After a heated plenary debate on Wednesday 23 June, MEPs will be asked to vote on a draft report calling for the protection of women's sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the EU (see EUROPE B12715A19). This is the first time since the unexpected rejection of the Estrela report in 2013 (see EUROPE B10948A8) that the European Parliament has reopened this controversial dossier. Rapporteur Predrag Fred Matić (S&D, Croatia) gave an interview to EUROPE a few days before the vote. (Interview by Agathe Cherki)
Agence Europe – Your report is extensive, with almost 80 recommendations. What are your main requests?
Predrag Fred Matić – What we are talking about here is defending fundamental human rights. And I would like to begin by stressing that this report is not only about the right to abortion. The far right and the anti-gender movements keep referring to that, but we go much further.
Yes, we call for abortion to be decriminalised in all Member States (see EUROPE B12724A26), but we also call, for example, for appropriate sex education for all children in primary and secondary schools, and for access to fertility treatment without discrimination, especially for single women and female couples. The report also addresses the issue of menstrual poverty (see EUROPE B12731A8). In Croatia, for example, sanitary products are taxed in the same way as luxury goods.
As for the Commission, we expect it to appoint an EU special envoy for SRHR. We know that anti-gender movements are now very influential and organised, so we need the EU to address the issue at institutional level. We also call on the Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, to take action against those who instrumentalise SRHR for the benefit of so-called national demographic objectives.
An "international coalition" called "Stop the Matic Report" was set up by the anti-abortion organisation Ordo Iuris. What exactly are you being criticised for?
The far right and anti-gender movements accuse me of supporting and promoting abortion. This is wrong. What we are saying here is that abortion should be a choice, that every woman has the right to choose. The number of abortions performed is similar in countries where abortion is legal and in countries where it is not. But abortions performed abroad or clandestinely are extremely risky. Twenty-five million unsafe abortions take place every year, often with fatal consequences.
A video entitled "Matic wants to ban conscientious objection" is currently circulating on Croatian YouTube. Yet the report is very clear on this—it recognises that doctors can invoke a conscience clause for personal reasons. But this cannot interfere with a patient's right to access healthcare, and we call on Member States and healthcare providers to take this into account, to ensure, for example, that in a hospital there is at least one doctor who will be able to perform an abortion. The far-right and anti-gender movements are spreading false information about this issue, they are trying to intimidate us. I have received hate mail comparing me to Hitler, a petition against the report has been launched... They are focusing the debate on the issue of abortion because they just don't want to talk about women's rights and health.
The report states that LGBTI people can face great difficulties in SRHR due to gaps in sex education programmes, and you therefore call on States to develop programmes that take into account the diversity of sexual and gender orientations. The Hungarian Parliament has just adopted provisions banning this (see EUROPE B12743A24)...
It is precisely to avoid this that we need sex education in schools that promotes inclusiveness and gender diversity. They oppose this on the grounds that it is contrary to the values of the Church. But the Church and civil life should not be in conflict. If you want to go to church, you can go to church, and that won't prevent sex education in schools.
For me it is incomprehensible that EU Member States, and moreover countries that lived under communism for decades, advocate values worthy of another century.
Of course I condemn what is happening in Hungary.
This report is not binding, it will not have direct consequences for the Member States. What would its adoption bring?
We need to have an official position of the European Parliament that is finally progressive on this issue. This will show that the EU has its eyes on the future and that it does not intend to follow those who want to live in the past. That is also why this report is important. Almost ten years after the Estrela report, we will see whether Parliament is living in the 21st century or not! But obviously it will not be binding on anyone, as health remains a prerogative of the Member States. It is only a call, but it is a strong call. And it is also a response to the anti-gender movements that are gaining momentum in the EU.
Are you confident about the outcome of the vote? Do you think that despite these trends, the Parliament is more progressive than in 2013?
I think that some trends have indeed changed internally in the Parliament. We got to know the opponents and the anti-gender movements better, and we realise that their intentions, apart from being motivated by personal reasons, are also dangerous for health and women throughout the EU.
As for the vote, I hope that the report will be adopted by a large majority. We will have the support of the left, of course. The far right will vote against, of course. And we are still waiting to see what will happen with the EPP members. We hope they will support us, but it's difficult to say at this stage.
As in 2013, the ECR group will present an alternative resolution, as will the EPP. Will this again threaten the adoption of the report?
We still don't have an official text in front of us, so I can only comment generally on the alternative resolutions – we will, of course, not support any of them, as the text we put forward is a result a many months of work and encompasses all that we feel is relevant and necessary to ensure universal access to SRHR.
EPP has to make a choice: whether they will stand with us in creating an equal Union where all persons have access to healthcare or whether they will leave women behind.
Can a European Health Union really be achieved as long as there are such tensions over women's health?
I can only hope that we will move towards a common health policy, which would solve many problems. The Covid-19 crisis has shown us how necessary this is. And access to healthcare - all of it, without exception - is a fundamental right.