Body&Rights, the e-learning on sexual and reproductive health and rights internationally, developed by Sensoa and the SRHR Working Group of Be-cause Health, the Belgian platform for international health, is fully up-to-date.
While the US Supreme Court’s decision to withdraw Roe v. Wade was still pending, three international women’s rights activists explained the risks involved in the limitation or outright prohibition of women’s access to safe abortion care in a digital dialogue with the Belgian ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’.
Five years after the successful international She Decides conference, launched in response to the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (GGR) under former US President Donald Trump, Belgium and the She Decides Support Unit reconvened sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates from around the world in Brussels, 19-20th May.
One year after the highly controversial changes to the Polish abortion law making Poland one of the EU-countries with the most restrictive access to abortion care, the human rights and rule of law situation in Poland continues to deteriorate.
Two members of the parliamentary group Parliamentarians for 2030 Agenda, Séverine de Laveleye and Orry Van de Wauwer witnessed this when they participated in the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive rights’ annual Conference in Warsaw, Poland on 21-22 October. At the end of a first day of panel discussions on SRHR in Poland and worldwide, the participants signed a statement of commitment with regard to Poland and the global state of SRHR.
“The right to safe and legal abortion is under pressure around the world. We need to make sure the clock is not being turned back.” With these words MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld opened the webinar held on the international day for safe abortion. The webinar launched the new European Abortion policies Atlas. The Atlas compares European countries in women’s access to abortion. Belgium figures in the European top 10 but lags the UK, Scandinavia and neighbouring France and the Netherlands. The obligatory waiting period in Belgium could be shortened and Belgium could do better in tackling disinformation about abortion.
Days of protests followed the tightening of abortion laws in Poland on 27 January. This legislation prohibits women from terminating a pregnancy, even if their foetus has severe abnormalities. Doctors and caregivers who assist women and their partners to do so, now risk up to 3 years in prison.
Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling party, previously tried to push through this tightening. Already in 2016 and 2018, it presented the law in parliament, but each time it met with huge popular protests. Thanks to the establishment of the Constitutional Court and the systematic replacement of moderate judges with conservative ones, the PiS was able to push through the stricter rules after all.
Newly appointed US President Joe Biden cleans house after 4 years of the Trump administration. The US has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, will not withdraw from the World Health Organisation and will again fund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Agency.
On top of all these executive orders, Biden also repealed the Mexico City Policy or Global Gag Rule. This policy, which prohibits US aid to foreign organisations that refer people to centres that offer abortion or discuss abortion as an option, was successively instituted by Republican presidents and repealed by Democratic presidents. An on and off relationship for years, with all the consequences on the ground.
Back to square one? What is the impact of COVID-19 on the realisation of the Sustainable Development Agenda?
The ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ see to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and Belgium’s role therein. During a webinar on September 29th the parliamentarians looked at where we are 5 years into the 2030 Agenda and enquired into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its realisation.
Prof. Dr. Olivier Degomme, Director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH-Ghent University) took stock of the consequences of the pandemic on SDG3, ‘good health and well-being for all’. He showed the worldwide measurements have serious consequence for the access to contraceptives, family planning services and maternal health. Recent research of the WHO indicated that 90% of all countries reported interruptions of essential health services, and 68% reported interruptions of family planning services.
Every country, both in the global south and north, will have a different answer to this. In general, women and girls will face significant restrictions in safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, in particular timely abortion care, post-abortion care and emergency anticonception. Such restrictions disproportionately affect persons belonging to marginalised groups, including women living in poverty, women with disabilities, women belonging to ethnocultural minorities (e.g. Roma women), migrants, stateless women, adolescents and women at risk of domestic and sexual violence.
All over the world, we see sudden and drastic restrictions on democratic freedoms. Our movements are monitored increasingly. Public meetings are prohibited; the state of emergency is announced; legislative debates are postponed and, in certain countries, the operation of parliaments is suspended or their oversight role is severely curtailed in favour of the executive branch. All over the world, governments are ramping up digital surveillance. In Europe for example, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán granted himself dictatorial powers to ignore laws indefinitely and to suspend elections and referendums. In Israel, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an emergency decree preventing the parliament from meeting, in what newspaper Haaretz called a 'corona-coup'. Experts are already pointing to the increasing pressure on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls everywhere in the world.