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The ERC-funded Europe Abortion Access BAR2LEGAB project is hosting its final two-days Conference “Women travelling to seek abortion care in Europe: the impact of barriers to legal abortion on women living in countries with ostensibly liberal abortion laws” on  June 22nd-23rd , 2022 at University of Barcelona (UB).

Research findings will be shared and discussed with abortion providers, advocates for reproductive rights, stakeholders, policy-makers from different countries in Europe as well as with representatives of international organisations such as the WHO, IPPF, CRR, and Women Help Women.

The Conference will be hybrid – in person and remote (a zoom link will be provided to all registered participants).

Simultaneous translation will be provided in English-Catalan- Spanish-French-Italian via zoom (it is necessary to have a smartphone or laptop with earphones).

Read the Programme here: BAR2LEGAB Final Dissemination Conference.

Register here.

The Catalan Association of Sexual and Reproductive Rights has organized a workshop aimed at discussing with health professionals working in health services different aspects of abortion provision in Catalunya on June 21st, one day before the beginning of the BAR2LEGAB Conference.

Programme and registration here: https://lassociacio.org/jornadesavortament/

The French abortion law has recently been modified to strenghten abortion rights, by removing barriers to accessing abortion care, such as gestational age limits, which lead pregnant people to travel cross-borders to seek abortion care, as our study shows.

The new law extends gestational age limits for abortion on request (voluntary termination of pregnancy – IVG), from 12 to 14 weeks (since conception); allows midwives to provide surgical abortion in hospitals; creates a directory of abortion providers.

See:

https://www.vie-publique.fr/loi/276586-loi-visant-renforcer-le-droit-lavortement-delai-porte-14-semaines

https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000045287560

EPF-IPPF EN have launched a joint “European Abortion Policies Atlas”, which scores 52 European countries and territories on legal frameworks to access safe abortion care. The Atlas clearly shows that Europe is not as progressive as it might seem, as our study on barriers to legal abortion and abortion travel in Europe confirms.

This first in-depth analysis of abortion policies across Europe finds that legislation on abortion care throughout the region is a diverse legislative and administrative patchwork – the consequence being that women’s experience of abortion care largely depends upon their postcode.

Yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO) released new, comprehensive guidelines on abortion care that bring together recommendations on clinical practice, health service delivery, and legal and policy interventions to support quality abortion care. The new abortion guidelines reflect the state of the evidence and recommend self-managed abortion as one of a range of safe, effective options. They also recognize non-clinical community providers as recommended providers of medication abortion care.

Finally, they recommend against laws and other regulations that prohibit abortion based on gestational age limits, which lead thousands of pregnant people to seek abortion cross-border in Europe, threatening their reproductive rights and deepening existing social and gender inequalities, as our study shows.

The reviewed evidence demonstrated that gestational age limits delayed access to abortion, especially among women seeking abortions at later gestational ages, women close to the gestational age limit and those living in areas with limited access to clinics. Gestational age limits have been found to be associated with increased rates of maternal mortality and poor health outcomes.

The studies also showed that where women requested an abortion and were denied care due to gestational age this could result in the unwanted continuation of pregnancy, especially among women with cognitive impairments or those who presented at 20 weeks’ gestation or later.

This outcome can be viewed as incompatible with the requirement in international human rights law to make abortion available when carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the woman substantial pain or suffering, regardless of pregnancy viability (see chapter 2.2.3 in the guidelines for more details).

A Third Party Intervention at the European Court of Human Right, prepared by Birmingham Law School academics, shows that the criminalization of abortion in Poland is incompatible with international human rights law.  

Silvia De Zordo and Joanna Mishtal, respectively PI and a Senior Researcher on the BAR2LEGAB research project on barriers to legal abortion and abortion travel in Europe, supported this intervention: 

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/law/news/2021/12/european-court-of-human-rights.aspx

 

Since the Polish Constitutional Court decided that the provision of abortion in case of foetal malformation was unconstitutional, thousands of Polish pregnant people have been forced to seek the support of national and international organizations to obtain abortion care via telemedicine or in clinics abroad. Over the past 12 months Abortion Without Borders groups have helped 34,000 people from Poland to access abortion, and 1080 of them obtained an abortion in a foreign clinic in the second trimester:  

https://www.asn.org.uk/abortion-without-borders-helps-more-than-34000-people-in-poland-access-abortions/ 

As our study shows, women and pregnant people travel cross-country to seek abortion care also from countries where abortion is legal on broad grounds in the first trimester. Traveling abroad implies serious challenges and burdens for them, deepening existing social and gender inequalities, and the support of national and international organizations supporting abortion rights is crucial. 

See our publications in the “Studies and Findings- Our Findings” section.  

