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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 04 (95) 2011

Table of contents:

burning issue

Religious Opposition to SRHR is Rising in the EU. Although the European Union is supposed to be a secular project, as enshrined in the treaty, the religious opposition to SRHR is on the rise and, as Dutch MEP, Sophie in’t Veld, President of the European Parliamentary Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS and Development in the European Parliament (EPWG), wrote in her recent article for The Guardian Online: 'increasingly religion is making its presence felt in the corridors of the European Union’. Further, the article illustrates the sheer political power religious institutions yield at the EU level, above and beyond all the Catholic Church. ‘The Conference of Catholic Bishops’ is one of the most powerful lobby groups in Brussels’ and the EU has special diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The treaty of Lisbon includes article 17 on the dialogue of the EU institutions with churches and non-confessional organisations. This forms the basis for an annual summit of religious leaders with the leaders of the EU institutions. Secular organisations are largely ignored. The growing opposition is having adverse effects on women’s rights, gay rights and sexual reproductive health and rights and even access to certain aspects of healthcare such as contraception, abortion, condoms and IVF. Sophie int’ Veld states this is an abuse of freedoms and concludes the article by bolding stating, ‘Europe doesn’t do God,’ and suggests that 'freedom of religion' should be replaced by 'freedom of beliefs of conscience', as this is ‘an individual right than can be claimed by 500 million Europeans in all of their diversity.’ The regional news of this current issue: anti-choice community based initiatives in Poland and Bulgaria as well as legal actions in Russia and Hungary prove that opposition is on the rise both inside and outside the EU.

For Sophie in’t Veld’s article go to: Guardian

regional updates

Poland. Fundamentalists unite for complete ban on abortion.Attempts to make further restrictions regarding the law on abortion has been taken recently by the fundamentalist forces in Poland. A draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion was submitted to Polish Parliament, together with 450 thousand signatures of support collected mainly before or after Sunday masses. Polish abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe and even far more restrictive in practice than on paper. Although it allows for a pregnancy to be terminated under three conditions - including for therapeutic reasons and when it results from a criminal act - legal abortion is almost unavailable for women. Nevertheless, the fundamentalists and the Catholic Church still find the yearly number of 500 pregnancy terminations (in a nation of 10 mln women in reproductive age) unacceptable and are calling for further restrictions. Just few years ago the fundamentalist right wing politicians tried to introduce a provision protecting “life from the moment of conception” into the Constitution of Poland which failed narrowly.

More on abortion law in Poland available at: Federation for Women and Family Planning

Hungary. The new constitution grants protection of foetus. The new Hungarian constitution adopted by the Parliament has been signed by the president Pal Schmitt, and will come to the force on the 1st of January 2012. The right wing FIDESZ and Christian Democratic deputies voted in favour of passing the new law in the 262-to-44 vote, while radical nationalist Jobbik voted against. The decision by the main opposition Socialists and liberal parties to boycott the vote reflected the controversy not just over the contents of the Constitution, but also the way it was drafted and the political polarization that has continued ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 and its satellites moved toward democracy. For FIDESZ on the other hand, the Constitution is to represent a break with Hungary’s communist past. The new constitution appears to be a eulogy to Hungary's Christian roots and past greatness. In the constitution's preamble, the title "The Basic Law of Hungary" is followed by the subtitle "God Bless Hungarians," the first sentence of the Hungarian anthem and a reference to the many Hungarians who became citizens of neighbouring countries following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. "Motivated by the ideal of a unified Hungarian nation, Hungary shall bear a sense of responsibility for the destiny of Hungarians living outside her borders, shall promote their survival and development, and will continue to support their efforts to preserve their Hungarian culture, and foster their cooperation with each other and with Hungary," reads Article D of the constitution. Although one of the most disputed provisions curbs the powers of the constitutional court on budget and tax matters and allows the president to dissolve Parliament if a budget is not approved, the new provisions regarding protection of foetus from the moment of conception and defining family as a union between man and woman are equally alarming. The new constitution establishes the base for restricting abortion as it states: "Human dignity is inviolable. Everyone has the right to life and human dignity. The life of a foetus will be protected from conception." Article M of the constitution reads that "Hungary protects the institution of marriage between man and woman, a matrimonial relationship voluntarily established, as well as the family as the basis for the survival of the nation".

