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Free contraception lawsuit: the pill is a women’s right, that’s why we sue the Dutch government

Published Sat Feb 15 2020

In 1972 -following an intense campaign from the Dutch feminist group Dolle Mina- the Netherlands declared contraception free for all. Yesterday, on Valentine, “the day of love”, Dutch women are experiencing a déjà vu: feminist legal firm Bureau Clara Wichmann and NGO De Goede Zaak handed over a subpoena demanding free contraception for all to the high council in Amsterdam.

PanDam spoke to Femke Zeven, spokesperson for Bureau Clara Wichmann: “It was really nice to be at the High Council with all of the organizations and individuals that together are also supporting the case as a group. To have Minister Bruins actually come outside and accept the subpoena from us was a symbolic moment for this important lawsuit we are filing today.”

But why, in 2020, is the Netherlands celebrating a milestone that had already been achieved as early as 1972? The answer can be found back in 2011, when the Dutch government declared thatcontraception would no longer be included in basic healthcare, on the grounds that it was not a medical necessity. But as Femke explained to us, wether contraception is a medical need or not, it is irrelevant; because above all it is a human right: “It’s the right to self determination, the right to family planning, so it isn’t something that should even be considered a political choice. And the only way it can be made accessible for everyone is to give it free fro all.” The legal case is rooted in Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights -the right to private and family life, his home and correspondence and the right to prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex- which combined point to the right of accessible contraception, where accessibility also means it should be free of charge.

Although there were no new statements from Minister Bruins himself, he did admit that maybe it was time to reopen the discussion on birth control accessibility within the Netherlands. “But this is the difference of understanding that divides government officials and advocates of free contraception: it is not simply a ‘discussion’ but a fundamental human right”.

Government officials are also at odds with the public opinion “There are currently more than 7.000 plaintiffs. The fact that so many want their name to be on the subpoena shows that the public opinion is committed to this case”. Earlier this year, Bureau Clara Wichmann and De Goede Zaak kickstarted a petition to support the motion of free birth control, which was signed by 55,000 people within a single week alone. The petition was presented to parliament and eventually rejected by theDutch government, despite the public outcry. “The government needs to take public opinion into consideration, another reason why we decided to bring the case to court”

Since the ’60s, the Dutch government has shifted its views to more liberal positions, actively making efforts to establish equal rights and opportunities for men and women. However -at least in the healthcare system- some conservative stances are still strong such as the one made in 2011: “It definitely says something about structural sexism in the Netherlands, and it’s definitely a set back. We thought this battle had already been fought. It’s concerning and shows that we always need to keep paying attention about human and women’s rights and never take them for granted”.

Pic credit: Robin Butter

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