Roberta Metsola had double reason last Tuesday to celebrate — marking both her 43rd birthday and becoming the youngest ever president of the European Union’s Parliament. She is also the first woman in 20 years to have the job.
But at the first news conference following her victory, Metsola immediately faced questions around her stance on abortion rights.
Metsola is a member of the center-right European People’s party and is anti-abortion. She comes from Malta, which has the strictest abortion laws in Europe, criminalizing abortion under any circumstances. Malta is also the only EU member with a total ban. Indeed, Metsola voted against the 2021 EU Parliament Matic Resolution which declared abortion to be a human right, on the basis that Malta should have the right to legislate for itself on abortion.
And in 2020, she voted against an EU resolution on Covid-19 which describes denial of abortion as a form of violence against women. In 2015 Metsola also signed a statement with other Maltese MEP’s that stated they were “categorically against abortion.”
That said, Metsola was clear during her first news conference as president, that she would respect the Parliament’s position on all matters, including abortion. “My position is that of the European Parliament,” she said. “This parliament has always been clear and unambiguous on the issue of sexual and reproductive health rights.”
While over 95% of women of reproductive age in Europe live within liberal abortion regimes, the election of a president who is explicitly anti-abortion indicates that it is necessary to ensure abortion is clearly designated as a human rights issue, with decriminalization as a minimum standard. The current backlashes on gender equality in some EU member states mean that continued liberalization of abortion is not guaranteed throughout Europe, and a change in government can mean a regression in abortion access or laws. Some countries, like Poland, are attempting to roll back abortion provision.