top of page

Prenatal Justice in Europe: 2022 in Review

by Kristina Artuković

From the standpoint of global prenatal justice, the fall of Roe is undoubtedly the most important event of 2022. In addition to dividing US citizenry like few things have (though not for the lack of trying), it resonated throughout the rest of the world, accelerating Europe’s political maneuvering when it comes to abortion.

Pushing for a right to abortion at the EU level

In the weeks following the leak of Alito’s draft, the likelihood that the US Supreme Court would rule that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion — returning the issue to the American people — stood in palpable juxtaposition with the European Union’s agenda of pushing for a supranational pro-abortion legislation in the name of fundamental rights.

Two and a half weeks before SCOTUS actually delivered the decision on Dobbs, members of the European Parliament found it appropriate to vote for a non-binding resolution called Global threats to abortion rights: the possible overturn of abortion rights in the US by the Supreme Court. It called Alito’s draft “a roll-back in constitutional rights” and urged president Biden and the US government to secure access to “safe and legal” abortion and ensure “complete decriminalization of abortion.”

The resolution was predictably sprinkled with misleading and incorrect data, reinstating the two most common myths serving the legality of abortion: that abortion restrictions do not decrease abortion rates (they do), and that abortion restrictions jeopardize women’s health and lives (they don’t). In keeping with the “Matić Resolution” from 2021, the 2022 resolution attacked the right to medical conscientious objection to abortion. It also mentioned several cases of alleged “reproductive injustice” in pro-life European countries, adding an especially fabulous spin to the alarmist tone of the document. The call for more funding for pro-abortion NGOs worldwide was the cherry on top.

This direction is nothing new. Ever since the “Matić Resolution,” EU institutions have been constantly announcing new strategies for imposing pro-abortion legislation throughout the entirety of Europe: from Macron’s plans in January 2022 to enshrine the right to abortion into the European Charter of Human Rights, to the FEMM Committee’s project to create an EU Charter of Women’s Rights to secure unrestricted abortion all over the EU, which was announced late last year.

Such supranational strategies are unrealistic, as many of the proposed treaties would also require accord from the tiny minority of pro-life countries in the EU. Furthermore: when abortion is pushed as “healthcare,” under the EU treaties, the states may remain at liberty to sovereignly govern their public health policies; when, however, abortion is pushed as a “human rights issue,” it gets complicated by the fact that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights are neutral on the issue of abortion, quite contrary to the loaded interpretations from various human rights monitoring bodies. This leaves the signatories free to regulate the issue according to their vision of prenatal legal personhood. This may be explicitly stated in the constitution and/or secured via an interpretative declaration, as per ECLJ’s proposal.

Pressure from within pro-life countries

The aforementioned form of political abuse is regularly unleashed on EU’s pro-life countries like Poland and Malta, but several other countries often catch fire, too. This particularly pertains to Hungary, due to their pro-life constitution coexisting with an abortion-permissible law and because of the mandatory ultrasound prior to abortion that was introduced in Hungary in 2022. Croatia and Italy often get reprimanded, too, because of their high number of medical conscientious objectors to abortion.

However, the real action lies in creating political pressure from within these countries. (Remember the call for more funding of pro-abortion NGOs?) Just like in the US, this often takes the form of utilizing particularly gruesome individual cases allegedly caused by pro-life legislation. In 2022, there were two maternal death cases in Poland apparently suitable for this strategy. The links between maternal death cases and the recently introduced anti-eugenic legislation in Poland are, at best, inconclusive – but these cases have nonetheless been constantly popping up in the international media and various non-binding EU documents, like the aforementioned resolution. Tragic cases concerning Ukrainian refugees coming to Poland were also used to raise accusations towards the pro-life environment and to promote abortion on the grounds of rape (even though this has always been legal in Poland).

In addition, the international pro-choice lobby has been attempting to take Poland to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), with claims that women have been subjected to “torture” and “inhumane and degrading treatment” due to lacking the legal option to abort babies with disabilities. Luckily, in November 2022, one such application was deemed inadmissible by the ECHR. Hopefully the others will be, too.

In Croatia, the 2022 case of a mother unable to obtain approval for eugenic abortion very late in pregnancy — and her subsequent travel to Slovenia for the purposes of feticide — has been heavily employed in pushing against conscientious objection to abortion among the Croatian OB-GYNs, even though the case had very little to do with this issue. I have covered this affair in detail here.