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Access to abortion: PACE denounces various forms of harassment

The Standing Committee, meeting in Dublin today, has expressed its concern about harassment and violence perpetrated by anti-abortion activists in many member States, targeting persons who want to protect access to free and safe abortions.

According to the resolution unanimously adopted today, based on the report by Margreet de Boer (Netherlands, SOC), those targeted include women's rights defenders speaking out for the right to abort, healthcare professionals, politicians, and people seeking abortions.

The adopted text underlines 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 and undue pressure in the workplace from peers or superiors.

The Assembly 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”.

In its resolution, PACE 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.

PACE 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 would be prohibited. It is essential to protect healthcare professionals from threats and any pressure or retaliation, the parliamentarians said.

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