New York, November 4, 2005 ( – Finding ways to force countries like Ireland, Portugal and Malta to liberalize their abortion laws was the focus of a meeting of 17 members of the European Parliament and representatives of various NGOs who gathered in Brussels on October 18. At a conference entitled, “Abortion – Making it a right for all women in the EU,” attendees heard testimony from abortion advocates from countries with restrictive abortion laws.

Held at the European Parliament building, participants strategized about ways to make a right to abortion mandatory for all member states of the European Union. They discussed ways to argue that guaranteeing the right to abortion falls under the European Union’s mandate because it is a human rights and public health issue.

Participants were particularly concerned about the role of the Catholic Church in countries with a strong Catholic identity. Maria Elena Valenicano Martinez-Orozco, a member of the European Parliament from Spain, spoke on “How to deal with the Catholic Church and reproductive rights.” She also addressed why Spain had success “fighting conservative powers when it comes to homosexuality and abortion” and why “it is so much harder in Portugal”.

Dr. Emmanuel D. Bezzina of Malta said, “It is a cruel world that we live in. Cruel because the Catholic Church is enshrined in the Maltese Constitution. Hence the power of the Catholic Church in Malta is tremendous. See for yourself, we could not even send one Maltese woman to speak here because had anyone come they would be terrified should publicity be given in Malta and they be seen as promoting abortion. . . . And we have an arrogant Prime Minister and an arrogant party in government who flirts with the Catholic Church.”

Another parliament member, Sarah Ludford of London, wrote in a column prior to the meeting that abortion should not be left in the hands of individual nations. “The intention of the conference, to put the issue of women’s reproductive health firmly in a European dimension, is entirely legitimate. It is no longer good enough to say that the question of women being denied access to such abortion services is purely a matter for national governments and is nothing to do with Europe. . . . If Euro-silence prevails about the continuing tight restriction or even prohibition on abortion that persists in several member states, we are complicit in women’s lives being threatened or destroyed because of excessive deference to the notion of ‘subsidiarity’.”

How to overcome the principle of subsidiarity was among the topics addressed at the meeting. According to one observer present at the meeting, a representative of Catholics for a Free Choice said, “Well, subsidiarity can change just as did other things. But we keep putting forward our agenda.”

Anne van Lanker of Belgium admitted that, “the EU has no competence on abortion.” She noted that the “tendency in the European Parliament is now changing” because new member states have made the organization more pro-life “and so we are not sure if a good law will come out.” Rather than pursue a strategy of explicitly changing the laws, Van Lanker said, “We have to do what we did with Slovakia. Name and shame. Of course we cannot forbid a state [from criminalizing abortion] but we have to keep pointing out that it is an infringement of EU laws.”