EU Policy. Lawmakers seek EU-level regulation of contraceptives, abortion pills

The European Parliament includes contraceptives and abortifacients in the new EU pharmaceutical rules, intending for these to be regulated at EU level. 
The European Parliament includes contraceptives and abortifacients in the new EU pharmaceutical rules, intending for these to be regulated at EU level.  Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Marta Iraola Iribarren
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The European Parliament includes contraceptives and abortifacients in its long-awaited position on the new EU pharmaceutical rules, intending for these to be included among items regulated at EU level.


In April 2023 the European Commission proposed new pharmaceutical legislation updating an existing 20-year-old measure and designed to offer patients equitable access to medicines and to boost the role of the industry across the bloc.

The key features of the proposed new rules are the reduction in IP protection periods, the introduction of a new system of incentives aiming to boost EU R&D, and efforts to tackle drug shortages in the bloc.

However, hidden in the large number of amendments, members of the Parliament deleted exemptive wording from the original proposal regarding contraceptives and abortifacients.

The Commission text stated that “this Directive shall not affect the application of national legislation prohibiting or restricting the sale, supply or use of medicinal products as contraceptives or abortifacients.”

MEPs voted yesterday (11 April) to scrap this paragraph from the new rules, opening the door for contraceptives and abortifacients to be included in the EU pharmaceutical guidelines.

As with every healthcare issue, the EU can only issue recommendations to the member states which will maintain their national autonomy to regulate.

Tilly Metz (Luxembourg/Greens) told Euronews that while it is true that this move is more symbolic, she “strongly believes the times we live in need strong political reminders about where we stand when it comes to the sexual and reproductive rights.”

The decision to include these products in the document was also welcomed by other political groups such as Renew Europe who said in a press release that, by lifting the possibility of banning or restricting the purchase of contraceptive and abortifacient medicines, women across the EU will have equal access.

However, some lawmakers did not agree with the Parliament’s efforts to impinge on such a national competence.

"I think we should stick to existing legislation in this European Parliament and there’s been a court ruling which stated that abortion is a matter of national competence and cannot be legislated on by the European Union,” said MEP Peter Liese (Germany/EPP) during the debate preceding the vote.

“Despite conservatives trying to block, we send a strong signal towards member states that we need coherent EU rules on accessibility to contraceptives. Every woman within the EU should have the same rights,” MEP Tiemo Wölken (Germany/S&D) told Euronews.

While the regulation of abortion is a national competence and each country has its own policies, MEPs have been very vocal in their desire to address the issue at EU level.

Today (11 April), the European Parliament called on the Council to add sexual and reproductive healthcare and the right to safe and legal abortion to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It is not the first time such a demand has been made, however, and would require unanimous agreement of member states.

Meanwhile law changes have been proposed within some countries, such as France, which in March became the first to include the right to abortion within its constitution.

Additional sources • Gerardo Fortuna

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