European Parliament votes to include abortion access in Charter of Fundamental Rights

European Parliament votes to include abortion access in Charter of Fundamental Rights

Written by NADJA editors

Photo by Trounce / CC BY 3.0 DEED

  • More than two thirds of MEPs vote in favour of including right to abortion in EU Charter 
  • Resolution is non-binding, and challenges remain across the EU

The European Parliament has voted in favour of including access to abortion in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The majority of MEPs voted to approve the proposal, with 336 votes for and 163 against. However despite the support of more than two thirds of parliamentarians the vote is mostly symbolic, as securing a fully recognised right to abortion would require the approval of all 27 member states of the EU’s Charter. Countries such as Malta, where abortion is illegal in almost all cases, would be likely to veto such a proposal. 

In March this year France became the first European country to include the right to abortion in its constitution, but across the EU there is a patchwork of policies that make reaching a consensus difficult

The state of abortion rights in Europe

Malta and Poland have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. In Malta it is illegal except in cases where the life of the pregnant woman is at risk – and up until 2023, it was illegal in all cases. 

In Poland, stricter abortion laws were introduced in 2020, which removed the provision for abortion in the case of foetal abnormalities – the most common reason for a termination. It is now only  permitted when the pregnant woman’s health or life is at risk, or when the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act like rape or incest. However recently elected prime minister Donald Tusk made abortion rights a key part of his campaign, and lawmakers are currently working on proposals that could see it legalised up to 12 weeks. 

In parts of Central Europe abortion is allowed on broad grounds. In Germany it is technically illegal, but rarely punished as long as the pregnant woman undergoes mandatory counselling and a three-day waiting period before the procedure. But a government-appointed commission has recommended legalising abortions up to 12 weeks, stating that Germany’s existing law is not compatible with international standards

In France, Spain and Italy it is legal, however in the latter a ruling has just passed that allows anti-abortion activists to enter abortion consultation clinics, and in some regions there is little to no access to the abortion pill. 

Meanwhile Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands have some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world. The Netherlands allows abortion on request up to the 24th week of pregnancy, the time when the foetus becomes viable outside the mother’s body. 

Recent reforms 

Ireland presents a notable case of rapid transformation. A referendum in 2018 saw a landslide result with 66% of voters said ‘Yes’ to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution, which granted equal right to life to the pregnant woman and the unborn. The new legislation allows abortion on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy and under specific conditions thereafter, marking a significant liberal shift in the traditionally Catholic country.

Earlier this year France took the historic step to enshrine the right to abortion in the French constitution, making it the first country in the world to do so. Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of the amendment, surpassing the three fifths needed. The amendment reflects public opinion, with 86% of the French public supporting the chance according to a 2022 poll. 

The EU itself does not legislate abortion laws, as health policies are determined at a national level. However the latest amendment to the charter is a reflection of the public mood and sends a signal to member states about the direction a majority of MEPs believe the EU should be heading. 


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