Woman at radio station (Photo Jeroen van Loon)

EU Countries failing on commitments to women's contraceptive needs

Latest Barometer figures show EU Member States are still failing to meet their commitments to women’s modern contraceptive needs as situation stagnates or worsens at unacceptably low levels.

A Barometer of Women’s Access to Modern Contraceptive Choice in 16 European Union (EU) member states, highlights a worrying trend that EU countries are yet again failing in their commitments to improve equitable access to modern contraceptive needs.

Significantly, the research shows that very few policies have improved since 2013, and alarmingly in most countries, the situation has stagnated, or even worsened, over the past few years. The findings pinpoint an erosion of human rights, and the urgent need to re-establish reproductive health as a priority policy on the European and national agendas.

IPPF EN calls on decision-makers at all levels to support the implementation of a comprehensive approach to contraceptive choice in Europe within a broader sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) agenda. A comprehensive SRHR policy is fundamental to ensuring the wellbeing of all women and girls, particularly the most vulnerable, and is a crucial precondition to allowing women and couples the freedom to choose parenthood or not.

It is a competence of member states to formulate and implement SRHR policies at a national level. Yet, when it comes to public health and non-discrimination, the EU can and should exercise policy-making, foster research and the exchange of best practices, as well as better supporting the implementation of SRHR at national level. Therefore, we call for a structured dialogue involving all relevant stakeholders at EU and national levels and urge the EU to make a greater investment in SRHR research and data collection. This is critical to empowering women in their personal, social and professional lives.

Sophie in‘t Veld MEP (Netherlands, ALDE) strongly supported the IPPF EN report. She said that: “The inequalities identified in the Barometer are very disturbing, and not in line with the aim of equal access to health care throughout the EU. Such differences in rights and access would not be tolerated in any other area of health care. It underlines the importance of including SRHR in the Commission’s new EU Health Strategy. The EU should be committed to supporting a European and a human rights approach on SRHR in order to guarantee access to information, prevention services and intervention for all, thereby reducing inequalities across the EU.”

She continued by saying: “The Commission has ignored our calls to include SRHR in EU health policies as it did before 2012, strengthening the exchange of best practices and funding research on sexual and reproductive health, claiming it is an exclusive member state competence. However there is no reason why SRHR should be treated differently from other areas of health. The Commission should stop applying double standards. SRHR are high on the EU's international development agenda, but are taboo within the European borders.  We have to continue to fight for change – so that the right to access to modern contraceptives will be an integral part of the EU health strategy."

IPPF EN believes that by increasing transparency by showing the EU countries with a poor performance, the report can contribute towards positive change. Its recommendations include: developing integrated and comprehensive national SRHR policy frameworks that would increase access to modern comprehensive contraceptive choice; strengthening comprehensive sexuality education in schools; and increasing awareness-raising campaigns including information on the full range of modern contraceptive methods.

The Barometer highlights that women’s access to modern contraceptives varies significantly from one EU country to the next. Encouraging developments include some limited examples of improved sexuality education policies, more generous reimbursement schemes for contraceptives in France and improved medical guidelines on contraceptive service delivery in Poland and Sweden. But overall, these are overshadowed by growing obstacles to women getting the contraception they need. Access in countries such as The Netherlands that have a relatively strong track record is under threat from austerity measures and financial constraints. Meanwhile, in several countries where access is already more problematic, political and economic instability and lack of funding have prevented progress.

Malin Björk MEP (Sweden, GUE/NGL) also backed the report, saying that: “Access to safe and modern contraception for women and girls is fundamental for deciding over one’s body and sexuality. Together with access to all sexual and reproductive health services and sexuality education, it is the very basis of SRHR and gender equality. In Europe today it seems to me that one of the big challenges is the issue of financing. To ensure that all women have access to contraception without discrimination, we need to ensure increased public financing and prioritising of SRHR more generally.”

Marie Arena (MEP Belgium S&D) stressed that: ‘the control of one's fertility, alike the acquisition of economic, social and political rights equal to those of a man, enables a woman to have full citizenship status. Contraception also allows for affective and sexual relationships which are responsible, fulfilling and free (of constraint). Contraception must be financially and mentally accessible to all women without discrimination of any kind".

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (MEP, EPP) "I am committed to improve access to sexual health and reproductive rights for women and girls everywhere, as a key to women empowerment and free choice. We have to overcome the many differences in the Member States identified by the IPPF barometer and address the main challenges regarding access to information and services. We as policy makers at EU level, have to raise awareness and join forces to combat discrimination and share best practices in order to improve access for all women and girls in Europe to safe and modern contraception methods".

[press release IPPF - Barometer]