Source: ASTRA Network

Bulgaria. Anti-abortion campaign started.A total of 34 000 abortions were done in Bulgaria in 2010, out of which 20 000 were conducted on demand. It is estimated that around 12 000 pregnancies were terminated illegally in the country during the same period. Together, the abortion rate reached 60-70 percent of the birth rate. According to the organizers of the anti-abortion campaign that has been just launched in Bulgaria, the phenomenon is alarming in the context of the constant population decline, which is currently around 0,7 percent. The anti-choice campaigners claim that numerous abortion are one of the main reasons of infertility and are responsible for long IVF waiting list. The campaign is supposed to promote healthy sexual habits, especially among teenagers, and prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

Source: Polish Press Agency

Russian Duma Drafts Bill to Cut Abortions.In his recent speech Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to raise the nation’s birthrate by up to 30% in just three years. Due to a rapidly falling fertility, Russia has experienced a dramatic population decline, going from 148.5 million people in 1995 to 143 million today despite efforts by various governments to boost the birth rate. Unofficial estimates indicate that there are nearly 4 million abortions per year in Russia yet only 1.7 million live births. Lawmakers in the lower house of the Russian parliament are working on legislation that they hope will cut the more than 1 million officially counted abortions taking place annually in Russia. According to the draft, abortion would no longer be qualified as a medical service under the nation’s government-run health system, thus allowing physicians to opt out of doing them. The measure would also increase the monthly payments to pregnant women from the current 2,000 rubles ($70) a month until birth. The legislation could also make it illegal to do abortions in the second half of pregnancy.

Source:European Pro Choice Network

Homophobic speech by members of Moldova’s parliament and intimidation of LGBT human rights defenders. In Moldova a proposal for anti-discrimination legislation which includes protection on the grounds of sexual orientation has been withdrawn following opposition in recent weeks by members of parliament. This opposition has all too often been expressed in language marked by homophobia and intolerance, for example, characterising homosexuals as a danger to society, as trying to impose their “abnormal” practices on others, and as a danger to the survival of the family unit. During this time two human rights defenders working for the rights of LGBT people have experienced intimidation in public, with violent behavior and attacks on property. The members of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called upon all Moldovan members of parliament to accept, in accordance with Recommendation No. R(97) 20 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on “hate speech”, that they have a particular responsibility to refrain from statements which are likely to produce the effect of legitimising, spreading or promoting discrimination or hatred based on intolerance, and to recognize particularly that such speech can endanger the safety and well-being of others.

Written Declaration No 474 PA of COE is available here:CoE

Europe's birth rates on the rise again.According to the 3rd Demography Report published by the Eurostat, Europe's birth rates are rising again, with more babies being born in every country. The 'old continent' still faces a rapidly ageing population, due to rising life expectancies among its half a billion residents. New findings confirm that the sharp decline in fertility rates registered the continent during the 1980s and 1990s has been reversed. Bulgaria, one of the EU's poorest nations, recorded a 30 per cent increase in fertility rates, as did the Czech Republic, one of the wealthiest former communist countries. Irealand is the only EU member state with a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, considered optimal for population stability. France's and Britain's fertility rates are 2 and 1.96 respectively, while those elsewhere in Europe average 1.60.Germany continues to record a fertility rate of 1.36. Intriguingly, the rise in birth rates is not due to the survival of the traditional, basic family unit. Throughout the EU, 40 per cent of all marriages end in divorce, and a third of all children are born out of wedlock; in the case of Belgium or Estonia - a small, Northern European state - more than half of all new births are to unmarried women. And the women of Ireland are among the continent's oldest first-time mothers. The EU report indicates that the dominant factor in boosting fertility rates is neither government campaigns nor one-off financial handouts, but rather provision of good child care. Britain's decision to extend paternity leave to working men may have helped increase the country's birth rate, while France's much-admired system of state-funded infant care achieved a similar result. But Germany's offer of tax inducements to its young parents has apparently made no difference.

Source:European Commission

Sexuality Education Petition submitted to the European Parliament. ASTRA Network and the ASTRA Youth Network have submitted a Petition to the European Parliament in April 2011. The Petition calls for introducing obligatory Sexuality Education to the school cirriculum in the EU Member States. The Petition was signed by seven NGOs from four ASTRA and ASTRA Youth countries: Bulgaria (Bulgarian Family Planning and Sexual Health Association and Gender Education Research and Technologies Foundation), Romania (The Association for Gender Equality and Freedom and Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives),Lithuania (Family Planning and Sexual Health Association), and Poland (Federation for Women and Family Planning and "Ponton” Group of Sex Educators).

The Petition can be found here:ASTRA Network


“Fertility, reproductive health and development” - the 44th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) of the United Nations. The CPD’s mandate is to further the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, a groundbreaking 1994 agreement that confirmed the central place of women’s rights and access to reproductive health in population and development policy.Remarks by UN leaders made it clear that the stakes in these discussions are very high. In his report to this year’s CPD, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that current funding levels for family planning, reproductive health services, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS are so low that they jeopardize the fulfillment of both the ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs noted the cost-effectiveness of investments in family planning: “For every dollar spent on modern contraceptives, $1.30 is saved in maternal and newborn care.” Babatunde Osotimehin, the new UNFPA Executive Director, stated it clearly: “Investing in the health and rights of women and young people is not an expenditure, it is an investment in our future.” After a long week of intense negotiations lasting late into the night, the Commission’s final resolution reaffirmed the ICPD Programme of Action; it also welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which aims to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality. Support for implementation of the Global Strategy was also reiterated by a number of governments in their formal statements to the CPD. Unfortunately the connection between women’s reproductive health and rights and broader development and population issues is not an obvious one for a small but vocal minority of governments led by the Vatican. They refuse to recognize that interconnectedness and opposed rights- affirming language in negotiations on the CPD Resolution for this year. These opposition governments at the CPD raised repeated roadblocks in negotiations on language around women’s rights — and particularly references to gender, abortion, sexuality, reproductive rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people— challenging international commitments that date as far back as the ICPD in 1994. In the end, the Commission safeguarded the rights of women and young people to access education and lifesaving services in its final Resolution, but this result did not come without a struggle. This year’s experience shows the urgent need for continued advocacy to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights, both for their own sake and because they are crucial for sustainable development.

