced by public backing in a 1983 referendum. Advocates for abortion rights estimate that 5,000 Irish women have abortions every year in Britain. The case was lodged in 2005 with the European Court of Human Rights and was heard on December 9th 2009 at an oral hearing before the Grand Chamber of the Court. Three women who were forced to travel outside of Ireland for an abortion claimed the ban forced them to travel abroad for abortions, endangering their ``health and well-being', which is safeguarded by the Convention on Human Rights, to which Ireland is a signatory. The three women used pseudonyms – Applicants A, B, and C – in the case ABC v. Ireland. The first applicant had children in the care of the state as a result of personal problems and considered a further child would jeopardize the successful reunification of her existing family. The second applicant was not prepared to become a single parent. The third applicant was in remission from cancer when she became pregnant. Unaware that she was pregnant she underwent a series of check ups contraindicated during pregnancy. She claims she could not obtain clear advice about the risks to her health and life and to the foetus if she continued to term. The three applicants, who all became pregnant unintentionally, told the court that the impossibility of obtaining an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic. The court found that Ireland violated the right to private life of Applicant C, a woman who had a rare form of cancer and feared that it might relapse as a result of her pregnancy. The court also asserted that there were significant shortcomings in Irish medical practice to protect a woman’s life and that the state must legislate for abortion services when a woman’s life is in danger. In particular, they argued that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws stigmatized and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in the third applicant’s case, even her life. According to the unanimous decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Abortion, in certain circumstances, should be legalized in Ireland. This decision by European Court of Human Rights reaffirms the Supreme Court X Case judgment of 1992 and two preceding referenda. Critically, the unanimous view of the Court that women’s rights in Ireland have been violated sends a very strong message that the State can no longer ignore the imperative to legislate for abortion. The ruling will probably force the Irish government, for the first time, to enact legislation setting out how and in what circumstances women with life-threatening conditions can get abortions.

Link to Federation of Women and Family Planning statement: ASTRA Network

regional updates

Report on Realization of the Act on Family Planning, Protection of the Human Foetus and Conditions for Termination of Pregnancy.The Government issued the annual report on implementation of the legal act serving as a base of Polish anti-choice legislation. Poland practices one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in Europe, banning and criminalizing it except on medical grounds, risk to life, and where pregnancy results from criminal act. As a consequence of restrictive anti-abortion regulations lack of access to legal abortion, illegal abortion and so called abortion tourism are important social problems in Poland. Although illegal abortion is thriving and according to rough estimates by ASTRA member, Federation for Women and Family Planning, some 150,000 women are having backstreet abortions every year, the government seems satisfied with publishing official statistics and denying the existence of abortion underground. According to the newest governmental report, there were 538 legal abortions in Poland in 2009. This number covers one interruption of pregnancy resulting from criminal offence, 27 abortions were performed because of medical risk for health or life of a pregnant woman, and the remaining 510 abortions were recommended after ante-natal tests.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

Hungary contemplates major about-face with anti-choice changes to constitution. The recently elected government of Hungary has put forward a draft document for a new constitution that would guarantee the right to life from conception, and protect the natural family, the holy crown and the place of Christianity in Hungary’s 1000-year history. The new constitution would include clauses defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Should these constitutional changes be adopted, they would create a complete about-face for Hungary, which currently has quite liberal abortion law. An ad-hoc parliamentary committee in charge of drafting the constitution has presented the draft document for debate in the Hungarian National Assembly. If the document is approved by parliament, new changes to the constitution will only be possible if two subsequent parliamentary votes on identical changes with the backing of a two-thirds majority on each occasion will take place. The newly governing party, Fidesz, is usually described in the European media as “centre-right” and socially conservative. It rules in a coalition government with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP). This April, the Fidesz/KNDP coalition won a huge landslide victory with a two-thirds majority, with Fidesz winning 263 of 386 seats in the National Assembly. An anti-choice constitution would mean a massive shift in Hungarian law, and a nearly unprecedented change for any EU country. Under communist rule abortion was allowed without restriction and was paid for by the state since the 1950s. Hungary’s current abortion rate: approximately 44,000 (nearly 30 per cent of all pregnancies) is one of the highest in Europe. Hungary’s birth rate is similar to that of many European countries spiraling down into a demographic crisis, with a general fertility rate of 1.39 children born per woman and a median age for women of 42.6 years. Population growth rate is - 0.156 per cent.

