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IFPA welcomes Council of Europe vote on Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

By April 15, 2008News

– Release date: 16 April 2008

Today, 16th April, Parliamentarians from 47 countries in Europe, including Ireland, gathered in Strasbourg to debate and vote upon a historic report aimed at de-criminalising abortion across the continent.

The vote was passed by a majority of 102 in favour, to 69 against with 14 abstentions.

Prior to the vote National Parliamentarians from the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe discussed the report proposed by Austrian Socialist MP, Hon. Gisela Wurm, MP entitled "Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Europe".

The report invites the 47 member states of the Council of Europe to:

  • decriminalise abortion, if they have not already done so;
  • guarantee women's effective exercise of their right to abortion;
  • allow women freedom of choice and offer the conditions of a free and enlightened choice;
  • ensure that women and men have access to contraception at a reasonable cost, of a suitable nature for them, and chosen by them;

The parliamentarians said that abortion should be avoided as far as possible and “in no circumstances be regarded as a family planning method” but that a total ban did not result in fewer abortions, leading instead to traumatic clandestine abortions and women travelling to other countries where it can be performed legally.

The impact of today’s vote.
The Report is non-binding and so cannot legally force Ireland to change it’s legislation however the adoption of the report provides strong evidence of the level of consensus reached across Europe on the issue of abortion.

The vote also requires a response of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, composed of 47 national Ministers of Health, to the Assembly’s request to decriminalize abortion and take action on improving access to contraception. Therefore Europe’s Ministers would have to discuss the possibility of a common European approach to decriminalizing abortion.

Today's historic vote means that for the first time ever an official text agreed by an European Institution explicitly calls for a de-criminalisation of abortion across Europe on the basis of women’s rights.

While consensus at the level of governments on abortion may be far away it should be remembered that it is exactly via this Council of Europe mechanism, as the one European Institution whose mandate is to safeguard Europe's democracy and respect for fundamental human rights, that the first steps towards the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation were raised back in the 1970s and 1980s and are now a basic condition of membership in the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Similarly, it is via conditions agreed within the Council of Europe that all European countries have now abolished the death penalty.

What is the Council of Europe?
The Parliamentary Assembly meets 4 times a year for a week long plenary session in Strasbourg. The Assembly discuss topical issues and ask European Government’s to take initatives and report back.
318 representatives are appointed by national parliaments from among members.

No. of representatives depend on population size. Ireland has 4 members and 4 alternates. The Assembly adopts 3 types of texts: recommendations (to the council of Ministers), resolutions and opinions.

Useful Links
full text of the Report