Controversy continues over sexual health report
A controversial report by ULLA SANDBAEK has allocated 74 million euro to reproductive health projects in the developing world. 
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - A fierce battle between pro-life and pro-choice MEPs reached its conclusion on Thursday when the European Parliament voted to increase funding for reproductive health programmes in the developing world to 74 million euro. 

But despite yesterday’s fragile consensus, questions still remain over the role of lobby groups in the drafting of the report by Danish MEP, Ulla Sandbaek. 

While supporters of the report complained that MEPs had been "bombarded with misinformed and scurrilous attacks on the Commission’s reproductive health and rights programme", opponents asked whether the report had been specifically written by pro-choice NGOs. 

Funding for abortion?
The crux of the polarised debate lies in whether or not EU funds can be used to fund abortions in the developing world. 

The EU regulation amended by Ms Sandbaek does not provide incentives to encourage abortion or to promote it as a means of contraception. However, the actual provision of abortion services is not excluded. Although the regulation does not define the scope of the "sexual and reproductive services" that it funds, they are understood to include abortion.

For existing member states such as Ireland and Germany, and for many candidate countries, in particular Poland and Malta, the use of taxpayers money to fund abortion has raised serious ethical questions. 

Who wrote the report?
MEPs expressed concern at indications that actively pro-choice organisations, in particular Marie Stopes International, had written the text of such a controversial report.

Portuguese centre right MEP, Jose Ribeiro e Castro, who voted against the report said, "this would not be a big problem if it was open and clear for everybody. Why are they writing it, what are their intentions?"

An NGO source confirmed to the EUobserver that the report had been written by MSI and that the explanatory statement and amendments were based on a position paper drafted by EuroNGOs, a platform of pro-choice lobby groups. 

MSI provides the secretariat for the European Parliament’s working group on population, sustainable development and reproductive health. "It [the secretariat] takes its orders from MSI in London and promotes a purely MSI agenda," said one source. 

Sovereignty questions
Many MEPs, in particular from the centre right, were concerned that funding which could be used for abortion was a member state issue and should be decided by national governments. 

"Our policy must be crystal clear. EU citizens must be clear about where their money is going. If the policy is pro-abortion then we must say it. It is the right of each country to define its own policies," said Mr Ribeiro e Castro. 

The report also caused an outcry from many candidate countries which sought assurance that EU policies would not go against their cultural and ethical positions. 

Speaking after the vote, Ms Sandbaek said she had been relieved that the vital funding for women’s health had been approved. If it had been delayed until April, when candidate country representatives would be granted speaking rights, it would have been much more difficult to get through, she said.

Lifeline funding
A number of MEPs were outraged at the attempts to block a relatively small sum of money from being allocated to save women’s lives and preserve their rights. 

Some pro-life lobbyists have been accused of attributing emotive European arguments on abortion to the vastly different issues of reproductive health in developing countries. 

"The Parliament has clearly shown today that it wishes to reject the views of those who use the issue of abortion as a wedge to polarise opinion and misrepresent the broader picture," said UK Labour MEP, Glenys Kinnock.

Reproductive health is not a euphemism for abortion services, she argued, adding that women have the right to reliable information and compassionate counselling. 

"This is about health clinics, contraceptive advice, the training of midwives and support and education programmes for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases," she said. 

"In Malawi, maternal mortality is increasing by 50%, and the story all over the developing world is the same. The suffering of women as they go through pregnancy and childbirth has to be dealt with in whatever way is appropriate."

Written by Nicola Smith 
Edited by Honor Mahony