European & International News

Unsafe abortion remains a problem in the European Union

[Brussels, 26 April 2012] A debate on unsafe abortion in Europe organised in the European Parliament this week raised political awareness on the issue and gave the opportunity to MEPs to issue a written question to the European Commission on its policies related to unsafe abortion in the EU.

The debate was organised by MEP Sophie In’t Veld, Chair of the EP Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/Aids and Development who had invited decision-makers, NGOs and health professionals to discuss the issue.

Facts about unsafe abortion

A study published in the medical journal “The Lancet” reveals that 49% of abortions worldwide are unsafe. The same study shows a declining trend in the total number of abortions globally since 1995, but at the same time there is a slight increase in the number of abortions performed in an unsafe manner.

By unsafe abortion the study refers to the WHO definition “Termination of an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standards or both”. Almost 130 women die every day as a direct consequence of unsafe abortion.

The interesting fact relevant to all countries aiming to decrease the number of abortions is that more abortions take place in countries where abortion is illegal in comparance to the number of abortions taking place in countries where it is legal. This fact revealed in the worldwide study published in The Lancet comes as a supporting argument against the current so-called “pro-life” movements that are growing in Europe and threatening women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Today abortion is illegal in four countries in the European Union: Malta, Poland, Cyprus and Ireland (in some of these countries with the exception of certain restrictions such as the pregnancy is a result of rape or deformities in the fetus). Additionally, in several other EU countries increased attacks on access to safe and legal abortion are taking place. This is the case in for example Portugal where abortion was made legal first in 2007, before the legalisation, abortion was punishable with up to three years in prison and now there is an ongoing discussion whether it should be made illegal yet again. Further, another example is France where family planning centers are having their financial resources cut by the state.

Written question to Commission on unsafe abortion in the EU

The debate gave the opportunity to Members of the European Parliament to issue a written question to the European Commission on its policies related to unsafe abortion.

The question ‘Unsafe abortions in the European Union’ has been issued by the following members of the European Parliament: Sophie In’t Veld (ALDE), Antonyia Parvanove (ALDE), Francoise Castex (S&D), Véronique Mathieu (PPE), Norbert Neuser (S&D), Sirpa Pietikäinen (PPE) and Jean Lambert (S&D).

The MEPs urge the European Commission to consider unsafe abortions a health risk and consequently call on the EC to deliver policies that compliment national health policies currently not protecting citizens from unsafe abortions. Providing access to legal and safe abortion as well as eradicating taboos concerning sexual and reproductive health are both essential in order to reduce the overall number of abortions.

Further reading

The Guttmacher Institute has issued several factsheets regarding abortion which can be found here.


European Parliament working Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/Aids and Development

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