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20210621IPR06637/eu-countries-should-ensure-universal-access-to-sexual-and-reproductive-health 

With 378 votes in favour, 255 against and 42 abstentions, plenary states that the right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), is a fundamental pillar of women’s rights and gender equality that cannot in any way be watered down or withdrawn. It thus calls on EU countries to ensure women are offered high quality, comprehensive and accessible SRHR, and to remove all barriers impeding them from using these services. 

Access to abortion, contraception and sexuality education 

MEPs stress that some member states still have highly restrictive laws prohibiting abortion except in strictly defined circumstances, forcing women to seek clandestine abortions or carry their pregnancy to term against their will, which is a violation of their human rights. They urge all member states to ensure universal access to safe and legal abortion, and guarantee that abortion on request is legal in early pregnancy, and beyond if the pregnant person’s health is in danger. 

MEPs regret that some member states allow medical practitioners, and even entire medical institutions, refuse the provision of health services because of a so-called conscience clause. This leads to the denial of abortion care on the grounds of religion or conscience and puts women’s lives in danger. 

Furthermore, MEPs regret that access to abortion continues to be limited during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the effects the pandemic has had on the supply and access to contraceptives. 

 

The Institute of Political and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Barcelona organized a three days’ workshop June (7th-9th) to discuss whether abortion is a right and what kind of right, and whether women living in Catalunya, Spain, and, more broadly, in European countries where abortion is legal have access to abortion care or not, and what kind of barriers they face. We have contributed to the workshop by presenting the results of our study on cross-border travel for abortion care in Europe. We discussed in particular the impact of conscientious refusal of care and gestational age limits on women and pregnant people seeking abortion care in different European countries where abortion is legal. Here you can access the video of the workshop: 

First day: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOG6GBjKt3Y&list=PLyIUBiNOQvcqXUAjwnVVYbPM2whL_aEA5&index=3

Second day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMEknomnXcU&list=PLyIUBiNOQvcqXUAjwnVVYbPM2whL_aEA5&index=1

Third day (you will find the video of our presentation here): 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK1HoDCkmA4&list=PLyIUBiNOQvcqXUAjwnVVYbPM2whL_aEA5&index=2 

The National Association of Providers of Contraception and Abortion (ANCIC) organized an on-line conference on June 5th to discuss the impact of the current health crisis on sexuality and access to abortion care in France, focusing particularly on the need for accessing abortion care beyond the gestational age limits established by the French abortion law. We contributed to the debate, by presenting the results of our study, which show that in spite of the liberalization of the law since 2001 and improved access to medical abortion in the 1st trimester, barriers to accessing abortion care still exist in France and negatively impact on women and pregnant people needing an abortion even in non-pandemic times. In particular, lack of providers and long waiting lists force women and pregnant people living in small cities and rural areas to travel to big cities, and gestational age limits force those needing an abortion in the second trimester to travel abroad for abortion care. 

Link to the programme: http://www.avortementancic.net/spip.php?article1209 

In June 2021, the UK Department of Health and Social Care called for written evidence to inform the UK Government Women’s Health Strategy for England “to make women’s voices heard and put them at the centre of their own care”. The consultation was composed of two portions: a survey open to all women over 16 years old, and a call for researchers and third-sector organisation to produce written evidence on women’s health.

Based on our research project on abortion barriers and abortion travel, we produced a document where we list policy implications of our research findings and spell out policy recommendations on how to make access to abortion safer for pregnant people.

While we have focused on the research findings that better resonated with the current UK context, the policy implications we identify and the recommendations we draft are valid for all countries included in the Bar2legab research project, especially those that constituted the countries of residence of people travelling abroad or travelling across regions to obtain abortion care, and beyond.

It is important that all policy-makers and providers who are responsible for pregnant people’s health acknowledge the following:

  1. Pregnant people need clear, evidence-based online information about safe abortion in their language.
  2. Gestational age limits to access abortion constitute a barrier to pregnant people’s reproductive health. Erasing gestational age limits does not increase the number of abortions, but decreases health-related risks connected with illegal abortion or unwanted pregnancy.
  3. Pregnant people sometimes need to travel to terminate their abortion because adequate services are not available locally. Abortion travel constitutes an economic, social and mental health burden for pregnant people. Abortion travel may delay care, thus increasing health risks for pregnant women.
  4. Pregnant people have a better experience of abortion, if they can choose among the abortion method they prefer among the most updated and safe available. Otherwise, they may decide to travel to obtain the abortion method they feel more comfortable with.

 

Please feel free to download our written evidence document to know more about our findings and our policy recommendations:

Zanini et al. Written evidence consultation UKGov on women health June2021

Europe Abortion Access Project Euroe Research Council Universitad de Barcelona

This project has received funding from the European Reseach Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme BAR2LEGAB-680004