More: index.hu

The European Court of Human Rights condemns Hungary for lack of regulations on home births.The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg handed down a judgment in which it holds that the Hungarian state has violated the “right to respect for private life” guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The claimant alleged that the Hungarian state had violated her right to the respect of her private life by threatening midwives with sanctions and thus effectively preventing her from choosing to give birth at home. In its decision announced on 14 December 2010, the Court, in a decision of 6 against 1, held that the failure of the Hungarian state to regulate the issue results in a violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court held that the right to respect for private life includes the right to choose the circumstances of birth. The Judges argued that the section of the Government Decree that imposes fines on midwives assisting at home births constitutes an interference in the exercise of the rights of the complainant and of similarly situated pregnant mothers. According to the Court’s opinion, the threat of sanctions – along with the absence of a specialized, comprehensive regulation in this area – are detrimental to the complainant’s ability to choose home birth. This in turn constitutes a violation of the legal security for the exercise of privacy rights, and in particular, violates the principle of legal certainty.

Source: Free Gereb!

National Action Plan for Women’s Health in Serbia.The adoption of national action plan for implementing a strategy on women’s health has been announced in Serbia. Presenting the plan, Minister of Health Tomica Milosavljevic stated that the reproductive health of women is critical for the biological potential of every country, stressing the importance of engaging all relevant factors in society to improve the situation in this respect. The Minister informed that infant mortality in Serbia has decreased over the last several years, as well as the mortality of pregnant women and women during delivery.


Spain's abortions drop in 2009 for 1st time in decade.Spain's health minister informed the number of abortions performed in the country decreased in 2009 for the first time in a decade. According to the minister, the drop from 115,812 abortions in 2008 to 111,482 in 2009 came as a new law making morning-after contraceptive pills available in pharmacies without prescription took effect last year. Earlier this year, Spain updated a 1985 law to allow abortions without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It also allows 16- and 17-year-olds to have abortions without their parents' permission.

Source:El Pais

Challenges in front of Hungarian Presidency.On 1 January 2011, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) will pass from Belgium to Hungary. The directive on maternity leave will be among issues the new Presidency will have to deal with: the Council is currently working on the Commission's original proposal aiming to extend the minimum length of maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks amended by the Parliament. The proposal forms part of the Commission's work-life balance package which aims to contribute to a better reconciliation of work, private and family life. Another challenge will be the proposed directive on the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The Commission proposal seeks to extend the protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation to areas outside the labour market (e.g. social protection, including social security and healthcare; social advantages; education; and access to goods and services, including housing).The receding Belgian Presidency has focused on two areas: financial services and housing, its intention being to achieve greater clarity in provisions relating to the legitimate age-based or disability-based distinctions which are made in financial services (e.g. insurance, life assurance, loans, mortgages), and to draft more clearly the texts governing housing, for instance those relating to scope and to the meaning of "improvement". However, in view of the complexity of the areas to which the proposal relates, there is no current prospect of achieving unanimity and the proposed directive will mean a real challenge for the upcoming Presidencies.

More:Hungarian Presidency

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council Meeting in Brussels. Ministers adopted two sets of conclusions on gender equality.The first, entitled "Support of the implementation of the European Commission's Strategy on equality between women and men 2010-2015" (16880/10), welcomes the strategy and underlines its links with the Europe 2020 strategy. It makes the economic case for equality, which is needed to boost growth and employment, and is a prerequisite for reaching the headline target of a 75% employment rate for women and men. By adopting the conclusions, ministers also invited the European Council to adapt and improve the European pact for gender equality. The new strategy replaces the Commission's "Roadmap for equality between women and men (2006-2010)", which was supported by the European Council of March 2006 in the form of a European pact for gender equality. The second set of conclusions concerns the fight against inequalities in salaries between women and men (16881/10). By adopting the text, ministers emphasized the need for a more detailed understanding of the gender pay gap, which still averages 18% in the EU. The conclusions invite the member states to adopt or pursue a comprehensive set of measures to tackle the full range of causes of the gender pay gap linked to labour market inequalities between women and men, coordinating the actions of all relevant key actors, particularly the social partners, at all levels.



