By Hilary White

  STRASBOURG, April 16, 2008 ( – The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has passed a resolution to declare unlimited legal abortion an unconditional right. The Assembly passed the resolution with 102 to 69 votes with 14 abstentions. Amendments seeking to make the resolution less extreme in its promotion of abortion were rejected.

  In preparation for what is being described as a rushed vote, the Assembly restricted plenary session speeches to three minutes, amendment speeches to 30 seconds and denied the Assembly’s legal affairs committee any scrutiny. Only 185 of the 318 members of the Assembly were present for the vote.

  Pat Buckley of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who was present at today’s debate, said, “Today is a tragic day for Europe, not least because this report in favour of even more killing of unborn children was rushed through the Assembly without proper scrutiny…The only consolation is that the resolution is not legally binding.”

  Nigel Dodds, MP and MLA for Belfast North, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and a minister in the Northern Ireland executive, said, “It’s a sad day for the unborn child in Europe, but the fight goes on.”

  Assembly member Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, representing Malta, a country which upholds the right to life of all children, born and unborn, opposed the resolution, warning that “a society which destroys its young condemns itself to oblivion.”

  The Assembly, the oldest of the pan-European organisations, has no power to compel compliance among member states, but its recommendations are nonetheless influential in other bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights.

  Buckley continued, “Nothing in the European Convention on Human Rights recognises a right to abortion or confers on individuals a right to require a state to permit or facilitate abortion. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the issue of when the right to life begins is a question to be decided at national level. It follows that the legal protection afforded to early human life must also be decided at national level.”

  The PACE committee met in late March to discuss a report that called for the total elimination among European Union member states of any legal restrictions on abortion. The report called for “access to safe and legal abortion” and urged all the member states to “guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right to abortion.”

  The committee’s report criticised even the legal restrictions not specifically restricting abortion, saying, “The repeated medical consultations required, the time allowed for changing one’s mind and the waiting time for the abortion all have the potential to make access to abortion more difficult, or even impossible in practice”.

“The ban on abortions does not result in fewer abortions, but mainly leads to clandestine abortions, which are more traumatic and more dangerous. The lawfulness of abortion does not have an effect on a woman’s need for an abortion, but only on her access to a safe abortion,” the report said.

  It also recommended that countries make “sex-education” mandatory for young people, a strategy that precipitated in Britain one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the western world.

  Read related coverage:

  Council of Europe May Call for Abortion as a Right

  Update: Call for Total Decriminalisation of Abortion in all 47 Council of Europe States

  Council of Europe: Ban Creationism since it may become “Threat to Human Rights” and Democracy