Abortion law and the Council of Europe

Abortion law and the Council of Europe
SPUC, Thursday, 3 April 2008, Page 1 of 5


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A Council of Europe committee has produced a resolution which attacks unborn children’s, and parents’,
human rights. It is also a threat to independent nations’ right to provide legal protection for their people.
If the resolution’s provisions were implemented, its effects would be disastrous. It is crucial therefore
that the resolution is rejected.
The draft resolution1 on abortion proposed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s
Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men:
· is based upon false claims
· ignores the evidence of the damaging effect of abortion on women
· would contravene internationally recognised human rights
· represents a threat to the national sovereignty of member states.
The draft resolution is based upon false claims that:
a) access to abortion is a human right
b) decriminalisation makes abortion safe
c) prohibition of abortion does not result in fewer abortions but mainly leads to clandestine
d) abortion can be avoided by promoting birth control and introducing compulsory sex-education.
Abortion and human rights
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has no authority to call on member states to
“guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right to abortion” (para 7.2) as no such right is
recognised in any international human rights agreement.
The assembly cannot legitimately call for “them to introduce compulsory relationships and sexeducation”
(para 7.7). The implementation of both provisions would, in fact, violate internationally
recognised human rights.
Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) affirms that the rights of the child
are ‘a primary consideration’ of States Parties and not just “a consideration.” Under Article 6(1) the
child has the right to life and States Parties are obliged under Article 6(2) to “ensure to the maximum
extent possible the survival and development of the child.”
The preamble of CRC acknowledges that: “[t]he child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity,
needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after
The right to life of children before birth is also recognised in the inclusive language of the preamble of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the inherent dignity and the equal and
inalienable rights of “all members of the human family.” It is re-affirmed by Article 6(5) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966 which stipulates, “[s]entence of
death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not
be carried out on pregnant women.”
1 doc11537
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The travaux préparatoires of the ICCPR makes clear that:“[t]he principal reason for providing in
paragraph 4 [now Article 6(5)] of the original text that the death sentence should not be carried out on
pregnant women was to save the life of an innocent unborn child.”2
This is explicit recognition in international law that human rights enjoyed by every member of the
human family include the unborn.
Vindication of the rights of the unborn child is fully compatible with the European Convention on
Human Rights. It also reflects the most probable interpretation of the Convention when read in
conjunction with the other relevant treaties, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
invoked in the Convention’s preamble.
Nothing in the Convention recognises a right to abortion or confers on individuals a right to require a
state to permit or facilitate abortion. Correspondingly the European Court of Human Rights has
accepted in principle that Article 2 may restrict the availability of abortion (Open Door Counselling and
Dublin Well Women v Ireland no 14234/88; 14235/88 judgment of 29 October 1992, Series A no 246
para 68) and in Brüggemann and Scheuten v the Federal Republic of Germany (p. 116, § 59) when it
stated that: “… pregnancy cannot be said to pertain uniquely to the sphere of private life. Whenever a
woman is pregnant her private life becomes closely connected with the developing foetus.”
The Court has ruled that the issue of when the right to life begins is a question to be decided at national
level (Vo v France no 53924/00 judgment 8 July 2004 para 85). It follows that the legal protection
afforded to early human lif e must also be decided at national level. By attempting to impose a policy on
abortion, something for which the Parliamentary Assembly has no legal or legitimate justification, the
draft resolution also represents an attack on the sovereignty of member states.
Compulsory sex-education
The resolution’s call for compulsory sex education is also incompatible with the Convention’s
protocol on education which states: “In exercise of any functions which it assures in relation to
education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and
teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” 3
Legalising abortion does not make it safe
Every abortion results in the death of an unborn child. However, the evidence of the physical and
psychological harm done to women by abortion, regardless of its legality, continues to grow.
