- Staunchly Catholic populations in Ireland, Malta and Poland are opposed to abortion. Photo: Mariacki church in Gdansk, Poland (Photo: EUobserver.com)
Expulsion of a foetus from the womb before it is able to survive.
The EU has no formal competence to legislate on whether to allow or ban abortion. However, in September 1991, the European Court of Justice decided in the case of SPUC v. Grogan that abortion could constitute a "service" within the meaning of Article 50 TEC of the Rome and Nice Treaties.
The Advocate-General proposed in the Court that abortion should be permitted in Ireland. At the time the Court, after some discussion, would not “on balance” take this radical decision.
The relevant article can be found in the Lisbon Treaty as Article 57 TFEU. As a result, Ireland, a member state with strict anti-abortion laws, negotiated a protocol to the Treaty of Maastricht to avoid being forced to accept abortion. This protocol is repeated in the Lisbon Treaty (No. 35) protecting the Irish Constitution's Article 40.3.3 from being overridden by supranational EU law.
In December 2002 Malta obtained a similar provision during its membership negotiations. Poland is another member state where abortion is outlawed. It has adopted a non-binding unilateral declaration concerning abortion and public morality, annexed to its accession treaty.
The European Charter of Fundamental Rights includes the right to life in Article 2. The Lisbon Treaty makes the Charter legally binding - see Article 6 TEU. The Melloni court case from 2013 gives the Charter primacy over national constitutions.
The EU Court in Luxembourg may therefore formally make judgements in future on sensitive moral and ethical questions such as abortion.
In 2008 the Council of Europe called for the right to abortion for women.
On 10 February 2010 the European Parliament called for "easy access" to abortion for all women. Such a resolution is not legally binding in EU law.
Case SPUCv.Grogan - C-159/90