We must stand together against the never-ending conservative attacks on women’s rights

Until all women enjoy the right to full, equal access to safe, effective contraception, we should stand together to oppose the shameful actions of the hard right in Europe and America, writes Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on women’s rights and gender equality.

This week, the US Senate succeeded in blocking a resolution to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding. Led by a deeply conservative, anti-choice wing of the GOP, the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood could have resulted in hundreds of thousands of women losing access to family planning services.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was right to describe it as a “deliberate, methodical, orchestrated, right-wing attack on women’s rights”.

Two days earlier, a meeting in the European Parliament was disrupted when members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, which includes the Tories, began shouting their opposition to the speakers on the panel. The topic of discussion: women’s access to modern contraceptive choice.

These two very different political contexts illustrate just how precarious women’s sexual and reproductive rights are. All women have the right to decide if and when they have children. This is recognised in various human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). But the obstacles faced by women trying to access contraception are growing.

Worldwide, it is estimated that 140 million women who are in sexual relationships want to prevent or delay pregnancy but are not accessing contraception. Alongside the problem of early, forced and child marriage, this presents a major barrier to poverty reduction and sustainable development.

A recent study by the International Planned Parenthood Federation found that European Union countries are continuing to fail in their commitments to improving equitable access to women’s contraceptive needs.

In Ireland, although emergency hormonal contraception became available over the counter without prescription in 2011, women’s campaign groups have argued it is too expensive for many women. Moreover, women on low incomes who use medical cards are not given contraception on request and must obtain a prescription from a doctor.

This problem is, of course, not unique to Ireland. Any restriction on comprehensive access to contraception will disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable women in society.

Contraception needs to be considered broadly, as part of a wider sexual and reproductive health agenda. We in the Labour Party have been championing the introduction of compulsory sex and relationships education including age-appropriate information and advice about the full range of contraceptives available. This needs to be a long-term policy priority, both at the EU and national level.

Access to reproductive health services is a multiplier right. Contraception enables women to make choices about their future, become economically independent and have control over their own bodies.

Until all women enjoy the right to full and equal access to safe and effective forms of contraception, we should stand together to oppose the shameful actions of the GOP and ECR.