Lack of Conscientious Objection Clause for Medical Staff in Sweden

Decision of the European Committee of Social Rights

News Release

European Federation of Catholic Family Associations  (FAFCE)

Contrary to Resolution 1763 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 10 October 2011, Medical Staff in Sweden have no legal right to conscientious objection in case of ethically sensitive issues which occur particularly at the beginning and the end of life. The European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) which has a participatory status with the Council of Europe submitted a collective complaint against Sweden in 2013 based on the above grounds and the right to health, together with the Swedish organisations Provita and Christian Medical Doctors and Students (KLM). The decision of the European Committee of Social Rights was made public today.

One of the issues addressed in the Collective Complaint against Sweden was freedom of conscience for medical staff. In its response to the Complaint the Swedish Government argued that freedom of conscience should be discussed in the work place and that if the issue can’t be resolved in a satisfactory manner for the employee, it can be brought before Court, based on article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is incorporated into the Swedish law and on the grounds of the anti-discrimination law for the individual. The right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its response the Government also notes that contacts have been established with the concerned employers and workers union: none of these could provide examples of situations where freedom of conscience had been problematic. Thus the Government considers that the problem is purely theoretical.

”It is of course very noteworthy that the Government stated that denied freedom of conscience only is a theoretical problem in its response to the European Social Rights Committee. In a recent complaint to the United Nations Swedish by European Centre for Law and Justice, medical staff – four midwifes, three general practioners and two pediatricians – testify of how the negative attitude towards freedom of conscience has limited them and their colleagues in their professional practice”, says Mrs Nordström, CEO or Provita and President of Scandianvian Human Rights Lawyers, and the legal representative of a Swedish midwife, Ellinor Grimmark, in an ongoing courtcase about freedom of conscience in Sweden. Mrs Grimmark lost her job and was refused employment due to her refusal to perform abortions as part of her tasks as a midwife at several Swedish hospitals. – “This is a concrete case that proves that freedom of conscience for medical staff is all but a theoretical problem in Sweden”, says Ruth Nordström.

In its decision the European Committee of Social Rights states that it has previously, in a Collective Complaint against Italy, considered whether freedom of conscience in accordance with article 11 of the European Social Rights Charter affects women’s access to abortion in Italy (International Planned Parenthood Federation vs. Italy (Complaint 87/2012)).

The Committee establishes that article 11 is not applicable in this case, where the situation is the opposite, i.e. where women’s access to abortion is not affected. Since article 11 is not applicable the Committee does not take a position regarding the issue of discrimination according to article E in the European Social Rights Charter.” says Ruth Nordström.

The Swedish Federation of Medical Doctors (Läkarförbundet) and the Swedish Federation of Medical Staff (Vårdförbundet) together with the Swedish Planned Parenthood Federation (RFSU) recently claimed that ”conscience clauses threaten free abortion”. In other words the official representative bodies of medical staff in Sweden consider access to abortion as superior to freedom of conscience. FAFCE’s President Antoine Renard remarks that “this statement is a stark contrast to the position recently expressed in another Council of Europe Member State, namely France where The National Council of the Order of Medical Doctors publically opposes the suppression of the conscience clause related to abortion and “recalls that it is a fundamental provision foreseen by the medical deontological statute-book and by the public health law.”

Furthermore, the Committee considers that it cannot be proven that the number of abortions in Sweden is considerably high or that these abortions are a result of insufficient access to preventive measures.

FAFCE’s Secretary General Maria Hildingsson underlines that ”Sweden has among the highest abortion rates in Europe, year after year, statistics show this trend very clearly.” She considers that “it is regrettable that the European Committee of Social Rights does not take a clear stance in favour of stronger legal protection regarding the ethical issues addressed in the Complaint.

Regarding sex selective abortions in Sweden, another issue reported in the Complaint and the treatment of infants surviving late term abortions the Committee states in its decision ”that FAFCE’s complaints relate to an issue which is very sensitive for many of the State Parties to the Charter, i.e. the question of when human life begins, which depends on the wide diversity of values and traditions in the different states.”. The Committee pursues by saying that “States Parties enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in deciding when life begins and it is therefore for each State Party to determine, within this margin of appreciation, the extent to which a foetus has a right to health.”

“The issue of infants surviving late term abortion has caught considerable attention across Europe during the recent months, namely in connection with a petition signed by over 200 000 citizens which will be debated in the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the PACE next week” underlines FAFCE’s President Antoine Renard.

“It is astonishing that the Committee argues that Member States should decide when life begins. It is an undisputed biological fact that life begins at conception. What the committee is likely to mean is when the unborn life should be protected and granted human dignity. This wording can hardly be due to ignorance, but rather it is a rhetorical approach that’s both tendentious and cynically” says Tomas Seidal, Vice President of KLM.

”The issue of abortion has been, is and will remain controversial for us who work in medical care, since it is a unique intervention with the consequence of putting an end to a human life. We also consider that the issue becomes particularly complicated when the unborn child is the object of medical care in other circumstances, and as such a patient with the right to life and health care. If it collides with a strongly established conviction and belief against extinguishing a life at its beginning, there must be room for conscientious freedom” says Tomas Seidal.

