Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Disinformation against One of Us reviewed



On the 28th of May, the European Commission has to give an answer to the European Citizens Initiative "One of Us". Nearly 1.9 million signatures were collected to ask the European Union could stop funding the embryonic stem cell research and abortion in developing countries

The left-liberal opposition against the "One of Us" was fierce and many arguments were used to neutralize the concern of so many European citizens. Main arguments were:
  • One of Us is piloted by ultra-conservative, religious, anti-choice organisations
  • One of Us is actually not a Citizens’ initiative but orchestrated by the Catholic Church and the East Orthodox churches
  • One of Us” is the latest in the series of recent attacks on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe“One of Us” is  imposing their religious beliefs at any cost
  • One of Us will be responsible of the death of thousands of women in developing countries
  • One of Us wants to block scientific research based on their ideology. Science should be neutral
  • One of Us wants to abolish essential EU support for maternal health care, prenatal and voluntary family planning services.
  • The “One of Us” campaign is at odds with the EU’s longstanding development aid policy and its international commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)
It is surprising that not only these arguments are not true or that they are based on biased information, but also that many of these arguments try to frame the Initiative instead. Please find here the disinformation against theEuropean Citizens Initiative reviewed. The information is taken from different resources which are mentioned in the footnotes.


1. One of Us” is piloted by ultra-conservative, religious, anti-choice organisations[1]

Opponents claimed “that 96% of the total € 159,219 declared to fund One of Us came from organisations controlled by two MEPs and that an initiative orchestrated and driven by MEPs being heard in the European Parliament is hardly true to the intended spirit of a citizens’ initiative”.

This criticism is not only untrue, but also discriminatory. It is completely clear that the funding of the petition, which has been disclosed to the Commission is perfectly in line with what is foreseen by Regulation 211/2011. Therefore, there is no valid ground for drawing in question the legitimacy of the petition, which is based on the signatures of nearly 1.9 million EU citizens, of which 1,721,626 have been officially validated.

These criticisms are not only unfounded but also betray a discriminatory and profoundly anti-democratic attitude; they stand in open contradiction to fundamental EU values. Should “religious” people be treated as second-class citizens and not be allowed to use the instrument of participatory democracy provided by the European Citizens’ Initiative or (if they do) not be listened to? 


2.   “One of Us” is actually not a European Citizens Initiative but is organized by the Catholic Church COMECE structures and the Orthodox Churches in the East. They are (misusing) their influence  

One of the issues we face in debates about medical-ethical issues (like for example the well-known Estrela report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) is that the defenders of liberal SRHRs do not try to attack the arguments but prefer to attack their opponents, labelling them as “religious extremists” or as “the voice of the Catholic church”.  In this way they seek to avoid an open and honest debate about the arguments and concerns that are raised. In an open and transparent EU, we should listen to diverse arguments and opinions.

This time, those who oppose the One of Us initiative tried to silence millions of European Citizens who are genuinely concerned about the funding of the embryonic stem cell research and promoting abortion in developing countries.

In addition, it is not true that this is centrally planned and organised by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. What  is true is that many believers and church leaders share their concern and therefore promote the initiative like many other organisations who share these concerns. This has nothing to do with an abuse of power. It is strange that without evidence, 1.9 million people were seen as being manipulated and forced to sign. Again, in the EU democratic debate, transparency should be paramount. The EU should be impartial in its treatment of each ECI.

3.    “One of Us” is the latest in the series of recent attacks on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe

This is an interesting remark. It is true that there was a lot of opposition to the Estrela Report dealing with 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' (SRHR) report in late 2013. This was mainly because it exceeded the competences of the European Union. Furthermore, “One of Us” does not call sexual and reproductive health into question. But considering abortion as a fundamental part of both family planning and reproductive health is very controversial. There is absolutely no consensus within the EU about abortion policies and abortion certainly is not a European right, even less a matter of EU competence.[2]

