The network of organizations aiming to influence abortion policy across Europe | abortion
A The network of ultra-Christian, anti-abortion and far-right organizations is gaining momentum in its bid to influence abortion policy in Europe as the US Supreme Court considers overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized the procedure in America.
Elements of the network originally came together under the name Agenda Europe and held annual summits across the continent between 2013 and at least 2018, by which time it had grown to 300 participants, including Vatican politicians and diplomats.
The group’s goal was to “restore the natural order” by finding ways to progressively undermine abortion rights, gay rights, measures to combat violence against women, and reducing access to contraceptives.
Organizers behind the Agenda Europe summits included Terrence McKeegan, a former legal adviser to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York, and Gudrun Kugler, a Catholic theologian, member of the Austrian Parliament and human rights spokesperson for the Austrian People’s Party.
“It’s a pretty loose network that has brought together all the different groups – mainly from across Europe – that identify as pro-life or pro-family, so anti-abortion or anti-LGBT rights,” Neil said Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which conducted an investigation into the network and shared documents detailing the group’s objectives, meeting programs and participants.
“You can see that they first tried to figure out its relevance, and by the third meeting they actually came up with proactive ideas on how to undo human rights related to sexuality and reproduction.”
Today, people associated with Agenda Europe are linked to the Political Network of Values (PNfV), a global platform with strikingly similar values that emerged when the former’s visibility seemed to be waning.
The PNfV is hosting its fourth transatlantic summit on Thursday and Friday in Budapest, which will include Kugler and other Agenda Europe figures.
On abortion rights, the network is reportedly trying to replicate recent anti-choice efforts in the US, where right-wing activists have gradually maneuvered people with the same views into the judiciary and political system.
“They are really pumped by the potential Roe v Wade reversal,” added Datta.
“First, because it gives them a model of one of the most progressive countries, occupying a position that corresponds to their own thinking. But the US court does not respond to changes in society; this is the result of a 20-30 year strategy by the US Christian right to influence the entire American justice system by training and deploying their own people.”
The network is believed to have already made strides in Europe, including heavily influencing Poland’s near-total ban on abortion, as well as the outcome of referenda on same-sex marriage in countries like Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.
Although abortion is legal in Hungary, the procedure has become more difficult to access under Viktor Orbán’s right-wing populist government.
Meanwhile, LGBT rights in the country have been gradually eroded in recent years. Last year, Hungary’s parliament passed a law banning gay people from appearing in school materials or TV shows for under-18s, and in 2020 it effectively banned adoption for same-sex couples and ended legal recognition of gender reassignment surgery.
In Italy, the network is said to have taken root in 2019 when the country hosted a conference in Verona of the controversial World Congress of Families (WCF), a global coalition backed by the US Christian right-wing government.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, a key element of the Italian government, spoke at the event, as did his far-right counterpart Giorgia Meloni, who heads the Brothers of Italy party, which currently leads in opinion polls.
Since then, regions led by a bipartisan coalition have introduced measures to restrict abortion — like banning the sale of abortion pills in clinics or allowing anti-abortionists to infiltrate hospitals to pressure women not to get pregnant to end Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, including Marche, Lombardy, Piedmont, Umbria and Veneto.
Although abortion was legalized by a referendum in Italy in 1978, it has become increasingly difficult for women to access a safe procedure as a large number of gynecologists – seven in ten – are “moral refusers”.
“We know that the broader network’s strategy on abortion is to first prevent, then restrict and then ban,” Datta said.
“What we are seeing now in Hungary and in countries like Italy are attempts to prevent abortion through conscientious objection and methods to dissuade women.”
Silvana Agatone, who until she retired was one of the few gynecologists in Rome to perform abortions, said: “It’s getting worse in Italy. We always objected, but now the life of a doctor who performs abortions has become more difficult as these anti-abortionists go to hospitals and pressure them and women not to have an abortion.
“They are also trying to rewrite medicine by paying people to produce material that claims to be scientific about the dangers of abortion.”
One influential League politician is Simone Pillon, who until his election as Senator in March 2018 was an advisor on the board of Novae Terrae, an anti-abortion organization run by his close friend Luca Volantè, a politician from the now-defunct Union Center Party and former President of the 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 acquitted of the allegations.
Pillon said he was aware of Agenda Europe, which he described as “a group of friends who get together” but had never attended any of their meetings.
Pillon has had close ties with Italian anti-abortion groups for 20 years and took part in a large anti-abortion demonstration in Rome on Saturday.
“I came from the pro-life world and then entered politics to be the voice of pro-life associations,” he said.
Pillon said he was “envious” of the situation regarding Roe v Wade in the US, adding that a similar result will arrive in Europe “sooner or later”.
“It was an ideological current that brought abortion liberalization to the US in the 1970s, which then led to European legislation being adapted to accommodate that mindset,” Pillon said. “I am convinced that this new wave will do that [unfold] in Europe. I don’t know when, but I hope sooner rather than later.”
With the League, Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia coalition poised to win next spring’s general election, he may soon have even more power to influence abortion policy.
In the meantime, the PNfV will continue to strive to make waves. Speakers at the Budapest Summit include politicians from Hungary, Spain and Slovakia.
Hungarian speakers include MEPs from the ruling Fidesz party such as Balazs Hidveghi and Enikő Győri. Miklos Szánthó, the director of the Fundamental Rights Centre, which hosted CPAC Hungary last week, is also expected, as is Zoltán Balogh, a commissioner to Prime Minister Orbán.
Hungary’s newly elected president and former family minister, Katalin Novák, had been a board member of the PNfV since 2015 and became its chair in 2019.
However, she resigned from her post in March after being elected President of Hungary. In comments to Breitbart in 2019, she said there was no “choice” when it came to abortion. “Pro-abortion is pro-kill, it’s anti-choice,” she said.