By Anna Arco —Spanish doctors have leapt to the defence of freedom of conscience not to be involved in procuring abortions after a senior minister suggested that refusing to perform an abortion might constitute civil disobedience.
The General Council of Doctors Colleges (OMC) in Spain last week insisted that conscientious objection must be an option after the Spanish minister Francisco Caamaño suggested that refusing to perform an abortion would amount to a crime.
It said that under the radical new abortion legislation that is being fiercely debated in the Spanish parliament doctors might lose the reject to object to performing an abortion. Doctors urgently called for a clause protecting conscience to be included in the law.
In a statement issued on Monday they said: “Conscientious objection for medical reasons can hardly be considered civil disobedience.”
Stressing that the only protections for conscience in the existing law dealt with cases relating to the media and the military, the OMC called for “the urgent need for the new abortion law to include during its time in parliament conscientious objection of medical personnel who intervene directly in them, just as it is in almost all countries which have de-penalised abortion.
“In these countries, conscientious objection has become recognised as a specific right, with clauses which prevent discrimination against those physicians who for whatever reasons of conscience refuse to participate in the abortive practices, especially if, as stands in our future law of abortion, it will pass from being a de-penalised crime in certain situations and be
come a ‘right’; the ‘right of a woman to abort’.”
They said that the right to conscientious objection was “a universal criterion of the medical profession”.
They said that conflicts arise when the defence of certain principles come against the rights that have been legally established. For that reason it is important, the doctors argued, “for the freedom of conscience to be legally recognised in the general medicine, not just in the context of abortion – guaranteeing the juridical safety of all including the foetus in the case of abortion”.
The statement came after Spain’s justice minister said on Spanish television last week that refusing to perform abortions would be punished.
Speaking in an interview last week Mr Caamaño said he did not believe there were more rights to conscientious objection than those expressly established by the constitution or by the legislator in the general courts.
He said: “Personal ideas cannot excuse us from complying the law because, if not, we would arrive in many subjects, in this and many others, to civil disobedience… where there is no law which allows it, I am with the supreme tribunal and its ruling on education for citizens. Conscientious objection does not fit.”
Spain is in the throes of a fierce national debate over further liberalisation of the country’s abortion laws.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government has been at odds with the Church since its election in 2004 over issues such as easing Spain’s divorce laws and pushing same-sex marriage. Its plans to make abortions easier have launched by far the most heated debate. Under the proposed legislation women could freely obtain abortions within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Girls as young as 16 could have abortions without requiring parental consent. Women could abort at up to 22 weeks in the case of congenital disorder under the new law, and continue to abort after that if the pregnancy places them in mortal danger.
The Spanish bishops roundly condemned the legislation in July, saying that it was a “serious danger for the common good”. They said: “To include abortion in health policy always gravely compromises the medical profession which is distorted when it is placed at the service of death.”