An Anti-Abortion Movement in Europe?

I guess I thought abortion rights were taken for granted in Europe, or more specifically, in Western Europe. However, I just ran upon an article in conservative evangelical World Magazine called “European War Zone: Belgium Is the Battleground for Life and Freedom, Again.” Here is an excerpt:

When Roosemont isn’t motoring through these [WWI] battlefields he is volunteering in another, going to war against the onslaught of laws in Belgium governing abortion and euthanasia—and a culture of choice that aids and abets them. On a continent whose pro-life movement is just gaining ground, Roosemont has been described as a pro-life veteran.

Belgium has for decades not only legalized abortion but in 2002 also legalized euthanasia.

“Since the law was voted 10 years ago,” says Roosemont, “a black blanket has descended upon Belgium and is suffocating its people. The whole atmosphere has completely changed.”

Thanks to Roosemont and others, another atmosphere is stirring. Pro-life groups are multiplying and annual Marches for Life now take place in Brussels, The Hague, Dublin, and other European cities. Belgium’s third annual march—held this year on March 25—drew 3,500 youth, elderly, and families who took to the streets then laid 1,000 white roses on the steps of the Palais de Justice.

So I did some digging and found this from last January: Europe’s Top Courts are on a Pro-Life Role, in evangelical magazine Christianity Today:

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld Austria’s ban on in-vitro fertilization in November. Weeks earlier, the European Court of Justice ruled against destroying human embryos for scientific research. In December 2010, the ECHR upheld Ireland’s abortion ban.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said Roger Kiska of the Alliance Defense Fund in Slovakia. “Two or three years ago, you never would have thought that within a year you would have three pro-life [victories] in the courts.”

The cases coming from the ECHR—Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court—show judicial restraint, deciding simply that abortion is not a right and leaving its legality up to each of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, Kiska said. But the Court of Justice’s ruling went a step further, ruling that embryos are human beings.

This stand was both strong and surprising, he said. “It’s the first international court decision to say that life begins at conception.”

And this from six months ago: Eastern Europe Sees Growing Pro-Life Effort against Abortion,  on

When asked what country should be watched for upcoming pro-life initiatives, [Joseph] Meaney [director of international coordination at Human Life International] replied that pro-lifers should look towards Russia.

“The Russian presidency and the parliament are both interested in finding concrete solutions to limiting abortion,” Meaney told Celtic Connections. “They’ve already started with a number of measures this year, particularly making it illegal to describe abortion as a ‘safe medical procedure,’ and requiring those who advertise for abortion to talk about the health risks associated with it. But I think they’re going to move even more in the direction of outright banning of abortions for all kinds of different reasons.”

[That] same weekend…, the Russian parliament voted to restrict abortions in the country beyond the 12th week of pregnancy. The new measure also imposes a mandatory waiting period of between two and seven days before having an abortion.

And from last January: Two Cheers for Pro-Life Europe, on The Catholic Thing

Most Americans, particularly political conservatives, would be shocked to learn that pagan Europe is often better than Christian America on the life issues. We typically think Europe is exponentially further out on the pelvic left. On some issues – like homosexual marriage – they are. But on the life issues, not so much.

Two European countries, Malta and Ireland, outlaw abortion outright. In countries where abortion is legal, they have gestational limits on abortion that would give Leroy Carhart an aneurism. European gestational limits would put Carhart’s partial-birth abortion practice into immediate receivership.

From last month: Launch of Pro-life European Citizen’s Initiative in Brussels, on Vatican Radio

A European Citizens’ Initiative on ‘protecting the right to life’ was scheduled to be introduced Thursday afternoon in Brussels. A new procedure introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, the European citizens’ initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies. By law, the European Commission must respond to the proposal.

The launch of the Initiative is the final event of a “Week for Life” organized by Pro-life Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), in collaboration with the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community, or COMECE.

And then there’s also a list of anti-abortion groups in Europe.

