This Sunday, 22 January, marks 50 years since the landmark judgment in the US that legalised abortion in the US, Roe v Wade. With Donald Trump’s election, his appointments of far-right, misogynist judges and the death of left-wing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, the ground was laid for a right-wing Supreme Court.
When Roe v Wade was overturned in June 2022, women’s worst fears were confirmed. The right and the extreme-right threaten the right to abortion globally and developments on the other side of the Atlantic have only strengthened anti-choice movements in Europe.
5 ways the far-right are destroying reproductive rights in the EU
1. Italy: Legal rights of embryos
Although the law guarantees access to abortion, the presence of so-called “conscientious objectors” in Italian hospitals prevents access in many cases. The situation has worsened with the election of Italy’s far-right prime Minister, Georgia Meloni. Since last September, there have been multiple attempts, both from inside her party (Fratelli d’Italia) and from her coalition partner (Forza Italia) to pass laws that would give embryos legal rights, undermining women’s right to choose. Meanwhile, anti-abortion organisations are increasingly present in hospitals and family-planning clinics.
2. Spain: Unnecessary ultrasounds
In Spain, the conservative People’s party and the far-right Vox are trying to introduce rules in the Castilla y Leon region to discourage abortions. New requirements would ask pregnant people if they want to listen to what is commonly referred to, even if medically inaccurate, as the ”foetal heartbeat” or undergo an ultrasound. There is no medical reason that an ultrasound is necessary before having an abortion. This week, the central government in Madrid took legal steps to challenge the restrictions in the country’s top court.
3. Hungary: Male permission to obtain an abortion
In September 2022, Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, introduced a decree obliging people seeking an abortion to “listen to the foetal heartbeat” and to obtain permission of a man (either a partner or husband) before they can access the procedure. Orbán’s government has pushed “traditional family values” and introduced a series of measures under the guise of boosting the country’s falling birthrate, in effect restricting women’s rights and freedoms. This was the first attempt to amend Hungary’s relatively liberal abortion laws.
4. Poland: Pregnancy register
Since 2020, Poland has a de facto abortion ban in place. Having an abortion is not a criminal offence, but activists who help people to access abortions face criminal charges. The same month that Roe v Wade was overturned, Poland’s far-right PiS government introduced a new provision that requires doctors to record each pregnancy in the country. Doctors must record information about pregnancies, including any past or current illnesses, medical visits, treatments and blood type. This “pregnancy register” puts pregnant people under unprecedented government surveillance.
5. Croatia: “Conscientious objection”
While abortions have been legal in Croatia since 1978, Croatia records one of the lowest rates of abortions in the EU due to strong anti-abortion lobbies and so-called “conscientious objection” in the medical profession. In May, a Croatian woman was denied an abortion four times, despite the foetus’ serious health issues. After widespread protests, she was eventually granted an abortion. As efforts to reform Croatia’s antiquated abortion law continue, activists fear anti-abortion regulations could soon come to Croatia also.
The far-right, anti-abortion movement in Europe is growing and momentum is building. Their language and tactics are similar to far-right politicians and ultra-conservative religious groups in the US.
But they can be stopped.
The Left stands up to sexist and misogynistic forces and will continue to fight for all necessary legal tools to guarantee sexual and reproductive rights.
Access to safe, free and legal abortion is a right.