New EU citizens charter may ban abortion


EU Treaty changes which would uphold the right to life from conception and make both abortion and euthanasia illegal have been proposed by Europe's Catholic bishops to a convention responsible for drafting an EU charter of fundamental rights. Human cloning would also be banned.

The submission, a series of draft charter clauses ranging from the "right to life" to social rights such as the "right to social protection", has been made to the convention by the Commission of Bishops of the European Community, the church's principal EU listening post in Brussels.

The commission's provisions on the right to life are certain to face strong opposition in the convention as all EU member-states have legal provision for abortion and two, the Netherlands and Belgium, are introducing legislation to legalise euthanasia. However, they may also increase pressure on the precarious Dail position of the Government from anti-abortion Independents.

They are likely to demand Irish support for the clauses which, unlike our constitutional provision, make no explicit reference to balancing the rights of the mother with those of the foetus, and hence go closer to meeting demands for an absolute prohibition on abortion.

Ms Mildred Fox (Independent) has called on the Government to endorse the clause and said she would be speaking about it to the Irish representative on the convention, Mr Michael O'Kennedy TD. Ms Fox, who has threatened to bring down the Government if it fails to call a new abortion referendum, said the church's move did not affect the need for that to happen.

The 62-strong convention was set up by EU leaders at Cologne last June in order to give impetus to the idea of a "citizen's Europe" instead of one where the market alone rules. It is made up of representatives of member-states, national parliaments and MEPs and is to produce a charter of rights of citizens by December.

One of the key issues that has yet to be resolved, however, is whether the charter will be merely a political declaration or if it will have legal standing. In the latter case, the charter could trigger the need for treaty changes and, almost certainly, a referendum in Ireland.

The commission's submission insists that the charter rights should be legally enforceable.