A new report from the Croatia-based Center for Education, Counseling and Research (CESI) examines the organized assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Europe from the Catholic hierarchy and its conservative allies. CESI was founded in 1997 to respond to violations of human rights, particularly women’s and minority rights, as well as militarization and economic dislocation.
“Neo-Conservative Threats to Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights in the European Union” examines the efforts of the Catholic hierarchy, its “satellite organizations,” and allied politicians to restrict access to abortion and LGBT equality in the European Union. According to the report, “the Vatican hierarchy and its civil allies have recently re-organized and enhanced their efforts towards influencing public policies regarding family, sexuality and reproductive health.”
The report also references the mentoring role of U.S. groups that provide “inspiration and transfer of experience, tactics and strategies of action” to their European counterparts. As RWW readers know, we have been covering the support given by U.S. Religious Right groups and leaders, such as the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and its European arm (ECLJ) and NOM’s Brian Brown, for anti-gay activism around the globe. “What we have here is a small, marginal, but very well organized and financed group of advocates for a fundamentalist religious-political agenda,” says the report.
According to the CESI report,
“Institutions in Brussels are now increasingly used as channels to promote Catholic values and fundamentalist ideology, creating an atmosphere of increased neo-conservative influence on the political institutions…this kind of extreme advocacy in defense of traditional, catholic values simultaneously aims to limit rights and discriminate against ‘the others and different ones’…”
The report documents the global interconnections among conservative groups and activists. For example, Luca Volontè is on board of patrons of U.S.-based C-FAM, and is among the European contributors to C-FAM’s “Turtle Bay and Beyond” blog.
In June of 2014, Luca Volontè, Ignacio Arsuaga – the president of CitizenGO and HazteOir, and Ludovine de La Rochère – the president of La Manif Pour Tous, have publicly supported “The March for Marriage” in Washington, an event organized by The National Organization for Marriage. In a meeting that was held behind closed doors, together with the representatives of some 70 countries, they have begun working on establishing an International Organization for Marriage.
The report notes the movement’s use of online communications and organizing strategies, including the online petition platform called CitizenGO.
CitizenGO presents itself as a global community of active citizens who use online petitions and actions to defend and promote life, family and (religious) freedom. They emphasize promoting active citizen participation in public and political life on local, national and international level, so this platform, based in Spain, operates in eight languages (Italian, German, French, English, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish). Arabic and Chinese version are in the planning stage.
Skillfully using the principles of participatory democracy as a disguise, CitizenGo actually works as a politically intelligent instrument, gathering numerous prominent figures of neoconservative agenda in the EU and centralizing advocacy actions against the right to abortion, marriage equality, assisted reproductive technology and sexual education in schools. In organized advocacy efforts against adopting three reports on SRHR status and gender equality in the EU (Estrela, Lunacek, Zuber), they have managed to gather about 350 000 support signatures in few months, and, while lobbying for each individual report, they have mobilized citizens to send tensof thousands of e-mail messages to the representatives in the European Parliament. That kind of numbers in support, as well as the range of influence should mostly be credited to Ignacio Arsuaga, the president of the CitizenGO platform and the founder of the organization HazteOir, who spent many years adapting online organizing and advocacy techniques used by conservative groups in the USA to the political conditions in Spain and the EU.
NOM’s Brian Brown is on the board of CitizenGo, whose logo describes the group as a “Member of the ACTRight Family.” ACTRight was founded by Brown to raise money for conservative causes and campaigns.
In addition to conservative efforts Europe-wide, the CESI report also includes a focused look on political activities in Croatia, including the role of the Catholic hierarchy in support of a campaign for a referendum to put a ban on marriage by same-sex couples into the country’s constitution, the use of the U.S.-developed “TeenStar” abstinence-based sex ed program, and travel to the country by U.S. religious conservative activists Judith Reisman and Lila Rose.