About the term “Sexual Reproductive Health”: the European Commission itself declared that abortion was not included in the definition of SRH and used the same definition of the term “reproductive health” as it was defined by the United Nations (UN) in 1994 at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. [3]“The Union has never adopted an alternative definition of “reproductive health” to that given in the Programme of Action, which makes no reference to abortion” [4] Also, answering an MEP's question: “Does the term ‘reproductive health’ include the promotion of abortion, yes or no?”, the Council Presidency's answer was clearly: “No”[5]

There are no attacks on SRH, but on the redefining of the term. Improvements of maternal care is of crucial importance, especially in developing countries. Often there is no birth attendant, the medical environment is not fully sanitary, emergency facilities are absent or inadequate, doctors are not trained or equipped to handle obstetric emergencies, and basic medical and surgical supplies such as antibiotics and sterile gloves and equipment are scarce or unavailable and most maternal deaths can be prevented with adequate nutrition, basic health care, and good obstetric care throughout pregnancy, at delivery, and postpartum. To reduce maternal  mortality we must strive to give women in the developing world access to the same standard of care that has been available to women in the developed world for decades-care that results in a healthy outcome for mother and child[6]. 

Conclusion: it is not true that the supporters of  “One of Us” are against Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). However they do not agree about considering  abortion as a means of family planning. In this respect the ideologies of “individual autonomy” and the “protection of life” are clashing. Therefore adding this to the SRHR will always find resistance

4.         “One of Us” is  imposing their religious beliefs at any cost

It is not true that “religious beliefs” are imposed on others. In this Initiative it is about the protection of life and dignity in this case of the life of the embryo. In the Brüstle judgement, the European Court of Justice has defined the meaning of the term “human embryo”, finding that this term applies to the fertilised ovum as from the moment of conception and that  human embryos are endowed with human dignity. It therefore declared that there is no “transitional period” after the moment of conception in which a human embryo is not (yet) a bearer of dignity, and concluded that we can’t benefit from its destruction. This is not based on a religious view, but on the decision of the European Court and the EU should be obliged to ensure consistency in all its policies. [7]

By not respecting this fact, I am wondering who is actually imposing their ideologies in order to destruct life. Individual autonomy should never be at the expense of human dignity.

5.    One of Us will be responsible of the death of thousands of women in developing countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 42 million abortions worldwide each year and 20 million of these are clandestine or illegal. According to WHO, unsafe abortions cause about 65,000 to 70,000 maternal deaths each year, 99 percent of which take place in the developing world. Therefore the IPPF claims that “the legalization of abortion and the provision of family planning services dramatically cut abortion-related deaths”. However, this conclusion is contrary to the available evidence.

The lack of modern medicine and quality health care, not the prohibition of abortion results in high maternal mortality rates. Legalized abortions actually leads to more abortions[8]- and in the developing world, where maternal health care is poor, this would increase the number of women who die or are harmed by abortion. Most maternal deaths can be prevented with adequate nutrition, basic health care, and good obstetric care throughout pregnancy, at delivery, and postpartum.


Contrary to the United Nations Population Division (UNDP), there has been no substantial decrease in maternal mortality or child mortality since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijng[9] This is true even though, in that same period, more women have access to legal abortion than ever before.

By contrast the examples of Russia, , Ireland and Poland demonstrate that nations with strong abortion restrictions actually have lower maternal death rates than countries that permit abortion on demand[10]. When Poland finally prohibited most abortions following decades of government-funded abortions on demand, evidence suggests that the total number of abortions (legal and illegal) fell dramatically[11]

Regarding India the report noted: “Despite the liberalization of the abortion law, unsafe abortions have contributed to the high rates of maternal mortality in India (570 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 1990”[12]

According to estimates from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and the World Bank, the four countries that decreased their Mortal Mortality Rates the most between 1990 and 2008 are Maldives, Romania, Iran and Bhutan[13]. With the exception of Romania, these countries have maintained bans on abortion[14]

One should also question the accuracy and ideological bias of  the WHO data. In 2010, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), led by former WHO employee Dr. Christopher Murray, published a study in the journal The Lancet refuting the UN’s numbers, showing maternal mortality levels were far below what the WHO had long claimed. Months later, the UN group led by the WHO published its own revised numbers which were closer to the IHME estimates for that year. According to the IHME, maternal mortality has declined steadily but far more gradually than previously thought. Furthermore, improvement began prior to the Millenium Development Goals, and it is not readily apparent that the MDGs accelerated the process. [15]

