On September 28, for the International Safe Abortion Day, the feminist collective #ThankYouForTheFlowers is protesting in front of the Ministry of Health in Bucharest, demanding free and open access to safe abortion and public reproductive and sexual health services for everyone. A similar demonstration by Absorbante pentru Toate (Sanitary Pads for All) and other local feminist groups is happening in Iași, in front of the Prefecture, as the campaign for safe abortion is part of a national and international mobilization.
We are publishing the demands and manifesto of the campaign.
Today is International Safe Abortion Access Day. Together, we have decided to take to the streets today to defend our right to abortion and our right to healthcare, which have been constantly denied to us in recent years. Access to abortion and reproductive health has become a source of profit, which we pay for with our bodies and our lives. Today we say, we have had enough! Our womb is not your profit! Our lives are not their profit!
We mark this day with a public demonstration that takes place both in Bucharest and simultaneously in Iași, in front of the Prefecture. We are also with our sisters from all over the world, sisters from Latin America, from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico but also from Poland, Germany, India, Italy, Belgium, Austria and many other countries, who are also protesting today to demand free and safe abortion! Together, we demand free and open access to public reproductive and sexual health services for everyone! We demand a ban on conservative and misogynistic propaganda! We demand an end to the privatization of health care!
Why are we protesting?
In August this year, a 25-year-old woman, who was three months pregnant, arrived bleeding at the maternity ward in Botoșani. Although she had repeatedly told the doctors and nurses responsible that the pain was unbearable, that she was bleeding as a result of the miscarriage and that she could no longer breathe, she was not given the medical care she needed for seven hours. The obstetric violence to which Alexandra was subjected led to her death in hospital!
Such tragedies must never happen again! We are outraged, outraged and support all efforts to bring justice to this case. Our thoughts are with Alexandra’s family and friends.
Shortly before this tragedy, Roxana, a 24-year-old pregnant Roma woman with hearing and speech impairments, arrived at the hospital in Urziceni because she was in labour. The nurse, saying there was no gynaecologist on duty, urged the woman to go outside the hospital and wait there for the ambulance that would take her to the hospital in Slobozia, 60 kilometres away. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late to take her to another hospital, and Roxana gave birth right there on the pavement. Roma women’s rights are systematically violated and their access to public health services, social services, police protection services is hampered by institutionalised racism! We are outraged and support all the efforts of anti-racist associations to bring justice in this case.
Such abuses based on obstetric violence and generalised violence against women and people with feminised bodies should never happen again! Words cannot express our outrage and outrage strongly enough! Because we are aware that most such cases of obstetric, sexist, racist, ableist violence never reach the media’s attention. These recent cases show exactly the state the public health system has reached. Together with racism and the lack of care and empathy for the precarious and racialized, the continued destruction of the public health system is turning the lives of most of us into a nightmare.
We are deeply outraged by the obstetric violence so pervasive and the fact that abortion restrictions disproportionately affect feminized and impoverished bodies, especially the racialized, including refugees, Roma, LGBTIA+ as well as rural, disabled, teenage, migrant, including those considered illegal, and those from single parent families. We demand that all these social categories participate in the shaping of laws and public policies that affect them, including on sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially abortion! We call for justice and compensation when their rights are violated, when they are harmed by the lack of universal access to healthcare and when their fundamental rights are not respected.
Access to elective abortion has worsened dramatically in Romania in recent years. In many counties, abortion on demand is not available in state hospitals, and in private medical facilities, this service is accessible only for exorbitant fees, sometimes by the same doctors who refuse to provide the abortion procedure in public hospitals. The public system and in particular every public hospital should guarantee access to this service, beyond any individual motivation of doctors! We remind and emphasize that restricting access to abortion does not decrease the number of abortions, but only endangers the physical and mental health of pregnant people and children! We call on the Ministry of Health to take measures to ensure free and safe access to abortion in public hospitals. We want free, unconditional and safe abortion for everyone!
At the same time, most gynecological services are expensive and difficult to access; gynecological and obstetric violence and humiliating treatment in maternity wards affect many people and aggravate other forms of violence. Reproductive rights include: termination of pregnancies, stopping sterilisations without consent*, contraception, family planning, gynaecological and pregnancy monitoring tests and analyses, hormone replacement therapy. In this context, we call on the authorities to provide all public reproductive and sexual health services with public funding. We want free access to sexual and reproductive health services, provided by public spending!
