Anti-Choice Group Stumbles in Bid for EU Abortion Ban

A woman walks by the entrance to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

(CN) – A magistrate for Europe’s highest court recommended upholding a lower court’s finding that the European Commission was right to reject a citizens’ initiative calling for a ban on abortion, stem cell research and the destruction of human embryos.

Proponents of the citizens’ initiative One of Us first registered with the European Commission in 2012. EU law allows citizens to bring proposed legislation before the commission if they collect at least 1 million signatures.

The group sued after the commission said it would take no action on the petition., but the General Court of the European Union tossed the case after finding the commission did not commit any error in rejecting the One of Us petition.

On appeal to the European Court of Justice, the group argued the lower court misinterpreted the law governing the citizens’ initiative process and mischaracterized the purpose of their petition.

But in a 29-page advisory opinion for the EU high court, Advocate General Michal Bobek wrote the law doesn’t require the commission to adopt every citizens’ initiative that successfully garners a million signatures. If that were the case, Bobek wrote, a vocal faction of citizens would be given more power and carry more weight than the democratically elected European Parliament.

“Moreover, one cannot but be puzzled at how all that, even if possible in principle, would work in practical terms,” Bobek wrote. “At the hearing, the appellants argued that despite the (potential political) opposition of the commission to a successful citizens’ initiative, that institution must draft the corresponding proposal and present it for parliamentary debate. Would then the commission be obliged to draft every successful citizens’ initiative, including initiatives with overlapping subject matters but divergent content? Would the commission be bound not only to present a proposal, but also to adopt a specific approach and to include all the elements of the citizens’ initiative?

“Would the commission be turned into a kind of ‘secretariat for the citizens’ initiative’? How and according to what criteria would the ‘compliance’ of a commission proposal with the citizens’ initiative mandate be assessed, given that the mandate is often likely to be expressed at a relatively high level of abstraction, as a policy that opens up a number of further legislative choices?”

Finally, Bobek noted that where the commission has wide discretion – as it does in approving or rejecting citizens’ petitions – the court’s ability to review commission decisions is limited.

Bobek’s opinion is not binding on the European Court of Justice, which has begun its deliberations in the case.

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