Final resolution is available here: :UN.

EU News: EU unable to reach consensus on a joint statement at the CPD in New York.The topic of the forty-fourth session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) was “Fertility, reproductive health and development”. This years session is said to have stirred up some controversy with a resolute opposition from conservative delegations and discussion about long established language on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The EU Member States were unable to reach a joint decision after Malta and Poland broke silent procedure on their objections to the CPD draft resolution. There were no block positions from Latin America or Africa, while the group of 22 Arab states demonstrated a general opposition to any discourse on reproductive health. DSW issued both an oral statement at the plenary calling for a particular focus on family planning and SRHR for youth and two written statements in conjunction with partners stressing the need to fully implement the ICPD Programme of Action.

For the agenda items, pertaining statements and the CPD final re! solution, please see:UN.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women. After more than two years of negotiations, the Ministers’ Deputies of the Council of Europe adopted the text of the Convention. This treaty establishes a framework for governments to ensure robust action to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women. It will also facilitate the sharing of good practices and provide a solid basis for improvements in securing women’s equality before the law in Europe. It contains up-to-date models for legislation on the definitions of rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, risk assessment, protection measures and services for women and girls who are survivors of violence.The new convention is a comprehensive and far-reaching legal instrument for those working towards eradicating violence against women and domestic violence. The new Treaty will be opened for signature at the Ministerial Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul on 11 May. The next step is to urge CoE member states to ratify the Convention. Please help urging governments to ratify the new treaty on May 11!


EU News: European Parliament resolution on violence against women includes language on sexual and reproductive health and rights.MEP Eva Britt-Svensson’s report ‘Priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework to fight violence against women’ has been adopted at the European Parliament’s plenary sessiom in Strasbourg. The resolution includes the violation of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights within the broader interpretation and understanding of gender based violence and recognises that violence against women can damage the general health of women and girls including their reproductive and sexual health. This marks a significant advancement for SRHR advocacy, as the EU has committed this year to the fight against gender based violence.

For the full resolution, please see:European Parliament.


The RESURJ’s 10 Point Action Agenda (RESURJ by 2015). RESURJ is an international alliance of feminist activists seeking full implementation of international commitments to secure all women’s and young people’s sexual and reproductive rights and health by 2015. On April 11, 2011, the Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ) Alliance , launched its 10 Point Action Agenda (RESURJ by 2015) at the 44th Session of the Commission on Population and Development.

For more information, visit:RESURJ

The Right to Contraceptive Information and Services for Women and Adolescents. Is access to contraceptives a human right? If so, what are the consequences for governments and the way they provide health to their people? How does a human-rights approach affect the way international development agencies work with family planning? And does it ensure that people in need of contraceptives are involved and heard? UNFPA and the Center for Reproductive Rights bring the first comprehensive effort to link the right to contraceptives to the human rights framework. The report is an important tool that can help us use human rights standards, and national constitutions and laws, to remove the obstacles adolescents and women face in accessing contraceptives.


Female Condoms and U.S. Foreign Assistance: An Unfinished Imperative for Women’s Health. CHANGE’s new publication offers fresh insight into why women still do not have widespread access to female condom that is a vital HIV/STI and pregnancy prevention tool and what can be done to increase global access.

More:Prevention Now

Planning and Implementing an Essential Package of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services Guidance for Integrating Family Planning and STI/RTI with other Reproductive Health and Primary Health Services. A detailed and practical guide which provides a framework for delivering an essential SRH package released by the Population Council and UNFPA.


upcoming events

64th World Health Assembly. In January 2010 the Executive Board of the WHO decided that the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly should be held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, opening on Monday, 16 May 2011, and that it should close no later than Wednesday, 25 May 2011. The Board further decided that the fourteenth meeting of the Programme, Budget and Administration Committee of the Executive Board should be held on Thursday and Friday, 12 and 13 May 2011, at WHO headquarters, Geneva.


World Congress on Sexual Health. The 20th World Congress for Sexual Health will feature a rich scientific programme, exploring the behavioural, clinical, psychological, social and cultural aspects of sexual health.

For further information and to register, go to :WCSH

call for nominations

Call For Nominations: Association For Women In Slavic Studies (AWSS): Mary Zirin Prize.The Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) invites nominations for the 2011 Mary Zirin Prize. The Prize aims to recognize the achievements of independent scholars and to encourage their continued scholarship and service in the fields of Slavic or Central and Eastern European Women's Studies. Deadline for nominations: August 1, 2011.

More: Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)