6.   One of Us wants to block scientific research based on their ideology. Science should be neutral.

Science has opened the special world of embryos to us. We know how they look, how they develop, how they change their shapes and more. Scientists are also fascinated by the development of human life. Stem cells especially, could be very interesting for researchers. These simple cells can develop into a complete and healthy human being. Since 2006, Japanese scientists Kazutoshi Takashi and Shinya Yamanaka found a way to program back the body cells of adults to stem cells. These cells are called “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC’s). The advantage of these stem cells is that you can obtain them easily and do not require the use of embryos. If scientists succeed, these cells will acquire the same properties as embryonic stem cells.

While the stem cell research was firstly focused on the unethical use of embryonic stem cells (see point 4), with the latest developments we see a whole new move towards adult cells. The Bishops’ conference of the EU praised this method and called it a turning point in stem cell research and the debate around it. Dr. Yamanaka took the ethical objections against embryonic stem cell research seriously. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters” he said “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way”.

The human embryo is a complete human being at an early stage of development and should be respected as a living human being. From an ethical point of view, you therefore cannot use cells without permission of the donor; and certainly not when it involves the destruction of that person. Adult stem cells are different, as they can be taken from an adult without endangering their life, and therefore there is no moral dilemma. Another objection to embryonic stem cell research is that it has not yielded a single therapeutically use to date. Supporters of the ethically controversial research always argue with great promises, announcing that they will soon be healing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers and other diseases, but they have yet to make a single delivery on those promises, while adult stem-cells have yielded many therapeutic uses, including treatment of blood diseases.

We should therefore stimulate (and fund) adult stem cell research. And from a results and ethical point of view the funding of the embryonic stem cell research should be halted.

7.   One of Us wants to abolish essential EU support for maternal health care, prenatal and voluntary family planning services.

The One of Us does not propose to cut back funding for development aid. Nor a reduction of funds spent on programmes related to sexual and reproductive health. It does not call for an end of education and information on sexuality or for a cut on maternal health services in the true sense of the word (see also point 3).
It simply states that EU funds, while not being reduced, should not be used for funding abortions. As stated in  point 5 above, and 8 below, this will have a marked benefit in terms of reaching the millennium development goals as increased resources are given to true maternal health services.)


8.       The “One of Us” campaign is at odds with the EU’s longstanding development aid policy and its international commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) [16]

The legal basis for funding the Sexual and Reproductive Health programmes in developing countries is the Regulation on aid for policies and actions on reproductive and sexual health and rights in developing countries (2003) which states in article 1 that: “The Community shall provide financial assistance and appropriate expertise with a view to promoting a hoslistic approach to, and the recognition of, reproductive rights as defined in the ICPD programme of Action, including safe motherhood and universal access to a comprehensive range of safe and reliable reproductive and sexual health care and services”[17]. Article 16 “No support should be given under this Regulation to encourage sterilization or abortion, or to improper testing of contraception methods in developing countries”

The ICPD refrained from promoting abortion in the definition of SRH. The only time abortion is mentioned, it is accompanied by strict limitations, explicitly stating that abortion was not a legitimate means of family planning that it should only be available where already legal, and that it should not be a promoted course of action for women. Also the definition specifically requires that any changes related to abortion law “can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process[18]” In point 3 we already discussed about the term “reproductive health”. The sustained improvement of the health and well-being of the populations of developing countries is one of the major objectives of development. Improving reproductive and sexual health and protecting reproductive and sexual rights are important aspects of this objective. The word “improving”connotes the positive application of the regulation

In 2013 the EU contributed €56.5 billion in overseas development aid, which is over half the global aid given.[i]  In the European Council’s conclusions of 19th May 2014 they reemphasised that the implementation of a rights based approach to development should “be based on the universality and indivisibility of human rights and the principles of inclusion and participation in decision-making processes; non-discrimination, equality and equity; transparency and accountability.”  The ‘One of us’ initiative would support these themes, asking that those funding and those providing these services also apply adhere to them all.  For example, calling manual vacuum aspiration abortions by the euphemism of ‘Menstruation Regulation’[ii] and performing these with EU funding in countries where abortion is illegal, is contrary to transparency, truth and EU development aid policy, and therefore should be defunded.