Physical risks
Immediate complications
About 10 percent of women suffer immediate complications; such as haemorrhage, infection or
embolism, etc, one-fifth are life-threatening. 4
2 Marc J. Bossuyt in the Guide to the “Travaux Préparatoires” of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987)
3 Article 2, Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as
amended by protocol 11, Paris, 20 March 1952.
4Frank, et.al., “Induced Abortion Operations and Their Early Sequelae,” Journal of the Royal College of General
Practitioners 35(73):175-180, April 1985; Grimes and Cates, “Abortion: Methods and Complications”, in Human
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Infertility and life-threatening reproductive risks
Abortion can damage reproductive organs and cause long-term, sometimes permanent, problems that
can put future pregnancies at risk. Women who have abortions are more likely to experience ectopic
pregnancies, infertility, hysterectomies, stillbirths, miscarriages, and premature births than women who
have not had abortions. 5
Psychological damage
Risk of suicide
A study of more than 173,000 American women found those who had an abortion had a 154 percent
higher risk of suicide than women who carried to term.6
Clinical depression
A longitudinal study of American women showed that those who aborted were 65 percent more likely to
be at risk of long-term clinical depression after controlling for variables including prior psychiatric
Royal College of Psychiatrists
The Royal College of Psychiatrists issued new abortion guidance on 14 March 2008. Whereas
previous guidance said that there was no evidence of long-term distress after early abortion, the
college now says that some studies indicate a range of mental disorders following abortion.
Legal abortion and clandestine abortion
The draft resolution claims that banning on abortion “does not result in fewer abortions, but mainly
leads to clandestine abortions” (para 4). The example of Romania is cited as proof of this (explanatory
memorandum para 20). The memorandum, however, fails to take into account the circumstances
specific to Romania which makes generalisations about other nations impossible.
In 2004 a World Health Organisation (WHO) report on Romania noted that: “women consider abortion
to be a traditional, safe, accessible, quick, and relatively cheap procedure, even if unpleasant and
stressful… [g]ynaecologists also consider abortion to be a common, simple procedure, which does not
require special attention.”8
Contrary to the claims of the draft resolution, legalisation of abortion in 1989 did not prevent unlawful
abortions from continuing in Romania, as the report observed “…due to a number of social,
educational, and economic reasons Romania continues to have a relatively high number of illegal (and
Reproduction, 2nd ed., 796-813; M.A. Freedman, “Comparison of complication rates in first trimester abortions
performed by physician assistants and physicians,” Am. J. Public Health 76(5):550-554, 1986).
5 Strahan, T. Detrimental Effects of Abortion: An Annotated Bibliography with Commentary (Springfield, IL:
Acorn Books, 2002) 168-206.
6 DC Reardon et al “Deaths Associated With Pregnancy Outcome: A Record Linkage Study of Low
Income Women,” Southern Medical Journal 95(8):834-41, Aug. 2002.
7JR Cougle, DC Reardon & PK Coleman, “Depression Associated With Abortion and Childbirth: A Long-Term
Analysis of the NLSY Cohort,” Medical Science Monitor 9(4):CR105-112, 2003.
8 Abortion & Contraception in Romania, a strategic assessment of policy, programme and research issues WHO
2004 ISBN 973-99531-6-6
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unsafe) abortions as evidenced by the high number of hospital admissions for abortion complications.”9
The cultural factors observed by the WHO do not exist in Ireland where an absolute ban has not led to
illegal abortions. And while some Irish women do travel to Britain for abortion, numbers have declined
steadily over recent years.10
Nor does Ireland’s prohibition on abortion endanger the lives of women. A World Health Organisation
report shows that Ireland had just one maternal death per 100,000 live births in 2005. In the United
Kingdom in 2004 there were eight such deaths per 100,000 births and in the United States in 2003 there
were 11 such deaths per 100,000. The abortion regimes in Britain and America are more liberal than in
Ireland. 11
In Poland a dramatic fall in the abortion rate occurred before legal protection for the unborn was
introduced in 1993, from 59,417 in 1990 to 11,640 in 1992.12 Statistics for induced abortions,
miscarriages13 and maternal deaths14 also declined in subsequent years indicating that the change in
abortion law has not led to clandestine abortions.