So it isn’t just the U.S. that has an anti-abortion movement. I mean I guess that should have been obvious, there are Catholics in Europe and we live in a global world, but still, I was surprised by how much I found with a little digging. And as someone who is pro-choice, this is one area I would have liked to have thought the U.S. was exceptional in. I guess not. Or am I missing something?

I know a number of my readers live in Europe. Do you have anything to add on this?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Gordon

    Look at Ireland. Our government just shot us in the foot in their rush to keep us living in a previous century.

    • Aoife

      Yeah, this. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances in Ireland, and out government just failed to legislate for a two decades old case allowing for it where the life of the pregnant person is threatened. You have women with life-threatening illnesses having to travel overseas for abortions all the time from here.

  • RQ

    I live in Latvia (former Soviet bloc); abortion is legal up to the 12th week of gestation, excepting medical cases where the fetus clearly will not be viable. Recently two cases of father-daughter incest came to light, where the daughters are 14 years old and pregnant – but missed the abortion window by a couple of weeks (which leaves them with adoption in an extremely faulty system or raising the child themselves). Many of the myths surrounding abortion are quite mainstream, and almost no actual scientific/medical information is popularly available. Currently the government is looking into banning abortion outright, but a few political voices have been outspoken in calling it a universal woman’s right to choose abortion and raising a voice against the (very patriarchal) views of the majority of the government. My ‘favourite’ article on the topic recently was one about the mass murder occurring nationally every year (apparently something like 11 000 abortions for a country of population barely 2 million). Sex education in schools is practically non-existent and abortion as such is commonly used as a contraceptive, mostly due to this lack of information. Not sure if the conversation is heating up or if it’s just going through its usual cycle.
    The severest backlash against those pro-choice is, about 95% of the time, from the men in the country, who look at the poor demographic and insist that it is a woman’s patriotic duty to give birth to 3+ children in order to ‘save the nation’. Any argument against them, and you’re an unpatriotic, masculinised, selfish baby-killer, a victim of man-hating feminism that is slowly taking us all down. Of course, they can’t be bothered to discuss a positive role for fathers (baby-sit and/or change a diaper? you must be kidding) or the fact that alcoholism is one of the major killers of men in this country or the fact that (as is so very common everywhere) the support network for parents and families is in very bad shape (not to mention the health care system for the general public and a million other things).
    Then again, Latvia has never been known for its progressive ways. That would be Estonia (among the Baltic states), but I can’t speak for them. Either way, we’re considered extremely brave for having baby #3. Go us.
    (PS My husband is about the polar opposite of the ‘typical male’ of this country and thank goodness for that. He’d actually prefer sitting at home with the kids to working; too bad his job pays more!)

  • kagerato

    Many Americans on the left, like myself, seem to have rather rose-tinted glasses with regards to the state of Europe. What we ought to keep in mind is that there is no singular European community. Diversity in Europe is arguably greater than in the United States. Certainly on matters of language and culture we sometimes look homogenous by comparison.

    On the whole, regressive policies seem to be on the rise there. Many economies are stagnant and some are even shrinking under the weight of an unsustainable debt bubble that ultimately has to be popped. Even though there were quite a few economists both in Europe and the U.S. who predicted that a common currency would not work without joint fiscal management, they were ignored for years. As a result, the net borrower countries are in a spiral of austerity in an attempt to repay unpayable debts. This doesn’t work, of course, because shrinking the economy only further reduces revenues. For debtor countries, there is no way to inflate themselves out of the debt, either, because they do not control the European Central Bank.

    What has happened in Europe over the past fifteen years or so would be roughly equivalent to California and New York having the power to lend Alabama and Mississippi arbitrary amounts of U.S. dollars at arbitrary interest rates while removing the capacity for Alabama and Mississippi to default on the debt or otherwise compel any reduction thereof. Oh, and California and New York control the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. Try to fill in which European countries are the analogues to these U.S. states.

    I would not be surprised to find that recent constrictions in social policies are correlated with regressive economic policy, in Europe or anywhere else.