We reiterate the urgent need for sex education and correct information in schools, institutions, workplaces, families, as the main forms of prevention! Sex education teaches us about our bodies, about consent, emotional relationships, sexual violence, contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, reproductive rights. Equally, access to contraceptives and family planning services is essential and yet still extremely inaccessible. These things are vital, but the Orthodox Church, neo-Protestant and Protestant organisations oppose sex education, contraceptive measures and terminations, misinform and manipulate with premeditation and huge funding, through so-called crisis centres and massive interference in political decision-making. In the context of massive funding of the anti-choice movement by conservative groups**, public institutions have a duty more than ever to defend the operation of public reproductive and sexual health services. We want sex education in schools and correct information in institutions, workplaces, families!
We want conservative ideologies and private interests to stop interfering in sexual and reproductive health! We want conservative ideologies and private interests out of our wards! Our lives are not their profit!
We don’t want more private clinics, we demand public hospitals with quality services for all! We stress that one effect of successive capitalist crises, neoliberal policies and wars is the prohibitive cost of care and the precariousness of the healthcare system and of the educational environment. Thus, individuals have to pay for an abortion or travel long distances to obstetric clinics in neighbouring towns or countries, sometimes tens or hundreds of kilometres away, all under the pressure of time which is often quickly lost among the many obstacles to be overcome. This increases the risk of having to undergo unsafe and life-threatening procedures or, in the absence of alternatives, ending up being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Public health services are the only services that can ensure universal, free and safe access for everyone. We firmly believe that privatisation is not in our collective and public health interest!
Last but not least, we want to be medically treated regardless of ethnicity, language, social status, colour, gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, income and residence! We demand proper training of health workers, with public funding!
On International Safe Abortion Day, we want free, open and safe access to abortion and reproductive health services!
In order to fundamentally change the wrong direction in which society is going, we need to organise ourselves politically and prioritize public spending in our collective interest.
In pain and outraged, we therefore demand TOGETHER, from the Ministry of Health, a restoration of state responsibility for our health!
What is owed to us?
We call on the Government, the Ministry of Health and relevant authorities to respect and ensure access to fundamental human rights including the right to life, privacy, health, equality and non-discrimination, freedom from violence, torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, by establishing and supporting legal protections for access to free and safe high quality sexual and reproductive health services, including universal access to abortion, for all women and people with wombs.
We call on state institutions to guarantee sexual and reproductive rights, including universal access to safe, free and legal abortion, to work to ensure that abortion, contraception and family planning are integrated into service provision and that they are accessible to all without discrimination, harassment, coercion, manipulation, misinformation, fear or intimidation, with due respect for their privacy and confidentiality, and with protection and respect from health care providers. We call for guaranteed access to rigorous and scientifically based information about reproductive health and to age-appropriate sexuality education based on the principles of consent and non-violence. We demand respect for the autonomy and capacity of each person so that they can exercise greater and informed influence over their bodies and lives, with the support needed to achieve gender, social and economic equality.
We call on the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure financial support for care work, including through comprehensive and quality health services, educational support, as well as wider and applied dissemination of information about sexual and reproductive rights in institutions, in the workplace, in textbooks and school curricula, and in booklets.
We call on the Government and other relevant authorities to regulate refusals to provide legal abortion services by health care providers, including on religious grounds, in a manner that does not in any way restrict access to services. We demand that all public hospitals be obliged to guarantee access to elective abortion, as required by the legal framework in Romania.
To the Ministry of Health:
- Reimbursement of the elective abortion procedure through the budget of the Single National Health Insurance Fund.
- Introduction of abortion-on-demand services in the accreditation procedure for hospitals with obstetrics and gynaecology wards and monitoring of the abortion procedure (on demand and therapeutic).
- Establish a national protocol on abortion (elective, medical and therapeutic) with clear specifications on when a patient can be refused, the procedure itself, the rights and obligations of the parties, etc.
- Prohibition of misinformation and pro-life information to discourage abortion through mandatory pre-abortion counselling in some hospitals. Establish a pro-choice discourse in pre-abortion counselling, based entirely on scientific data, medical information, not with the aim of discouraging from the outset or blaming the person who resorts to this procedure.
- Communicating through an online platform accurate, scientifically valid and unbiased information about on-demand, medical and therapeutic terminations and providing a free information line for people who want to know more about this medical service.
