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At Stake In Brussels

At stake in Brussels

Tomorrow morning the European Parliament will vote for the second time in six weeks on a resolution calling for abortion to be legalised across the EU and for compulsory sex education for children under four years. 

The procedure highlights why anti-Brussels sentiment is widespread across the EU, also among Christians. On the other hand, it underscores our Christian responsibility to be salt and light where the battles are being fought.–in this case, in Brussels. This is no time to be retreating into our comfort zones or behind porous national boundaries.

So what’s up?

Late October, Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela tabled her controversial Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the European Parliament. Minutes before, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had collected the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, awarded to her back in 1990 when she was still under house arrest. When Ms Estrela took the podium, she responded to boos by referring to her Burmese colleague’s speech as an example for those intolerant of other’s opinions. She urged MEP’s to ‘take a stand’ and declare that sexual and reproductive rights were human rights that should not be denied. However, the Report itself has been heavily criticised for its ‘illiberal liberalism’, its zero tolerance for freedom of conscience and for trampling on the rights of parents and the unborn. And her descriptions of ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ as human rights reveals the fuzziness of much thinking about rights that we as Christians need to grasp and unmask.

Intense debate

The Report includes not only the promotion of abortion and a call for restrictions on conscientious objection but also urges that children should be informed about ‘enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body’, early childhood masturbation’, etc.) After an intense debate in the EP, a majority of MEP’s sent the Report back to European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) for redrafting. Some claimed that Parliament’s legal procedure was breached when the chairperson banned the tabling of any new amendments and discussion of an alternative resolution. In the committee, a proposal to wait for informed legal opinion on the amendment ban was rejected. The Report was adopted by 19 MEPs voting in favor and 15 against, with no substantial changes. So it will be voted on again by the parliament at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow.

So what’s at stake?

Firstly, adoption of the Report can only worsen perception of the EU democratic deficit. Although the Report is non-binding, its adoption would express the official opinion of the European Parliament on the matter of abortion, sexual education and conscientious objection. In each of these areas, the Report reflects a radical position not shared by most European citizens. This can only widen the gap between European citizens and Brussels. That gap is also exacerbated by the lack of proper democratic procedure, preventing debate or tabling of amendments.

Secondly, the Report disrespects the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that decisions should be made as locally as possible. Abortion is not an issue of EU competency. It is the responsibility of individual member states, whose views on the subject vary widely.

Basic freedom

Thirdly, the Report flagrantly disregards existing treaties on human rights, and attempts to redefine the nature of rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that ‘parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’–art.26.3. Yet the Report violates the rights of parents with regard to sexual education, considering them merely ‘stakeholders’ among others. The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (DCR) states that the child needs ‘appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth’. Protection of every human life from conception is a principle reaffirmed by the European Court of Justice. While the Report assumes the ‘right to abortion’, no international legally binding treaty can accurately be cited as establishing or recognising a ‘right to abortion’.

Fourthly, the Report reveals an attitude of ‘new colonialism’ (Europeans know best’) by urging the EU to link European development policy with the promotion of so-called family planning and ‘safe’ (for whom?) abortion.

And fifthly, perhaps most seriously, this Report undermines the basic freedom that guarantees all other true freedoms by attempting to trump freedom of conscience by so-called sexual and reproduction rights.

So what to do?

At this stage, pray for tomorrow’s vote!

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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