ICPD Beyond 2014. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Follow up to the ICPD Beyond 2014, entitled, “Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields”. The resolution extends the ICPD Programme of Action and the Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action beyond 2014, when the Programme was technically to come to an end. It also calls on governments to recommit themselves to achieving the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action, agreed on by 179 countries in Cairo in 1994. The extension comes with no end date for the PoA.


WHO’s new data shows progress on curbing unsafe abortion. New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate a substantial drop in the number of women dying from unsafe abortion. The estimates confirm that global efforts to make contraception, safe abortion and post-abortion care (PAC) more accessible to women are working, but they also underscore that far too many preventable deaths and injuries of women from unsafe abortion still occur and that women in developing countries remain especially susceptible. In the current issue of Reproductive Health Matters, it has been estimated that the number of women who died from unsafe abortion decreased by about one-third — from 67,000 to 47,000 – between 2003 and 2008. The global number of unsafe abortions increased from 19.7 million to 21.6 million during the same period, primarily reflecting growth in the number of women of reproductive age (15-44) worldwide. Similarly, the global unsafe abortion rate (the number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age) remained relatively unchanged. The new estimates also reveal a continuing dramatic contrast between developed and developing countries in terms of access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe abortion. In 2008, nearly all the world’s unsafe abortions – 21.2 million out of 21.6 million – took place in poor countries. The unsafe abortion rate was highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where most countries have very restrictive abortion laws. In that region, the researchers estimated, 31 unsafe abortions occurred per 1,000 women of reproductive age, compared to only two in Europe and a negligible number in North America.

Link to the article by Iqbal Shah and Elisabeth Ǻhman in the current issue of Reproductive Health Matters (Volume 18, Issue 36, November 2010):Reproductive Health Matters

UN Commission to Track Results and Resources for Women's and Children's Health established. In the framework of the UN Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, the United Nations (UN) is establishing a high-level commission to propose a framework for global reporting, oversight and accountability on women's and children’s health. The Commission will track results and resource flows at global and country levels; identify a core set of indicators and measurement needs for women's and children's health; propose steps to improve health information and registration of vital events - births and deaths - in low-income countries; explore opportunities for innovation in information technology to improve access to reliable information on resources and outcomes. A final report is scheduled to be represented by May 2011, and the Commission will hold its first meeting on 26 January 2011.


upcoming events

Launch of ASTRA Youth Report. ASTRA Youth Astra Youth’s new publication “Report Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Adolescents in Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan Countries” will have its official launch in the European Parliament on 12 of January 2011, 12:00 to 14:30 pm.

More :ASTRA Youth

“Girls and Population: the forgotten drivers of development”. Global Conference of Parliamentarians ahead of 2011 G8/G20 Summit in Paris. On 16th and 17th May 2011 around 80 parliamentarians from around the world will convene in Paris to discuss the vital, and yet forgotten, role that girls and adolescent women play in population and development issues.More information will follow ahead of the event, but enquiries can be addressed to secretariat@iepfpd.org.


ASTRA Youth - Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in CEE and Balkan Countries. The Report addresses the access to sexual education, abortion, contraception, prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS and youth health care in the CEE and Balkan countries. The report is highlighting the problems experienced by adolescents in the region and raises awareness about the status of sexuality education and effects of its unsatisfactory provision. It is aimed at bringing attention of the EU policy makers and states to the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in our region.

More:ASTRA Youth

Guide to European Population Assistance Funding. The German Foundation for World Population (DSW) is pleased to announce the release of the new online Guide to European Population Assistance Funding. The Guide is an interactive online database of European funding programmes and development policies. Designed as a functional aid for resource mobilization, this tool is relevant to actors in both the North and the Global South without a clear view of the diversity of European funding opportunities for SRHR. It covers 31 European donors and 42 grant programmes.


Joanna Mishtal: Neoliberal reforms and privatization of reproductive health services in post-socialist Poland. The newest issue of Reproductive Health Matters (Volume 18, Issue 36, November 2010) brings interesting account on the influence of recent reforms on access of women to reproductive health services in northern Poland.

Available at:Reproductive Health Matters

„Domestic violence in the South Baltic Region: Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden. South Baltic – Violence Free Zone Project Report”. - new report on domestic violence against women in South Baltic Region. This publication is an attempt to present current legal and social situation regarding domestic violence in 4 countries: Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, which all participate in the project “South Baltic – Violence Free Zone”. The report presents current statistics of domestic violence cases, also it presents current legal situation in each country.

Report is available in English here:NEWW