Poland is once again in the crosshairs of the European Union for its pro-life policies. The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF), which includes a dozen member countries of the European Parliament, has published in recent weeks the first report on the respect of reproductive rights in Europe. Research parameters include access to contraceptive supplies, related counseling, and information from national governments.
Poland comes in dead last for contraceptive access, with 33.5% of people having this available. In the first places, the countries of Western Europe are confirmed, recording an increasingly strong gap with the former communist area.
Anti-life activists gloat. But not too much
Welcoming the findings of the report is the secretary of EPF, Neil Datta, who carries forward the theorem that a greater use of contraception would result in fewer unwanted pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions. “Europe has among the highest contraceptive prevalence rates and lowest abortion rates in the world,” Datta says. “But this progress is very uneven, as you can see, some countries are doing very well and some are not.”
Last year, the record for contraceptive use was held by Belgium, which this year retains the lead in the ranking, but on equal terms (91.1%) with France and the United Kingdom. This is followed by Luxembourg (85.2%), Sweden (82.9%), Estonia (81.6%), the Netherlands (81.1%) and Germany (75.1%). Among the countries that are greatly implementing these services is France, where women under the age of 25 receive full reimbursement for contraceptives. Italy, Datta points out, is also getting rid of some “unnecessary administrative barriers.”
Other countries proceeding swiftly along the road to birth control include Lithuania, which makes some form of long-acting reversible contraception available to younger women, while in the United Kingdom, contraceptive pills have been reclassified to make them more accessible.
Inevitably, Datta’s tirade is aimed at a series of Eastern European countries that “did badly” and “continue to do badly”: the reference is to Slovakia (49.7%), Greece (49%), Croatia (44.3%), Hungary (44.9%) and, of course, Poland. The latter, in addition to confirming its position at the bottom of the list, would have even lower numbers than last year: “Worse than we expected”, says a disheartened Neil Datta.
Yet despite the galloping trend of contraception in Western Europe, there are those who fear that “what is happening in Poland could happen elsewhere.” This is stated by French liberal MEP Irène Tolleret, who says: “These things happen because of populist politicians who have decided to maintain power by addressing LGBT+ but also by attacking women’s rights and, in particular, sexual and reproductive rights.”
There are even those, like Ilona Kikbusch, founder of the Global Health Center, who fear “repercussions on women’s health” and a decrease in rights, due to policies perceived as “authoritarian and religious.” Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie Veld pins her hopes on the French presidency of the Council of the European Union to fulfill the need for a “health union” in order not to let alleged “ideological forces” lead to fewer contraceptive services at the European level. These are all positions that seem to echo what the French president stated earlier this year Emmanuel Macron, who advocates for the inclusion of abortion as a fundamental right.
Poland is actually the European country where contraceptive services are less widespread and where, for example, the morning-after pill is available only with a doctor’s prescription. The score of 33.5% shows a 1.6 point decline from the previous survey.
This contrasts with almost the entire rest of Europe, and is accompanied by the introduction of a ban on abortion due to malformations of the unborn child: this latter type previously covered 90% of all legal abortions in Poland.
It should be remembered that, among other things, the Polish conservative government, upon taking office in 2015, also cut state funding for artificial insemination, promoting later a school law that ousts sex education, along with the ideological organizations that promote it.