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Resolution 1607 (2008)
Access to safe and legal abortion in Europe
1. The Parliamentary Assembly reaffirms that abortion can in no circumstances be regarded as a family planning method. Abortion must, as far as possible, be avoided. All possible means compatible with women’s rights must be used to reduce the number of both unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
2. In most of the Council of Europe member states the law permits abortion in order to save the expectant mother’s life. Abortion is permitted in the majority of European countries for a number of reasons, mainly to preserve the mother’s physical and mental health, but also in cases of rape or incest, of foetal impairment or for economic and social reasons and, in some countries, on request. The Assembly is nonetheless concerned that, in many of these states, numerous conditions are imposed and restrict the effective access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services. These restrictions have discriminatory effects, since women who are well informed and possess adequate financial means can often obtain legal and safe abortions more easily.
3. The Assembly also notes that, in member states where abortion is permitted for a number of reasons, conditions are not always such as to guarantee women effective access to this right: the lack of local health care facilities, the lack of doctors willing to carry out abortions, the repeated medical consultations required, the time allowed for changing one’s mind and the waiting time for the abortion all have the potential to make access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services more difficult, or even impossible in practice.
4. The Assembly takes the view that abortion should not be banned within reasonable gestational limits. A ban on abortions does not result in fewer abortions but mainly leads to clandestine abortions, which are more traumatic and increase maternal mortality and/or lead to abortion “tourism” which is costly, and delays the timing of an abortion and results in social inequities. The lawfulness of abortion does not have an effect on a woman’s need for an abortion, but only on her access to a safe abortion.
5. At the same time, evidence shows that appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, including compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sex and relationships education for young people, result in less recourse to abortion. This type of education should include teaching on self-esteem, healthy relationships, the freedom to delay sexual activity, avoiding peer pressure, contraceptive advice, and considering consequences and responsibilities.
6. The Assembly affirms the right of all human beings, in particular women, to respect for their physical integrity and to freedom to control their own bodies. In this context, the ultimate decision on whether or not to have an abortion should be a matter for the woman concerned, who should have the means of exercising this right in an effective way.
7. The Assembly invites the member states of the Council of Europe to:
7.1. decriminalise abortion within reasonable gestational limits, if they have not already done so;
7.2. guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right of access to a safe and legal abortion;
7.3. allow women freedom of choice and offer the conditions for a free and enlightened choice without specifically promoting abortion;
7.4. lift restrictions which hinder, de jure or de facto, access to safe abortion, and, in particular, take the necessary steps to create the appropriate conditions for health, medical and psychological care and offer suitable financial cover;
7.5. adopt evidence-based appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, ensuring continued improvements and expansion of non-judgmental sex and relationships information and education, as well as contraceptive services, through increased investments from the national budgets into improving health systems, reproductive health supplies and information;
7.6. ensure that women and men have access to contraception and advice on contraception at a reasonable cost, of a suitable nature for them and chosen by them;
7.7. introduce compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sex and relationships education for young people (inter alia, in schools) to avoid unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions);
7.8. promote a more pro-family attitude in public information campaigns and provide counselling and practical support to help women where the reason for wanting an abortion is family or financial pressure.