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Access to abortion: committee denounces various forms of harassment

Anti abortion demonstration

The Equality Committee has expressed its concern about harassment and violence perpetrated by anti-abortion activists in many member States, targeting persons who want to preserve access to free and safe abortions. Those targeted include women's rights defenders speaking out for the right to abort, healthcare professionals, politicians, and people seeking abortions, the committee said.

The report by Margreet de Boer (Netherlands, SOC), adopted by the committee, says that such harassment may occur in various forms: stigmatisation of people seeking abortions, with psychological pressure at or near medical facilities; intimidation, online and offline insults, and judicial harassment of pro-choice activists, movements and NGOs; and threats against healthcare professionals – including death threats – verbal and physical violence, and undue pressure in the workplace from peers or superiors.

The committee clearly denounced in this context “a violation of the right to respect of private and family life, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association”. According to the parliamentarians, this phenomenon is progressively eroding the right to abortion as stipulated in the legislation of most member States and may be considered as “part of a wider attack on women's rights”.

Therefore, the committee called on member States to ensure actual access to abortion, where provided for by national legislation, and to guarantee that any obstruction “is prohibited and criminally sanctioned”, stressing that conscientious objection should never restrict actual and timely access to abortion.

The committee also advocated the creation of “buffer zones” in the proximity of healthcare facilities and structures providing information to avoid the disruption of their activities, and in which all anti-choice protests and awareness-raising activities would be prohibited. It is essential to protect healthcare professionals from threats and any pressure or retaliation, the parliamentarians said.

Finally, the committee called on States to provide reliable information on abortion care, and to take measures to combat misinformation and disinformation on abortion, in order to empower all women to make informed choices.