Is Europe next? Abortion rights concerns rise after Supreme Court overturns Roe


LONDON — Opponents of abortion rights have long been stuck on the fringes of politics in much of Western Europe. The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has many members of the movement hoping that is about to change.

Getting abortion in the headlines and on the agenda was a big step forward, said Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, co-director of March for Life UK, an annual event in September in London.

“I feel like for a long time it’s been shut down in the UK – in any debate or discussion it’s been very busy,” she said. “The fact that this has become a topic of discussion is a huge step forward. Whatever anyone’s opinion on abortion is, it’s no use if we can’t talk about it.

Vaughan-Spruce said she had noticed more and more people contacting March for Life UK since Roe’s end – including supporters, donors and women unsure about going ahead with their pregnancies. March for Life UK said 5,000 people attended his event in London in 2019.

Overall, opponents of abortion rights are a small minority: polling firm YouGov found in June that 85% of British adults answered yes to the question of whether women should have the right to abortion. abortion, and only 5% said no.

“I think we’re taking a step towards making abortion unthinkable and illegal,” she said. “Since Roe v. Wade, we’ve had a lot more people come up to us saying, ‘What can I do? “”

The goals of groups like Vaughan-Spruce’s are modest compared to those of their American counterparts. Anti-abortion rights groups realize that banning abortion in the UK would, at least in the short term, be next to impossible.

Some lawmakers in the ruling Conservative Party – including devout Catholic Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Cabinet minister who is the former leader of the House of Commons – would back a move to lower the 24-week abortion limit, but they are a small minority.

Anti-abortion protesters hold a vigil outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in London in April 2018. Jim Dyson/Getty Images file

In neighboring Ireland, support for abortion rights is on the rise. In 2018, voters overturned the country’s abortion ban by a two-thirds majority – a landmark result in a heavily Catholic country that suggested a new trend towards more liberal reproductive health policies in Western Europe.

So opponents of abortion rights in countries with entrenched abortion laws are cautious about the prospects for change — but independent researchers have no doubts about the importance of the moment.

“What happened with the decision in the United States is that it emboldened all anti-choice actors around the world, including in Europe,” said Neil Datta, secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for sexual and reproductive rights, a network of European legislators. who support reproductive rights across the continent.

“An additional impact in Europe is that they are able to come out of the margins,” he said. “Being anti-abortion in Europe was a pretty special interest. It was in no way mainstream like it is in the United States.

“I anticipate they will try to replicate that in Europe,” Datta said. “They have already established the basis of an infrastructure to do this kind of legal advocacy in European courts. We have at least two very well-funded US groups that since 2013 have opened offices in Brussels, Geneva and Vienna and are seeking cases to bring to national courts and the European Court of Human Rights. And I think that will really embolden them.

Dr Dermot Kearney, an Irish cardiologist working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, northeast England, who is an opponent and campaigner for abortion rights, said he had stopped dozens abortions by providing women with hormonal treatments to reverse the effects of abortion pills.

However, the General Medical Council, which oversees doctors in the UK, told him last year to stop providing the treatments he was offering for free, after a complaint from MSI Reproductive Choices, a charity that provides services formerly known as Marie Stopes. International, according to the Christian Legal Center, which supported his case.

Kearney, former president of the Catholic Medical Association in the UK, challenged the ban in the High Court in London. But before the case was heard, the General Medical Council dropped his charges and he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Speaking from the hospital ward during a busy shift, Kearney echoed other opponents of abortion rights in portraying abortion as a largely marginal issue, but he said the impact of the Supreme Court decision was clear to him.

“It will not be an easy task for us to emulate what has happened in the United States – but it shows that with patience, time, resilience and determination, sticking to the truth of what we believe, that the message can get through to the general public and possibly have some political influence,” he said.

“We are far from that in this part of the world,” he added.

“The United States has always been split 50-50, and it’s an issue that’s always been talked about, but in the UK it’s something people don’t talk about,” he said. declared.

In fact, nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, according to an NBC News poll in May, which was conducted after the court’s draft opinion leaked to the media.

The Roe decision also had an impact on European countries where abortion is banned: Malta and the small mountainous country of Andorra, sandwiched between Spain and France. Poland prohibits abortions in almost all circumstances.

Malta hit the headlines just as the Supreme Court was preparing its decision on Roe in June, when an American, Andrea Prudente, suffered a miscarriage while vacationing there. She feared for her life and was at serious risk of infection after being denied an abortion due to the country’s strict and inflexible law.

Eventually, she was flown to Spain for treatment, just as hundreds of Maltese women are estimated to travel abroad for abortion services each year.

Jay Weeldreyer and his partner, Andrea Prudente, at Mater Dei Hospital in Malta in June. AFP via Getty Images

Activists calling for the liberalization of Malta’s abortion law agree that the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling is significant.

“This will have a negative effect not only in the United States but also elsewhere. I think anti-abortion groups will be bolstered by this, thinking that “if the United States did this, then so can we,” said Liza Caruana-Finkel, a doctoral student in abortion services research who co-founded Voice for Choice, a coalition of abortion rights groups in his native Malta.

“Obviously in Malta there is nothing to go back on, but there has been pressure to enshrine the ban in the constitution which would make it more difficult to change. didn’t happen,” she said.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Jerzy Kwaśniewski, the leader of the highly influential Polish right-wing Christian think tank Ordo Iuris, which was instrumental in calling for an end to legal abortion, wrote: “This what happens in the United States has a direct impact on the entire western world.

A criminal trial could lead to a three-year prison sentence for Polish abortion rights activist, Justyna Wydrzyńska, in connection with abortion pills that were provided to a woman in an abusive relationship in 2020. Amnesty International has said in a statement that the case “comes at a time when the threat to abortion rights was highlighted by the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As for what happens next, marches and so-called vigils outside clinics that offer abortions are planned as usual – with organizers hoping for more turnout, perhaps more media coverage and can -be more donations.

The money is already available. Datta’s most recent report on funding opposition to abortion rights describes how $707 million was given to various groups calling for changes in abortion laws, among others, from 2009 to 2018, including US$81.3 million.

Vaughan-Spruce said her group doesn’t receive US money, however, and she said it’s a “myth” that US donors fund UK groups opposing abortion rights.

For real legislative change, the abortion rights movement in Europe may need to follow the lead of America’s Christian conservatives in influencing and ultimately changing the makeup of the judicial systems and political parties of country.

“What is happening [in the U.S.] is paying dividends from a 30-year strategy by the American Christian right of putting the right people in the right places in the justice system — not just in the Supreme Court, but at all levels of the bench,” Datta said.

CORRECTION (August 7, 2022, 5:45 PM ET): A previous version of this article was incorrect when the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. It was June 24, not last month.

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