  • Slow Learner

    I would say that here (in the UK) it’s just a much more fringe issue; most people, if asked, would be fairly comfortable with the status quo (abortion legal up to 24 weeks, or beyond in cases of threat to the mother or severe disability in the foetus). Thing is, I can know someone reasonably well, and many of their political views, without knowing for sure where they stand on abortion.
    I seem to recall that Nadine Dorries (an evangelical MP) keeps putting up bills, or amendments to related bills, to cut the time limit, and they keep getting voted down.

  • Steve

    It’s not anti-abortion people are new in Europe. Far from it. It’s also not new that their motivations are grounded in religion. But they aren’t as extremist and crazy as the ones in the US. Even when they make what are ultimately religious arguments, they sound far more grounded and reasonable

  • Elin

    Sweden allows abortion to 18 weeks and with a special permit until week 22. Most abortions happen before 12 weeks though and the special permit ones are often of children who cannot survive anyway but not always. We have organizations such as Ja till Livet (yes to life) but they are not very popular even among people like me who are in fact uncomfortable with the high numbers of abortions that we have. I would never support organizations like this. The big difference between me and the supporters of these organizations is of course that I am for free abortion, I just question if all women who have abortions really have thought it through and if they have really explored all alternatives. I know for a fact that some women are pressured into having abortions by their boyfriends and that outright disgusts me. Yes, it is horrible to have to give birth to a baby you do not want but it is also horrible to have to feel pressured into having an abortion you do not want and many of these women do feel like they have killed their baby no matter if it was ‘only’ a fetus at the time.

  • Eamon Knight

    Up here, some MP is trying to re-open the abortion debate:
    PM Harper — an evangelical — has promised to vote down the motion. He may be a conservative ideologue, but he likes power more, and he knows that any serious attempt to bring back abortion restrictions (struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988) would result in his party being decimated in the next election. (Not that this has prevented him from doing a certain amount of damage under the table).

    • Carolyn the Red

      Worth noting: We have no law regarding abortion in Canada. No restrictions at all. That’s not to say that there are no access issues especially some places, but there are no laws regarding it.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    The legislation in Spain allows the Interruption of pregnancy (abortion) up to the 14th week without needing to give any kind of reason behind it and without the input of a third party (although the woman is informed of all the state help and such she can get if she decides to continue with the pregnancy and the intervention has to be three days after that). It can be extended to the 22th week if there’s a risk for the mother or the fetus and from there on only if a comitee of doctors think the fetus has anomalies incompatible with life or an extremely grave and incurable illness.

    Last general elections were won by the conservative party (Partido Popular) and even if they are supposedly “trying” to ban abortion as a good conservative party /sarcasm, in reality the only point they are trying to alter seriously is that girls of 16-17 years can get abortions without informing their parents if they allege that it can be cause of intrafamily violence, being kicked out of the house, … but they haven’t really make a move just yet (they still have several years ‘though…… *sigh*). They aren’t going to try to ban abortion because they know it would be a hugely unpopular stance (although they went to the war on Irak with only a 4% of the population in favour of it (and it seems they learnt from the fact they lost the elections for it).

    Spain has always being a very catholic country but most people who are baptised don’t go to mass (only weddings or celebrations) since only 17% of people that declare themselves catholics go to mass once a month, many don’t even believe at all but getting out of the catholic church once you are baptised is very difficult because they receive money taking into account the number of catholics in the country. I think that’s partly why we have good sex education (not religiously influenced) in schools and many— people are pretty tolerant compared with other places (80% of people accepting homosexuality, …).

    I think the government here as in other countries is using social issues to cover for economic issues. Getting everybody rallied about for example abortion might make them forget the country is in a bad economic situation but I don’t see the conservative party getting any big changes in the abortion legislation apart formt he one point I mentioned (I hope I’m not been delusional) . I cna’t really speak for other countries but many have conservative parties in government right now and Russia is definitely completely out there.

