By Hilary White

BRUSSELS, July 17, 2009 ( – A Swedish liberal party MP and feminist activist has launched a campaign that, if successful, could see abortion enshrined as a “human right” across the EU – potentially forcing Ireland, as well as Malta and Poland, to abolish their protections for the unborn.

Birgitta Ohlsson, an extreme left member of Sweden’s Liberal People’s Party, has founded the group “Make Noise for Free Choice” that hopes to obtain the one million petition signatures necessary for a “citizens’ initiative” to force acceptance of abortion as a “human right” under the new Lisbon Treaty. According to the Treaty, a proposal which gains one million signatures from a sufficient number of countries must be considered by the European commission. According to the Times Online the number of countries necessary has yet to be determined.

The website for the initiative specifically targets Ireland, Malta and Poland, saying: “All around the world, women are denied their right to free, legal and safe abortions. … It is the everyday reality facing women in Ireland, Poland and Malta.”

Patricia Casey, a professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, reacted strongly to the effort, telling the Times Online, “It’s ironic for a country like Sweden, with such a track record of protecting human rights, that campaigners from there are campaigning for the killing of unborn children. There is certainly a contradiction.”

Pat Buckley, the representative at Brussels of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), told (LSN) that the chance of success for the initiative depends upon how much support the group has in the European Parliament. He was not optimistic that the initiative would certainly fail, however, since he pointed out that MEPs have already voted several times for “reproductive rights and choice” in recent years. “There is a very strong support in the Parliament for the concept of abortion as a human right,” he added.

The group, he said, assume they have the right to dictate to a sovereign nation. “Their attitude is that they’re the experts on human rights, and abortion is a human right, therefore Ireland must change its laws.”

So far, however, the petition has only been signed by 3489 people, although organizers intend to continue the campaign until October of 2010.

The Ohlsson initiative highlights the concerns of Irish pro-life campaigners who have long warned that the attempt to force Ireland to accept the Lisbon Treaty is a direct threat to the country’s pro-life laws and to its sovereignty. Life and family issues were found to be prominent among the Irish voters’ reasons for rejecting the Treaty in a referendum a year ago.

Since the failure of the 2008 referendum, Irish politicians have obtained what they claim are “cast-iron guarantees” from the EU on key areas of discontent including abortion law, taxation and neutrality. These, they said, would provide an opt-out for Ireland, to be voted on by all member states, at the time of the next accession treaty to bring in new member states to the EU.

But Buckley said that promises obtained by the government mean little because it is the European Court of Justice who interprets the Lisbon Treaty. The danger of these “guarantees,” he said, is that “heads of government are not in any position to make a commitment on behalf of the EU Court of Justice.”

The guarantees, he said, do not change the Lisbon Treaty itself “one iota.” “It will be precisely the same treaty that we voted down last year.”

“When the Court of Justice is called upon to interpret the Treaty with regard to abortion, they could interpret it to mean that there is a right to abortion. Ireland will then be bound to that because they would already have voted to ratify Lisbon.”

Abortion activists have long known the clout of the European courts to force a change in law. Three women are currently taking the Irish government to the European Court of Human Rights to attempt to overthrow the Irish law.

Buckley said that the only “clear way” to deal with the threat “would be a protocol, attached to the Lisbon Treaty itself, to give Ireland a direct opt out. This would be a message to the Court of Justice who would then be obliged to interpret the Treaty according to that protocol.”

Another factor in the possible success of the Ohlsson initiative is what Buckley calls “competence creep” in EU institutions. He explained that ostensibly there are certain issues over which the EU has no competence, including social areas like family and abortion. But slowly over the years, “competence creep” has eroded that principle under different ideological agendas such as that of so-called “equality rights.”

These activists, he said, introduce legislation related to “equality” which include issues like abortion and marriage in the sections on definitions. “In theory they’re not supposed to have any competence whatsoever in these areas, but in practice, because of competence creep, they continually expand their remit to include areas which should not be part of their brief.”

“I’d like to think that [the Ohlsson initiative] hadn’t a hope, but knowing how the system works in Brussels, it is likely they will have the support they need. It would be difficult for them acting alone to do it – it depends upon what sort of assistance they get – there’s certainly a possibility this could happen.”

Supporting the initiative are MEPs and community leaders from Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, including Baroness Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP who sits on Euro-Parliament’s committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and Vice-Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee. Also listed as supporting are Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament for the social liberal party Democrats 66, and Lone Dybkjur, a member of the Danish Parliament for the Radikale Venstre party.

Read related coverage:

Irish Who Voted Against Lisbon Treaty Had Abortion Fears in Mind

“Difficult” Ireland Must Ratify Lisbon Treaty or Lose International Influence: Prominent EU Rep.

Eurocrats Refuse to Take “No” for an Answer on Lisbon Treaty

EU to Solve “Irish Problem” with Second Referendum in Autumn ’09

To contact Birgitta Ohlsson:
Phone: 08-786 47 30
Mobile: 0709-687 106
[email protected]

To contact Sarah Ludford:
Phone: 020 7288 2526
Fax:020 7288 2526
E-mail: [email protected]

To contact Lone Dybkjur
DK-1240 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3337 4711
e-mail: [email protected]

To contact Sophie in ‘t Veld
ASP 10G 157
Wiertzstraat 60
1047 Brussel
Phone: +32 2 2847796
[email protected]