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More than 1,000 join abortion rights protest in Brussels

23:20 28/09/2017

More than 1,000 people demonstrated in front of the EU institutions in Brussels on Thursday evening to protest for women's rights across Europe on the occasion of International Safe and Legal Abortion Day.

Marching to the beat of drums, women and men crossed the Cinquantenaire park before arriving near the stage on Schuman roundabout.

The organisations came from across Europe, brought together by the initiative of the World March for Women. One of its organisers, Anoushka Dufeil, says a reason for holding the event in the Belgian capital is to raise awareness to the European institutions. "We want a global policy on sexual and reproductive rights for all women in Europe," she said.

One group present at the march was the Brussels branch of the Repeal the 8th movement. Originally from Dublin, John Hyland explained why the protest is important to the Irish: "The archaic laws preventing access to abortion in Ireland must be changed. It’s an international embarrassment that 12 pregnant people are forced to leave Ireland every day to access this basic healthcare."

The eighth amendment was added to the Irish constitution in 1983, when it was backed in a referendum with 67% of the vote. This week it was announced that a new referendum will be held in summer 2018 to decide whether the amendment should be scrapped.

Irish activist Ailbhe Finn said: "It’s great news. What we’re hoping for is that it will be earlier rather than later so students will be able to vote. We want it to be a full repeal. We want the government to legislate for free, safe, legal abortion in Ireland.”

Many of the groups present pushed for more to be done at EU level. One such delegation was the Polish Women in Brussels, represented by Anna Kejna. Recently, there was an attempt to change Polish law regarding abortion, resulting in widespread protests.

"There were three attempts in the Polish parliament to introduce a total ban on abortion so that’s why it provoked the ‘black protest’," she said. "During this protest, thousands of women marched through Warsaw dressed in black. The fear was that the woman would go to prison not only for abortion but also for miscarriage."

Kejna said the EU should find common ground for women across Europe. She would like a global declaration and, compulsory regulations. “We think it’s a matter of public health and everyone in the EU should have access to the same health rights," she added. "It’s very important that the European Parliament at least takes this into account”

Some MEPs attended the event in Brussels, including two members from the Socialist party S&D, Soraya Post and Maria Arena. They are both involved in promoting rights, sitting on the Human Rights and Women’s Rights committees respectively.

"The free right to abortion is a health issue," Arena explained. "We have to push the European Commission to make an initiative on this."

Post agreed: "Our role as politicians is to fight for it and to put it on it on top of the political agenda."

Pro-choice marches are being held across Europe to promote change in abortion law. The protest in Ireland will be held this Saturday 30 September. People are joining in on social media with the hashtag #repealthe8th.

Written by Laura Cain