Birth control and abortion
The draft resolution’s own explanatory memorandum admits “making methods of contraception
available, however, is not enough to prevent abortions” (para 26). It also cites a French study which
showed that almost two thirds of women with unintended pregnancies had conceived despite using birth
control. The level of research which indicates that increasing the availability of birth control does not
reduce the rate of abortions is now considerable.
Officially Britain has the highest rate of teenage conceptions in the European Union. In 1999 the British
government launched its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. It aimed to cut teenage pregnancies to 50 percent
of the 1998 figure by 2010. The strategy relied on making birth control and abortion more easily
available to underage children than ever before. It has received £150 million (c. €190 million) in public
funds but shows no sign of success, having failed to meet its interim target of cutting under-18
pregnancies by 15 percent by 2004. Official statistics15 show a fall of only one percent in the under-18
pregnancy rate and six percent among under-16s while actual numbers rose.
In 2004, when the full impact of the strategy should have been seen, a total of 13,616 girls of 16 became
pregnant compared to 13,303 in 2003 and 45 percent of those had an abortion. Among 17-year-olds, rates
also showed an increase, from 20,835 to 20,921, and 41 percent had an abortion. The number of children
under 14 becoming pregnant, however, rose from 334 in 2003 to 341 in 2004. Sixty percent of those
pregnancies ended in abortion.
While abortion advocates continue to argue that the easier access to contraceptive services can reduce
levels of abortion, they have long been aware of the reality. In 1973 Dr David Malcolm Potts, a medical
director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, predicted: “As people turn to contraception
9 ibid
10 UK Department of Health Statistical Bulletins 2002-2006
11 Maternal Mortality in 2005, Estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank
12 Governmental Population Commission, Demographic Situation in Poland, reports 1993-2000;
13 Governmental Population Commission, Demographic Situation in Poland, reports 1993-2000; the Ministry of
Health & Social Affairs, reports 1997-2000; Center of Information Systems of Health Care, report of Statistic
Researches Program of Public Statistics 2001.
14 Demographic Yearbook, GUS, Warsaw 1995-2001.
15 Local Authority Under-18 Conceptions Statistics 1998-2006 version 28:02:08. Office of National Statistics and
the Teenage Pregnancy Unit.
Abortion law and the Council of Europe
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there will be a rise, not a fall in the abortion rate.”16
An analysis of 23 studies published between 1998 and 2006 measured the effect of increased access to
emergency birth control, on its uptake, on unintended pregnancy, and on abortion rates. Not one study
found a reduction in unintended pregnancies or abortions following increased access to emergency birth
In Sweden, research found that despite free abortions, free contraceptive counselling, low-cost condoms
and oral contraceptives, and over-the-counter emergency birth control, Swedish teenage abortion rates
rose to 22.5 per thousand from 17 per thousand between 1995 and 2001.18
There can be little doubt regarding the real relationship between abortion and availability of birth
control. Also, many birth control drugs and devices can have an abortifacient effect in some cases.
Evidence contradicts the claims made by this resolution. Permissive abortion regimes do not protect the
health of women. Countries where abortion is not permitted actually show substantially better healthcare
for mothers and children. Many women experience serious physical and emotional suffering following
legal abortion. Nor does decriminalisation guarantee an end to clandestine abortions. The promotion of
birth control and contraceptive-based sex education has proved to be incapable of reducing the level of
That a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has even proposed this
resolution damages the Council of Europe’s credibility. The resolution must be rejected in its entirety.
16 Cambridge Evening News 7 Feb 1973
17 E. Raymond et al, “Population Effect of Increased Access to Emergency Contraceptive Pills,” Obstetrics &
Gynecology 109 (2007): 181-8.
18 Edgardh, K et al Adolescent Sexual Health in Sweden, Sex Trans Inf 78 (2002): 352-6, available at

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