  • Common Destiny

    I’m not too familiar with abortion laws in other countries, and like you, Libby Anne, am surprised to find that there’s any sort of strong anti-abortion sentiment in Europe. Thanks for sharing this information.
    My only other comment…
    Has Belgium really succumbed to “a culture of choice”?!?!? Oh, the horror!

  • Lisa

    As for Germany, abortion is in fact illegal and can, by law, get you into prison (both the woman and the doctor). HOWEVER, this law makes “exceptions”. These exceptions are the folowing: it’s allowed up to the 12th week. But before the abortion you must sit through one counseling hour where all possibilities will be shown to you, then you’ll have to wait for three days to think about it, then you will get your permission. You don’t have to tell them any reasons or anything, you simply have to listen to your options. if you want an abortion after the 12th week you need a special permission. This special permission will always be given if the baby is possibly handicapped, if the pregnancy puts the woman at risk and in several other cases (mother gets cancer during pregnancy and exceptional situations like that). In general, every girl can get an abortion without her parent’s permission. Well, you see, the law says it’s illegal but it’s actually not. I have not heard of one single case where a woman was actually charged for anything. The law is just for peace of mind, it’s never enforced in any way. One woman I know had an abortion and I asked her about it – she said it wasn’t a big deal at all to get the permission, the counseling took about 30 minutes where she didn’t say anything, it was just the couselor giving her some flyers about adoption and financial possibilities. She didn’t think it was helpful at all and the counselor told her that her sitting there is proof enough that she wasn’t going to change her mind.
    Now, of course there are pro-life movements, Libby, but they don’t get any attention at all. I have never heard of any protests against abortions in Germany. If they exist, they must be really small. It’s not like abortion clinics are being harrassed or anything. All of the people I know “don’t care” about other people’s stance of it, even if they are pro life. It’s just not something you get involved into. If a person is against abortions, he or she will not try to convince people to have a baby they don’t want. It’s hard to explain but people here consider it such a personal issue that you don’t mess with it.

  • bmiller

    “Most Americans, particularly political conservatives, would be shocked to learn that pagan Europe is often better than Christian America on the life issues.”
    … we’re pagan now?

    “What we ought to keep in mind is that there is no singular European community. Diversity in Europe is arguably greater than in the United States. Certainly on matters of language and culture we sometimes look homogenous by comparison.”
    Prize for understatement of the year. Europe is by no means a single, unified community; culture varies enormously within countries, as do values, morals, etc. I barely feel that the UK could be considered one community. There is a lot of cultural friction between England and the other countries, and within England, between the north and south, largely thanks to the concentration of power and wealth into the south east. I just wanted to point out that you understate enormously here.

    For what it’s worth, the US is viewed largely as a homogeneous culture by many in the UK, which is of course also false.

    • Caravelle

      Honestly, it sometimes feels like USians think they’re special or something. Of course Europe isn’t a single country, but more to the point all countries have internal diversity. Even those whose names weren’t chosen by committee. I’m sure not all countries have the same levels of diversity, but it’s seriously eerie how everyone thinks their own country is so diverse they “barely feel like a community”, how one of the first things people say about countries they feel they know well is “it’s so varied !”, how all tourist guides seem to start with “Country X could more accurately be thought of as a collection of smaller countries…”.

      Knowledge bias hard at work.

  • Anat

    In Israel the situation is not straight-forward. To obtain an abortion a woman needs the approval of a committee consisting of 2 doctors and a social worker. There is one in every hospital that has a maternity ward. Abortions are allowed up to 24th week for women under 17, over 40, or any case where the woman isn’t married to the biological father (including rape and incest victims, but also any case of premarital and extra-marital pregnancy), also any case where there is reason to suspect serious fetal abnormality or if the woman’s physical or mental health are at risk. There is a small number of committees that handle pregnancies past 24 weeks and those are performed only in a small number of locations.

