A Network of ultra-Christian, anti-abortion and far-right organizations gain momentum in quest to influence abortion policy in Europe as US Supreme Court considers overturning Roe v Wade , the 1973 ruling that legalized the procedure in America.
Elements of the network originally came together as Agenda Europe, holding annual summits across the continent between 2013 and at least 2018, when it had 300 participants, including Vatican politicians and diplomats. .
The group’s goal was to “restore the natural order” by imagining ways to gradually erode abortion rights, gay rights and violence against women policies, as well as reduce access to contraceptives.
Organizers of the Agenda Europe summits included Terrence McKeegan, former legal adviser to the Holy See’s mission to the UN in New York, and Gudrun Kugler, a Catholic theologian, member of the Austrian parliament and human rights spokesperson. Austrian People’s Party man.
“It’s a rather loose network that has brought together all the different groups – mostly from all over Europe – who identify as pro-life or pro-family, therefore anti-abortion or anti-LGBT,” said Neil Datta , secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights who conducted a survey of the network and shared documents detailing the group’s aims, meeting schedules and participants.
“You can see that they started out trying to find their relevance, and by the third meeting they actually came up with some proactive ideas on how to roll back sexual and reproductive human rights. “
Today, people connected to Agenda Europe are linked to the Political Values Network (PNfV), a global platform with strikingly similar values that have arisen as the former’s visibility seemed to wane.
The PNfV is organizing its fourth transatlantic summit – who is among the Kugler speakers and other Agenda Europe personalities – in Budapest on Thursday and Friday.
Regarding abortion rights, the network would seek to replicate recent anti-choice efforts in the United States, where right-wing activists have progressively maneuvered like-minded people into the legal and political systems.
“They’ll be really pumped up by the Roe’s potential upset against Wade,” Datta added.
“First, because it provides them with a model of one of the most advanced countries taking a stand consistent with their own thinking. But the American court does not react to changes in society; it is the result of a 20-30 year strategy by the American Christian right to influence the entire American justice system by training and placing its own people in the system.
The network is believed to have already made progress in Europe, including heavily influencing Poland’s near-total abortion ban as well as the outcome of referendums on same-sex marriage in countries including Croatia, Romania and Slovenia. .
Although abortion is legal in Hungary, the procedure has become more difficult to access under the right-wing populist government of Viktor Orbán.
Meanwhile, LGBT rights have been steadily eroded in the country over the past few years. Last year, the Hungarian parliament passed a law banning gay people from appearing in school teaching materials or TV shows for those under 18, and in 2020 effectively banned adoption for same-sex couples. and ended the legal recognition of gender changes.
In Italy, the network reportedly gained a foothold in 2019 when the country hosted a conference of the controversial World Congress of Families (WCF), a global coalition backed by the American Christian right, in Verona.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, a key component of the Italian government, spoke at the event, as did his far-right counterpart, Giorgia Meloni, who leads the Brothers of Italy party. currently leading in opinion polls.
Since then, measures to restrict abortion – such as banning health centers from providing the abortion pill or allowing anti-abortion activists to infiltrate hospitals to pressure women not to terminate their pregnancy – were introduced in regions ruled by a two-party coalition and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, including Marche, Lombardy, Piedmont, Umbria and Veneto.
Moreover, even though abortion was legalized in Italy by referendum in 1978, it has become increasingly difficult for women to access a safe procedure due to the high number of gynecologists – seven out of 10 – who are moral objectors.
“We know that the broader abortion network’s strategy is to prevent first, then restrict and prohibit,” Datta said.
“What we are seeing now in Hungary and countries like Italy are attempts to prevent abortion, through conscientious objection and deterring women.”
Silvana Agatone, who until her retirement was one of the few gynecologists in Rome to perform abortions, said: “The situation is getting worse in Italy. We’ve always had naysayers, but now the life of a doctor who performs abortions is made more difficult because you have these anti-abortion people who go into hospitals and pressure them and women to that they don’t abort.
“They’re also trying to rewrite medicine by paying people to produce papers on the dangers of abortion that are supposed to be scientific.”
An influential League politician is Simone Pillon, who until her election as a senator in March 2018 was an advisor to the board of directors of Novae Terrae, an anti-abortion organization run by her close friend, Luca Volantè, a politician. of the defunct Union. of the Center Party and former chairman of the parliamentary group of the European People’s Party.
Novae Terrae was an integral part of Agenda Europe, at least until Volantè was investigated for money laundering. Volantè was recently cleared of the allegations.
Pillon said he was aware of Agenda Europe, which he described as “a group of friends getting together”, but never attended any of its meetings.
Pillon has had close ties with Italian anti-abortion groups for 20 years and attended a large anti-abortion protest in Rome on Saturday.
“I came from the pro-life world and then I entered politics to carry the voice of pro-life associations,” he said.
Pillon said he was “envious” of the Roe vs. Wade situation in the United States, adding that a similar result would come in Europe “sooner or later”.
“It was an ideological current that brought about the liberalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s, which then led to European legislation adapting to this way of thinking,” said Pillon. “I am convinced that this new wave will [unfold] in Europe. I don’t know when, but I hope as soon as possible.
With the coalition of the League, Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia having a good chance of winning the general election next spring, he may soon have even more power to influence abortion policy.
Meanwhile, the PNfV will continue to strive to make waves. The list of speakers at the Budapest summit includes politicians from Hungary, Spain and Slovakia.
Hungarian speakers include MPs from the ruling Fidesz party, such as Balazs Hidveghi and Enikő Győri. Miklos Szánthó, director of the Center for Fundamental Rights, which hosted CPAC Hungary last week, is also expected to speak, as is Prime Minister Orbán’s commissioner Zoltán Balogh.
The newly elected Hungarian president and former family minister, Katalin Novák, had been a member of the PNfV board since 2015 and became its president in 2019.
However, she resigned from office in March after being elected Hungarian president. In comments to Breitbart in 2019, she said there was no “choice” when it comes to abortion. “Pro-abortion is pro-murder, it’s against choice,” she said.