European Overreaction to Dobbs Shows That Abortion Is Still Not Normalized, Expert Says

Two weeks before the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the European Parliament already discussed ways to politically address the ‘threats’ the impending decision posed to abortion worldwide.

French and American women protest the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood in the Place de La Republique June 26 in Paris.
French and American women protest the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood in the Place de La Republique June 26 in Paris. (photo: Owen Franken - Corbis / Getty Images)

“A big step backwards” for Boris Johnson, British prime minister; “a dark day for women’s rights,” according to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne; “a huge blow to women’s human rights” for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

The European leaders released their indignant declarations following the announcement of the historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 to invalidate the federal right to abortion established by its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. 

These cascading rhetorical reactions have not ceased, and they also were quickly followed by political actions, including French deputies from President Emmanuel Macron’s party announcing the day after the Supreme Court decision that they would introduce a parliamentary bill to enshrine access to abortion in the French Constitution.

Earlier in June, as rumors of the upcoming overturning of Roe v. Wade circulated in the wake of the leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, entitled “Global threats to abortion rights: the possible overturning of abortion rights in the US by the Supreme Court.” The resolution “strongly encourages the US Government and/or other relevant US authorities … to remove all barriers to abortion services,” and calls on the EU to support, including financially, “U.S.-based civil society organisations protecting, promoting and providing SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] in the country, as an expression of its unwavering commitment to these rights and offer a safe haven for all medical professionals who might be at risk of legal persecution or other forms of harassment as a result of their legitimate work in providing abortion care.”

It also reiterated its call for the EU to include the right to abortion in its Charter of Fundamental Rights, a proposal already discussed in January this year during a plenary session at the European Parliament. 

In a communique issued June 9, Father Manuel Barrios Prieto, general secretary of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), denounced the resolution as an “unacceptable interference in the democratic jurisdictional decisions of a sovereign state, a country that is also not a Member State of the EU.”


A Persistent Malaise

The vehemence of the reactions from the European ruling class to an American decision that will have no impact on European law also raised questions among some European jurists and journalists about its implications. Among other things, they note the significant differences between the American and European legal systems, and the fact the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule on the right to abortion itself, instead returning jurisdiction over the matter to individual U.S. states.

For Gregor Puppinck, lawyer and director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), this “overreaction” of the European ruling class and press mainly reflects a persistent malaise associated with legal abortion in the Old Continent. 

“This reveals that abortion, almost 50 years after its legalization in Europe, is still not normalized and the wound is still alive,” he told the Register. “Even though there is almost no audible opposition in most European countries, almost the entire political class feels obliged to express its allegiance to abortion, while it is not threatened in any way, neither in France, nor in England, nor in Belgium.” 

“For me, it is an expression of the deep and persistent moral discomfort of the political class on this topic,” he said.

Puppinck also attributed the wrath of progressive political leaders to the fact that abortion embodies an essential element of modernity, namely the power of the individual over human life. 

“Since it is a kind of dogma of modernity, it is then a form of blasphemy to question the idea that there is a fundamental right to abortion and in this regard we can understand why people of progressive sensitivity were shocked,” he said.


Political Regimes Do Not Make Human Rights

For this legal expert, the author of numerous books and legal articles devoted to bioethical issues and more specifically to abortion, the Supreme Court decision actually has demonstrated that abortion is not a fundamental human right, and that it cannot fall under the protection of privacy or the principle of respect for the right to autonomy since it does not only involve the woman’s body but also the life of the unborn child.

“There is a clear tendency in Europe to ignore the existence of the fetus, whatever its status, claiming that only the mother’s body is at stake, which is not true,” Puppinck noted. “Moreover, the European Court has had the honesty to recognize this in several decisions by saying that pregnancy does not only involve the private life of the woman.”

While he doesn’t exclude the possibility that European leaders will eventually succeed in including abortion among the rights protected by the European Charter, he asserted that human rights cannot be decreed arbitrarily.

“Human rights texts are declarations that recognize pre-existing rights, freedoms inherent in human nature. Human rights cannot be created,” he said. “To want to inscribe this right in a constitution or in European law is to force the law and to use the symbolic power of the European founding texts to disguise abortion as a right and freedom.”

To illustrate his thought, he cited totalitarian regimes that are based on repeated violations of the fundamental rights of freedom of thought and conscience. 

“When they are violated, as is the case in totalitarian regimes, these inherent human rights do not simply cease to exist, they continue to exist, albeit outside the regime; it is never the regime that creates rights and freedoms, and when a regime wants to impose them, it is simply a travesty,” he said.

Consequently, Puppinck concluded, the inclusion of the right to abortion in the European Charter would not change the nature of that life-destroying practice, but instead would serve as an instrument to violate people’s consciences, especially medical staff, who still have many conscientious objectors to involvement with abortion procedures.