    This situation leaves married women who seek abortions for non-health reasons – because their family is getting too large for them to manage or because they are not ready for a (n additional) child now (though may welcome one at a later time). Women in such a situation either attempt to play the system – seek a committee in a liberal location and frame their request in ways that are in line with the law (eg claim the pregnancy is causing depression, or claim they suspect they have been exposed to radiation) or seek illegal abortion. In 1999 96% of requests for abortion were approved, but a similar number of abortions is estimated to have been obtained privately (illegally).

    Human rights advocates have tried to lift restrictions from abortions while other interests are putting pressure the other way. Generally there is acceptance of abortion for medical reasons – in part because Judaism has a long history of valuing maternal health over fetal survival and in part because Israeli society is extremely ablist. But there is pressure in the Jewish sector to convince women not to abort, and pressure by Haredi parties to further limit legal criteria that allow abortion.

  • Caravelle

    IIRC the situation the US has with Roe vs Wade is actually one of the more permissive abortion laws out there… on paper I mean, in practice it’s obviously another story.

    In Paris you can see Catholics protesting abortion on the place St Michel every once in awhile. And a number of years back in France there was a proposed law to make “involuntary abortion” (or something like that) a crime – i.e. if you ran over a pregnant woman with your car and she miscarried you’d get some worse penalty than what the law said at the time. Opponents of the law claimed it was a first step to jeopardizing abortion rights, so that was part of the national debate for awhile.

    And I notice a lot of your post brings up countries like Ireland and parts of Eastern Europe, which, well, I want to say DUH but I couldn’t tell you much about the politics of subsaharan Africa or central Asia so maybe I won’t.

    @bmiller : … we’re pagan now?
    Well… a lot of us are Catholics, especially in the more pro-life European countries (*cough* Ireland *cough* Poland *cough*), maybe they’re calling that Pagan now ?

    @kagerato : Diversity in Europe is arguably greater than in the United States.
    arguably ? Look, I know the US is diverse and states are very different from one another, but don’t be ridiculous. I’m honestly at a loss for a response on that one.
    I mean, really :
    Certainly on matters of language and culture we sometimes look homogenous by comparison.
    SOMETIMES ? o_O o_O o_O

  • Chiara

    In Italy the situation is pretty much terrible. In priciple abortion is permitted up to a certain time limit, but doctors are allowed to refuse to perform it based on their beliefs.
    This results in something like more than half (and up to 90% in some regions) of doctors in public health care who refuse to perform abortions, with all the bad consequences of the case (forcing women to go to less safe, more expensive private clinics, hiring of doctor from other hospital just for the abortions, ecc).
    There is even a major problem with non-surgical abortion, that is seen as “too easy” and is almost impossible to obtain.
    The other big problem is with misinformation: urgency contraception is seen as a sort of abortion too (even of its not an abortifacent medication), and so new, improved pills are difficult to introduce and very, very, very difficult to obtain within the time frame of effect.
    I think that the general position of the Catholic Church on this subject and their major ingerence in our laws is what made me really hate them instead of just having a “live and let live” policy.

  • rookieatheist

    I’m a bit late to comment on this post, but here goes anyway.
    I’m Irish living in France, so I’ve experienced living in both an anti-abortion country and an abortion-allowed country. I don’t need to say much about the situation in Ireland because the recently published a very comprehensive article on the legal aspects of abortion in Ireland. A very good read:

    My experience in France is that abortion is mainly a non-issue. I say “mainly” because the extreme-right candidate during the recent presidential elections, Marine Le Pen, is known for her anti-abortion views. However, during the recent presidential race (which is finishes with an election this Sunday, 6th May) abortion was a non-issue, at least from my viewpoint.
    I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks as to why there is little debate over abortion in France. My guess is that the status quo is fine for the vast majority of women, i.e. easy and free access to abortion below 12 weeks covers most of the demand for abortion, and the allowance of late abortions for deformed fetuses covers most of the rest. Following on from this, another guess is that most French women simply don’t see any need for changes to the current law. My wife, a French scientist, thinks that all is fine with the current situation.
    But I’m speculating too much here, and trying to write this comment really brings it home to me just how little I know about abortion/pro-choice debates in France. Looks like I’ve got some reading to do.