In the News 2011

Bishop Protests Parliament Decision Against Doctors’ Conscience Rights


Sweden’s reputation as a democratic society is under attack. According to Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius, this is the result from a parliamentary decision not to endorse a Council of Europe recommendation on conscience clauses, specifically the right of doctors to refuse to participate in abortions.

“Respect for individual conscience is a must in today’s Sweden,” the bishop said in a statement.

Last week the parliament approved a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, which means that the Swedish delegation will ignore the Council of Europe resolution that supported doctors’ conscience rights.

“From abroad, I have received responses that express disappointment and incomprehension related this parliamentary resolution, which contributes to the decline of Sweden’s reputation as a democratic society committed to the protection of minority rights,” said Bishop Anders Arborelius.

“Unfortunately, this decision confirms the dark tradition that also exists in our country, that of forced sterilization, which was allowed to continue almost without resistance for some time.”

In the U.S., conscience rights exist for both individuals and all healthcare institutions. Jon O’Brien, who leads the American lobbying organization Catholics for Choice, says that the campaign for freedom of conscience is something that the ultra-conservative Christians resort to when they realize that it is not possible to ban abortion and contraception.

“Most people recognize that it is detrimental to society and the individual when people are forced to do something against their will. But in this case, the talk of conscience is a Trojan horse, an attempt to restrict abortion and contraception in practice when you can not by law,” he told The World Today.

Many European countries guarantee conscience protections for health professionals in their legislation, while maintaining citizens’ right to legal healthcare options in practice. Even Russia is considering recognizing doctors’ freedom of conscience with regard to abortion. That is, abortion would be excluded from the country’s public healthcare system, as proposed in a bill before Parliament, the Duma. The goal is said to be the increase of the country’s birth rate, according to news agency RiaNovosti.

A law that would introduce penalties for abortions performed at mid-pregnancy has also been proposed in Russia. The legislation has received a reaction from medical professionals, who fear it will create a market for illegal and unsafe abortions. This seems to be what happened in Poland, where abortion was more or less completely banned in the late 1980s.

According to a report this week published in the journal Reproductive Health Matters, Poland now has an extensive black market for abortions, with annual expenditures of as much as $95 million a year.

This article originally appeared in Världen idag.

Catholics for Choice