- Collecting data on reproductive health procedures, including abortion, carried out in private practices, clinics and hospitals.
- Introduction of post-abortion counseling following the abortion procedure, including information about the first 48 hours post-abortion, safe and healthy sex, contraceptive methods the patient can use to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
- Ensuring that all women have access to information about contraception.
- Distribution of free contraceptives through family doctors’ surgeries.
- Full free access to HPV testing and HPV vaccination including for males up to the age of 45.
- Training of medical staff from an anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-ableist, etc. perspective.
- Creation of specialised health services for the medical transition of transgender people, paid for by the budget of the Single National Health Insurance Fund (endocrinological analyses and consultations, psychological support, hormonal treatment).
- National implementation of the International Classification of Diseases Revision 11, adopted by the World Health Organization in 2019 and in force from 1 January 2022, in order to depathologise transgender identities and eliminate psychiatric diagnosis for transgender people.
- Prohibition of the medical evaluation procedure of transgender people in the National Institute of Legal Medicine, abusively requested by judges in civil status processes for legal gender recognition. This expertise is abusive, humiliating and contrary to ECHR standards, which decouple the legal transition from the medical one and prohibit forcing transgender people to undergo surgery as a precondition for changing their gender in civil status documents.
- Review initial training programs in cooperation with medical schools to depathologise queer identities and bring medical education in line with WHO standards. Currently homosexuality and transgender identities are considered paraphilias (sexual deviations) in Romanian medical education, in contradiction with international medical standards of the psychiatric profession.
To the Central or Local Public Administration authorities in charge of public hospitals:
- Monitor the conditions under which access to abortion on demand is ensured throughout the year and whether the necessary medical staff is provided according to the number of population for each region, taking into account the existing statistics (number of abortions per year, number of abortions for minors, number of abortions on demand, etc.).
- Local budget financing of contraceptives provided to the population of the administrative-territorial unit in question, through the family planning offices in the county.
- Eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women and queer people in public or private spaces, online or offline, such as gender-based violence, domestic violence, femicide, abuse, harassment.
To the Romanian College of Physicians:
- Harmonization of deontological rules, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship, the patient termination component and the consent and confidentiality components.
- To ensure that the initial training of doctors includes practical elements for the provision of safe methods of termination of pregnancy in line with the latest WHO approved standards in this field.
- Incorporate human rights in the health system by adopting a code of ethics for non-discrimination, gender equality, anti-racism, anti-abilitism, etc.
- Ensure that the initial and continuous training of doctors includes practical elements for the provision of specific health services for queer people, including transition-specific health services.
To hospital managers:
- Inform patients about the terms and conditions for accessing abortion services, including by publishing information on the institution’s website.
- Obligation to ensure access to abortion services on demand in each public hospital by contracting health professionals willing to perform this intervention without any restraint of any kind, if they do not already exist at each hospital.
To the Ministry of Education:
- Introduce in the subject “Health Education” provided for in the New Law on Pre-University Education the scientifically based elements of sexual and reproductive health, with notions about the body, sexual relations, consent, means of contraception, abortion.
- Introduction of mandatory workshops for students to inform them about contraceptive methods (what are the options, how can they be accessed, how should they be used, etc.) and consent (what is it, its importance, language of consent, criteria of consent);
- Introduce notions of diversity into the curriculum to promote a climate of good understanding and acceptance between pupils, to prevent bullying and gender-based violence, as well as homophobic, racist, ableist violence or violence against poor students, students whose parents are abroad or against refugee and migrant pupils;
- Introduce into the school curriculum notions of gender-based violence and gender equality and the elimination of gender stereotypes.
- Reduce the gap between urban and rural education in terms of access to information on sex education and information on contraceptive methods.
- Free distribution of condoms in high schools – through the school counsellor – to be made available to students on request;
- Organization of bilingual education programs for Roma pupils, refugees from Ukraine and other countries enrolled in state education.
These are our uncompromising and vigorous demands. We will never stop claiming our rights!
*Many Roma women in Europe have experienced and continue to experience sterilisation by medical practitioners without prior notice and consent. As an example, an investigation documented the practice in the Czech Republic, where it was still happening in 2022.
**Lots of Romanian anti-abortion groups, fake ‘pregnancy crisis centers’, etc. are funded by ultra-religious conservative organizations from the US. The Guardian published evidence in this direction.