Why it’s urgent that we fight for reproductive rights in Europe

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

On this International Women’s Day, we the citizens of Europe have a chance to let our voices be heard. We demand the protection of women’s rights today and into the future, Nika Kovač writes.


Marta, Anna, Jusyna, Beata, Iza, Joanna, Izabela, Alicija, Dorota. These are just some of the names of women who have died in Poland due to an almost total ban on abortion. 

This ban has a devastating impact on many women and their families. And yet, Poland was one of the first European countries to introduce legal rights to abortion back in 1932.

This striking turnaround didn’t happen overnight. It happened gradually, starting in the 1990s, and by 2020 an almost total ban was passed by the Constitutional Court in a decision that is generally perceived as politically motivated and is in discord with the majority of Polish people who support abortion in all or most circumstances.

It shows how quickly reproductive rights can be threatened, and that every generation needs to fight for them all over again.

Around the world, women’s control of their bodies is being undermined. The decision by the US Supreme Court in June 2022 to overturn the rights afforded women by Roe vs Wade was a seismic shift but elsewhere, away from the glare of publicity, reproductive rights are threatened by attacks that are more subtle – but just as insidious.

The UK has seen a sharp increase in prosecutions of women for suspected illegal abortions, with as many women convicted in the 18 months to February as in the previous 55 years.

While countries such as Poland have taken legislative and other steps to significantly reduce women’s rights, a number of others still regulate abortion primarily through their penal or criminal codes. 

This prioritises rules around what can and can’t be done legally, potentially putting women and those who assist them, at risk of committing criminal offences, rather than treating abortion like all other medical services, which are focused on meeting an individual’s healthcare needs.

Many EU countries restrict access through economic and practical hurdles, including highly restrictive timeframes to access abortion, obligatory non-medical steps such as counselling and waiting times, and financial requirements, eg excluding abortion from insurance and free healthcare provision. 

After Roe v Wade was overturned, the European Parliament reacted to the situation by MEPs passing a resolution in 2022 calling for the European Council to enshrine “the right to safe and legal abortion” in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

But this resolution and other statements by visible EU functionaries didn’t lead to much concrete action.

We’re putting women’s lives at risk

Abortion laws in Poland and Malta remain the strictest, in addition, many countries still have provisions in place that make access for women very difficult. 

Germany and Belgium, for example, require medically unnecessary procedures, such as counselling and a waiting period, before abortion can be accessed. 

In Italy, women struggle to find doctors willing to carry out abortions due to laws that provide for a “conscientious objector” status, which has been adopted by around two-thirds of doctors. 

In Spain, where conscientious objection among physicians is also high in some regions, women are often forced to travel long distances in search of a doctor who will carry out the procedure they need. 

Although abortion is possible within the first three months of pregnancy in Austria, it is not covered by health insurance, leaving women to cover the €300 to €1,000 themselves.

These provisions disproportionately disadvantage women with limited resources, and those in difficult circumstances, for example, young women or people with pre-existing or pregnancy-related illnesses.

Needless to say, this situation causes needless suffering and is putting women’s health, and lives, at risk.


Things might get worse post-European elections

Abortion and reproductive rights have rarely been high up the agenda of the EU and the EU elections. 

However, it seems that might change in the run-up to the European ballot in June this year. 

Current projections indicate a surge in strength for the far-right which often has anti-abortion positions in their agenda, building on recent electoral wins in the Netherlands, Italy, Finland and Sweden.

On the other hand, recent successes, such as the vote in France to enshrine women’s right to an abortion in the Constitution, are positive.

The stark reality is that well-funded internationally connected neoconservative actors that take their steps from the same playbook are trying to erode existing rights all across Europe. 


Recent polling shows that the majority of EU citizens support access to abortion for women in all or most situations, but this is not enough on its own to ensure those rights are protected.

All of this has brought activists together from across the EU to launch the My Voice, My Choice European Citizens’ Initiative, or ECI. 

An EU mechanism could be the solution

An ECI allows any citizens in the EU to gather signatures in support of a cause, and to put their proposal to the European Commission for consideration. 

To qualify, initiatives must be supported by 1 million or more people from at least seven EU countries within the specified timeframe. It is the only mechanism by which EU citizens can call on the European Commission to propose new legislation.

My Voice, My Choice is a grassroots coalition for reproductive rights, bringing together committed individuals and organisations to argue for action to be taken to turn support for abortion rights into reality for all women in the EU. 


We are proposing the creation of a fund that will support member states in providing safe and accessible abortion care to all who need it in accordance with their laws. 

The fund will support the creation of safe and accessible abortion services in areas where this is needed and also enable women in need of abortion services to travel across EU borders if necessary. 

We are waiting for the European Commission to register our initiative so that we can start collecting signatures.

Citizens of Europe have a chance to speak up

The campaign is rooted in the belief that every woman should have the right to make informed decisions about her body without facing unnecessary barriers or endangering her health and well-being, based on the understanding that the right to choose is a common value. 

It is the absence of a ban; it is neither an instruction nor a guideline. It is only an option that is given to every woman. 


It is a fundamental principle of public health that does not differentiate between individuals. It’s an open space where a woman is free to decide so that in the end she can say: “This was my decision.”

The My Voice, My Choice overall goal is to safeguard and advance abortion rights across Europe, ensuring that all women have access to the safe, respectful, and legal healthcare services they deserve. 

We cannot take the right to safe access to abortion for granted. That is why our message on this year’s International Women’s Day is that we the citizens of Europe have a chance to speak up, to let our voices be heard and that we demand the protection of women’s rights today and into the future.

Nika Kovač is the founding director of the 8th of March Research Institute, a movement-building organization that uses storytelling and advocacy to confront gender and economic inequalities.

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