Everyone is for the reduction of maternal mortality.  However, the way to stop mothers dying in childbirth should not be to terminate motherhood while the child is in the womb.  True development in the provision of pregnancy education, health clinics, hospitals, midwives, anti-biotic drugs, doctors, etc (but not damaging abortion operations) will achieve the reduction in maternal mortality.  A study published in the Lancet indicates that 51% of maternal deaths could be prevented by this type of healthcare provision.  [iii]





[2]) In respons to a question posed on March 26, 2007 regarding Latin-American countries and their legislation about abortion, the Commission responded: “The Commission does not assume any positions in favour or against abortion, due to the fact that there is no community legislation in this respect” Reply of the Commission H-0239/07, April 26, 2007 and the Reply of the Council E-4955/06 March 19, 2007 “Concerning the right to abortion, the Council would inform the Honorable Member that the issue of abortion from a legal point of view falls under the competence of the Member States”

[3])Source: http://www.europeandignitywatch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Day_to_Day_diverse/Funding_of_Abortion_Through_EU_Development_Aid_full_version.pdf

[4]) See the Commission response to Question H-0729/03 from MEPs Bernd Posselt and H-0794/03 from Dana Scallon 4 December 2003.

[5]) See the Council Response to Questions H-0729/03 and H-0794/03, Question time Dec. 4 2003

[6]) Source : http://www.mccl.org/document.doc?id=252
[8]) In the United States, the abortion number skyrocketed from an estimated 90,000 per year to a peak of 1.6 million following total  legalization in 1973 based on “An Objective Model for estimating Criminal Abortions and its implications for public policy” in New perspectives on Human Abortion ed. Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. Dennis J. Horan and David Mall (Frederick, MS: University Publications of America 1981). Stanley Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute says “In most countries, it is common after abortion is legalized for abortion rates to rise sharply for several years, then stabilize, just as we have seen in the United States” It is plausible to conclude that given a substantial increase in the total number of abortions following legalization, the number (if not the rate) of abortion-related maternal deaths may actually increase, not decrease.

[9]) United Nations, World Mortality Report 2005 (New York, United Nations, 2006), Sales No. E.06.XIII.3

[10]) ibid

[11]) Wm. Robert Johnston: “Data on abortion decrease in Poland, Johnston’s Archive, 26 May 2008

 [12]) United Nations, Abortion Policies: A global Review (New York, United Nations, 2002), Sales No. E.02.XIII.18, 56-58)

[13] WHO, et al., Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008 (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010), 33

[14]) http://www.nrlc.org/uploads/international/MCCLMaternalMort2012.pdf

[15]) Also the IHME reported close to 300,000 maternal deaths in 2013, which marks a 22% decrease since 1990. However, the WHO-led group claims that maternal mortality dropped by 45% in the same time frame. The disputed 1990 estimate – 376,034 maternal deaths according to IHME and 523,000 according to the WHO has important policy implications for the future. More information on: http://c-fam.org/en/issues/global-health/7833-new-guttmacher-chief-doesn-t-let-facts-get-in-the-way-of-advocacy.
                                                         
[16] This information is taken from the well-documented report of the European Dignity Watch about “the Funding through EU development aid: An analysis of EU’s sexual and reproductive health policy”. This is an important report giving much more information about how the EU tries to implement SRH policies and also the lack of transparency on the financing of projects which are exceeding EU competences. The report can be found at: http://www.europeandignitywatch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Day_to_Day_diverse/Funding_of_Abortion_Through_EU_Development_Aid_full_version.pdf

[17] Regulation No 1567/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council


[18] Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, UN, ch. VII, paragraph A, 3 September 1994, Sales No. E.95.XIII.18



[i] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/142676.pdf
[ii] http://www.ippf.org/resources/media-press/glossary/m
[iii] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60792-3/fulltext


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