10 June 2021

Are the EU policy-makers really interested in the health of women?

The Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) Committee of the European Parliament adopted on the 11th of May 2021 a Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health (Rapporteur Predrag Fred Matić – S&D, Croatia). The Plenary vote on the text by the European Parliament is scheduled for the 24th of June 2021. If adopted, this report will become a Resolution of the European Parliament, i.e. a text presenting the official position of the European Parliament on a specific topic, in this case sexual and reproductive health. It is important to mention that this text has no legal binding effects on the EU and national level. The European Commission is only bound to provide a formal answer to it later this year. It will however present a strong stand of the European Parliament on many issues.

The Report not only addresses sexual and reproductive health, but includes elements on the legal definition of marriage, medically assisted procreation, surrogacy, abortion and conscientious objection, and the sexual education of children (none of these elements being in the scope of competence of the EU):

B. whereas sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are, according to the WHO, an umbrella term for various issues affecting all persons and representing four separate areas: sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health and reproductive rights, and they are based on the rights of all individuals to have their bodily integrity, privacy and personal autonomy respected; have their sexual orientation and gender identity fully respected; to decide whether, with whom and when to be sexually active; to have safe sexual experiences, decide whether, when and who to marry, whether and by what means to have a child or children, and how many children; have access throughout their lifetime to the information, resources, services and support necessary to achieve all of the above free from discrimination, coercion, exploitation and violence;”.

The text “Invites the Member States to review their national legal provisions on abortion and bring them in line with [so-called] international human rights standards and regional best practices by ensuring that abortion at a woman’s request is legal in early pregnancy and even beyond if the woman’s health or life is in danger;”.

It also “Urges the Member States to ensure universal access to scientifically accurate, evidence-based, age-appropriate, non-judgemental and comprehensive sexuality education and information for all primary and secondary school children, as well as children out of school, in line with the WHO standards for Sexuality Education and its Action Plan on Sexual and Reproductive Health, without discrimination on any grounds“, which includes the promotion of early masturbation for example (as already denounced by FAFCE back in 2013).

Overall, this report affirms the intention “to combat the spread of discriminatory and unsafe misinformation on SRHR”. FAFCE feels the responsibility, thus, to contribute to a healthy, pluralistic and democratic debate around the health of women, with a specific focus on the health challenges caused by contraception and abortion. But the first question we should ask ourselves, before going forward is: “Are the EU policy-makers sincerely open to a such debate? Are they really interested in the health of women? Or are they just implementing a certain political agenda, supported by foreign funds?

Quick definition: what are “sexual and reproductive health and rights”?

The notion of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” was first defined at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994), in a non legally-binding United Nations document, as follows:

“Reproductive health care in the context of primary health care should, inter alia, include: family-planning counselling, information, education, communication and services; education and services for prenatal care, safe delivery and post-natal care, especially breastfeeding and infant and women’s health care; prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility; abortion as specified in paragraph 8.25, including prevention of abortion and the management of the consequences of abortion; treatment of reproductive tract infections; sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health conditions; and information, education and counselling, as appropriate, on human sexuality, reproductive health and responsible parenthood”.

Following this definition, ‘reproductive rights’ includes two dimensions: the right to access sexual health services and the right to make reproductive decisions. It does not include a right to abortion, as paragraph 8.25 states that “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. […] Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion“.

Nowadays, however, the expression “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR) is mainly used to promote access to contraception and the legalisation of abortion, although the latter was explicitly excluded in the 1994 Cairo definition.

Artificial contraception: not as healthy as promised

Let’s now focus on a specific aspect of the report, which is often neglected. We should recall the negative impact of  artificial contraception on women’s health; indeed, any disruptive mechanism has inherent flaws. Artificial contraception impacts women’s hormonal balance, which can in turn affect their physiological and psychological health.

Synthetic hormones can cause side effects such as headaches, cramps, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, vaginitis, genital infection, and breakthrough bleeding. In the case of IUDs, pain during insertion and removal is common, and uterine perforations are possible. Contraception also has long-term impacts on women’s health. Implants and injections cause decreased bone mineral density, negative effects on the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and lipoproteins, hypertension, and deep vein thrombosis. The use of the birth control pill may increase the risk of cervical cancer as well.

Women using contraception also experience negative side effects on their emotional and psychological well-being. These negative side effects include nervousness, mood changes, loss of libido, and reduced pleasure during intercourse, in addition to increased risks of depression and the aggravation of existing psychological disorders.

Without entering into the questions related to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, it must be acknowledged that artificial contraception has negative impacts on women’s health.

Sexual and reproductive health should not be an ideological battlefield. The impact of contraception on women’s health is concrete. It is worth mentioning that abortion has even greater adverse impacts on women’s health, with physical, mental and psychological effects on women over both the short-term and long-term. To make these questions political neglects the factual consideration of the risks linked to contraception and abortion, which are recognised by the medical community. Women deserve to have these questions seriously considered so that women can have access to real health, and not the opposite.

‘Reproductive rights’ are actually a drawback for gender equality

So-called ‘reproductive rights’ are still highly biased with a sole focus on women. Indeed, the focus on women’s contraception does not support a greater responsibility for men when it comes to reproductive issues. Indeed, while a couple can practice different forms of contraception, women continue to bear all the physical, mental, and emotional stress of preventing a pregnancy.

This approach encourages the sexual irresponsibility of men. Without having to assume the consequences of their sexual acts, men become unaccountable in the reproductive process.

So long as they are excluded from these questions, men receive a sort of “diplomatic immunity” when it comes to their actions. There is no ‘gender equality’ in that. Men must be urgently included in these discussions and their responsibilities must be acknowledged and put forward in the debate.

Without a serious in-depth analysis of the risks and consequences of the artificial contraception and abortion on women’s health, the European Parliament forgets women’s health in the midst of political conflicts.

FAFCE recalls the importance to protect first and foremost the dignity of the human procreation, the beauty of sexuality framed as an experience of  mutual reciprocity and gift, and open to the beauty of life and welcoming children.

FAFCE will continue its work of testimony of the beauty of the family, calling on all the Members of the European Parliament to recognise the real challenges of families, of many women and men of today’s Europe. The real obstacles for today’s women are not in preventing the beginning of a new life: unfortunately this is much easier than welcoming a new life. This are the real obstacles that the EU policy-makers should focus on.

A good sign that any MEP could give would be in voting against this report. Any vote against this FEMM report will be a sign of hope for the Europeans of tomorrow.