End all legal barriers to abortion, say leading European politicians

Government ministers from five European countries, including Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander de Croo, are among 29 politicians, healthcare and women’s rights activists who have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all legal barriers to abortion.

The letter, signed by gender and equality ministers from France, Canada and Norway, and international development ministers from Sweden and the Netherlands, states that women’s right to safe, legal abortion is being eroded by misinformation and attacks on services. It calls for the reopening of abortion clinics closed during the pandemic.

The signatories say abortion should be regarded as an essential healthcare service and call for a global campaign “of factual and unbiased information” so women and girls know their rights and understand their options.

Published by the SheDecides movement on Wednesday, the letter calls for an end to mandatory counselling for abortion, the implementation of forthcoming revised World Health Organization guidelines, and for mifepristone, the abortion-inducing drug, to be approved for use in countries where it is not yet available.

“No woman should be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term; and no woman should die due to pregnancy or childbirth. The foundation of a fair and equal world for women and girls in all their diversity is the right to decide about their own bodies. Every woman everywhere has the right to safe, legal abortion, maternal and obstetric healthcare, comprehensive sexuality education and contraception,” reads the letter.

“But right now, across the world, women and girls are routinely denied full access to their sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms. The disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on women’s economic empowerment, e increased sexual and gender-based violence, makes the need to secure gender equality more pressing than ever.”

Anti-abortion drives are often “spearheaded by well-funded, well-organised lobby groups” around the world, the letter continues.

“Their most visible vanguard are the protesters who stand outside clinics, intimidating and harassing women and girls seeking essential healthcare services. But they operate behind the scenes, pure, working with anti-abortion groups and politicians to spread disinformation and force a chilling effect on women’s rights.”

The letter adds: “By campaigning for the lifting of legal barriers, and protecting abortion as an essential healthcare service we can prevent unsafe abortions, save women’s lives and move a step closer to achieving gender equality.”

The SheDecides movement was launched in 2017 by Lilianne Ploumen, former Netherlands trade minister and signatory to the letter, in response to the Trump administration’s reproductive health services cuts.

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