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European Parliament Holds Public Hearing on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

On January 29, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament (EP) held a public hearing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).  During the hearing, five panelists spoke: Wanda Nowicka of the ASTRA Network; Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPFEN); Jana Tutkova of the Centre for Bioethical Reform; Sandra Dahlén, an author and gender and sexuality educator; and Douglas Sylva of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).

Wanda Nowicka, President of the ASTRA Network – Federation for Women and Family Planning, discussed recent trends in sexual and reproductive rights in Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on Poland.  She discussed that Central and Eastern European countries largely have “inadequate policies” regarding SRHR citing the lack of comprehensive sexuality education and the lack of access to modern contraceptives and abortion services.1  Her comments specific to Poland addressed the increasing conservative campaign against SRHR in the country and its anti-abortion law.2

Irene Donadio of IPPFEN focused on issues of equality and human rights.  She mentioned that the equality and rights of groups such as young people, LGBT people, victims of the sex trade, sexually abused children, and migrant and ethnic minorities, should not be ignored because the issue is seen as too complex or controversial.3  She specifically highlighted the needs of migrant and ethnic minorities which, she argued, are often overlooked because of their “legal status and entitlement to social and economic rights.”4

Douglas Sylva of C-FAM explained that the SRHR rights are not spelled out in any international laws or treaties and that there is no uniform practice of acknowledging these rights among nations.  He argued that, in lieu of international law guaranteeing SRHR, advocates for these rights ought to use “soft law” such as international standards and conference statements, to justify the existence of SRHR.5  According to Sylva, while these soft laws are not legally binding they are more accessible than international laws.6 Ultimately, however, Sylva argued that international SRHR laws would have to be created for these rights to be truly accepted.7

The panelists expressed different ideas for taking steps forward. Nowicka identified work for the EP to include preparing a report on SRHR in Europe with policy and program recommendations, stating an intent to make gender equality an issue for European Union member states to improve upon, and encouraging the European Commission (EC) and member states to improve SRHR initiatives and policies.8 Donadio encouraged further work on gender equality including SRHR issues and LGBT issues, with a particular focus on youth.9   

At the conclusion of the discussion the representative of the European Commission (EC) read a prepared statement that confirmed the EC’s commitment to SRHR and internationally accepted issues.


  1. Wanda Nowicka, Recent trends regarding Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Central and Eastern Europe with special Focus on Poland  ASTRA < 200801/?20080129ATT19959/20080129ATT19959EN.pdf>.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Irene Donadio, International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network  < 200801/?20080129ATT19947/20080129ATT19947EN.pdf>.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Douglas Sylva, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights from the Perspective of International Law  Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute < 200801/?20080129ATT19943/20080129ATT19943EN.pdf>.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Wanda Nowicka, Recent trends regarding Sexual and Reproductive.
  9. Irene Donadio.