One of Us campaign, backed by Catholic church, is an attempt force the EU to hold world's poorest women hostage, say critics
A pro-life campaigner holds a model of a nine-week-old foetus at an anti-abortion rally in Malta, the EU's smallest member state in terms of land mass, GDP and population. Photograph: Reuters
Tewodros Melesse said the One of Us campaign, launched with the backing of the Catholic church, failed to prioritise women's rights and judged women for taking control of their bodies. "A woman doesn't have an abortion for fun," said Melesse, in Stockholm last week for a meeting of parliamentarians to discuss progress on women's rights across the globe.
"The reasons for having an abortion are not taken in consideration. They don't care about the life of a woman. Because who takes care of that unwanted baby? Who will give her [the woman] support – mental and physical support? If they care about life, is a woman's life not important? All religions tell us to be compassionate, merciful, but when it comes to women, it is rejection, judgment and a 'know it all' attitude. Where is the compassion for women's lives?"
The One of Us campaign was launched in 2012 under the European Citizens' Initiative. The ECI allows the public to propose legislation they would like the European commission to consider. Proposals require at least 1 million signatures from people living in at least seven member states. The One of Us campaign, one of the first proposals under ECI, attracted more than 1.7m signatures and the organisers presented their ideas to the European parliament this month.
The European commission has until the end of May to decide whether to act on the proposal. It is not expected to become policy, as its ambitions are at odds with European aid policies. Member states are also unlikely to want to reopen debates about abortion rights and stem-cell research. But campaigners are braced for further backlash against women's rights directed at EU policy.
Those behind One of Us, an NGO with offices in Brussels, want to stop EU funding for any activities that involve the destruction of the human embryo, which would have an impact on organisations that receive money for family planning services, which can include abortion. The organisations that would miss out if this policy is introduced often provide a wider range of maternal health services, which in some countries offer vital support to governments trying to meet the UN millennium development goal 5 to reduce deaths in childbirth. The policy would also have ramifications for stem-cell research.
The campaign is heavily backed by organisations in Italy, Germany, France and Spain. No donors or specific partners are listed on the organisation's website, but the ECI site states that it is part-funded by the Italian pro-life organisation Fondazione Vita Nova. It is represented by Patrick Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an evangelical NGO based in Strasbourg. The ECLJ holds special consultative status at the UN.
An anti-abortion poster at a bus stop in Budapest. Hungary, the EU president, has come under fire from Brussels for using European money to fund a pro-life campaign. Photograph: AFP/Getty
In his presentation to the EU, Puppinck said: "Our initiative is a public statement of the consciences of millions of European citizens who recognise the humanity and individuality of every human being from conception."
He added: "We call upon the European institutions to give greater respect to the human being."
The initiative has the hallmarks of the Republican-backed Mexico City policy introduced in the US under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and which was most recently implemented by George W Bush. It was rescinded by Bill Clinton and again by Barack Obama.
Research on the impact of this policy published by the World Health Organisation in 2011 found it had increased the number of abortions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and could have unintended and unrecognised health consequences. According to the news agency EurActiv, the UK government warned MEPs that this proposal would undermine international efforts to save lives.
A briefing note released by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development said: "Having lost the battle against women's rights in Europe, to advance the anti-choice agenda those behind One of Us have had to look for a different way and part of the world to promote their ideology and impose it on others. And they are attempting to instrumentalise the EU – specifically its development policy – in order to do so. Put simply, One of Us is an attempt to make the EU hold the world's poorest women hostage until developing countries ban abortion."
An estimated 50,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions. Medical termination of pregnancy is a highly contentious issue and strongly opposed by conservative religious groups and the Catholic church. Six countries have a total ban on abortion, and many others restrict it when a women's life is at risk. Even when abortion is allowed, women often require permission from two or three medical officials.
Source: The Gardian