Contact:

Maria Hildingsson, Secretary General, European Federation of Catholic Family Associations  (FAFCE)
+32 4 70 20 39 18
m.hildingsson@fafce.org

Ruth Nordström, President, Provita 
+46 70 725 1917
ruth.nordstrom@provitasweden.org

Tomas Seidal, Vice-President, Christian Medical Doctors and Students (KLM)
ht.seidal@gmail.com


Founded in 1997 the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) holds a participatory status with the Council of Europe, is a member of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Platform, and represents family associations from 15 European countries.

In Illinois, Bishops and Pro-Life Groups Differ on ACLU Conscience Bill

National Catholic Register

Peter Jesserer Smith

Both parties don’t like the pro-abortion-rights organization’s bill, but the Illinois Catholic Conference is standing neutral while local pro-life groups campaign against it in the state legislature.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A battle is under way over conscience rights and health care in the Illinois Legislature that has pro-life groups on one side, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood on the other, and the Illinois Catholic Conference standing neutral on the sidelines.

The ACLU of Illinois has proposed a change to Illinois’ broad legal protections for the conscience rights of health-care workers with S.B. 1564, which has already passed the state senate, but whose defeat the pro-life groups are urging in the state house.

If health-care facilities or personnel decline to provide services for reasons of conscience — such as abortions or sterilizations — the bill’s protocols would require them either to make referrals for such services or to provide information about other places where they are likely to be available. [Full Text]

Italian Doctors Abort a Law

Interpress Service News Agency

Silvia Giannelli

ROME, Apr 5 2014 (IPS) – Two out of three doctors in Italy are ‘conscientious objectors’ to abortion, according to new data. The Italian Ministry of Health reveals that in 2011, 69.3 percent of doctors refused to carry out abortions, with peaks of over 85 percent in some regions.

In the face of such numbers, the ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe against Italy earlier this month over a complaint for violating the right to protection of health came as no surprise.

“The Italian situation really worries us, and this is why we filed the complaint,” Irene Donadio, advocacy officer at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF_EN) told IPS. “We believe that there is a problem with the functioning and application of the abortion law, which, in fact, would be a good law but is often violated.

“We acknowledge the fact that the right to conscientious objection is included in the same law, but the right of women to access a service that is legal and fundamental for their health needs to be respected as much as this right.” [Full Text]

Virginia enacts protection of conscience provision for genetic counsellors

 Governor’s attempt to force referral overridden by Senate

A bill concerning the regulation of genetic counselling in Virginia has been enacted with the original protection of conscience provision intact.  Identical versions of the bill had been passed unanimously by the Virginia House and Senate, but Governor Terry McAuliffe, apparently in response to lobbying from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, attempted to insert a mandatory referral provision into the bill.  This was rejected by the Senate.  The law now requires an objecting counsellor to offer “to direct the patient to the online directory of licensed genetic counselors maintained by the Board.” [Family Foundation]

Abortion campaigners assault on conscience in Italy based on ideology, not facts

 “When the ideological fury collides with reality, sometimes the impact is very violent.”

LifeSite News

Hilary White

ROME, March 13, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The pro-life movement in Italy has come out swinging against an order by the Council of Europe to abolish the country’s legal protection for conscientious objectors against abortion. Gianfranco Amato, the head of the campaign group Giuristi per la Vita (Jurists for Life), said at a press conference yesterday that the clause in the abortion law 194, “remains the only form of defence against an unjust law.”

Amato said, “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society.”

The committee’s decision came in response to a complaint, launched in November 2012 by International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPFEN) and an Italian labour union, claiming that Italian doctors were “abusing” the conscience protection clause in Law 194. IPPF made the complaint when the government announced in its annual statistics that between 70 and 90 percent of gynecologists in the country refuse to participate in abortion.

Some in the secular media are defending the decision of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights to uphold a complaint against the law, saying that it has created a “totalitarianism” of pro-life doctors who commit “psychological violence” against women who want abortions. The criticism comes as Italian media are publicizing the case of a woman who is claiming that two years ago she miscarried in a hospital bathroom after doctors refused to do an abortion. Valentina Pertini has launched a court case to review the law this week, aiming to add political pressure immediately following the Council of Europe committee’s non-binding decision.[Full Text]

Council of Europe committee attacks Italian law allowing doctors to refuse abortions

LifeSite News

Hilary White

ROME, March 10, 2014  (LifeSiteNews.com) – The International Planned Parenthood Federation has scored a major victory against conscientious objection laws in Italy at the Council of Europe. The council’s European Committee of Social Rights voted this weekend to uphold IPPF’s complaint against Italy that too many doctors are allowed to refuse to participate in abortion.

The complaint was launched in November 2012 by International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPFEN) claiming that Italian doctors were “abusing” the right, granted in Italy’s abortion law, not to be forced to commit abortions. It alleged that the Italian law is in “violation of the right to health … due to inadequate protection of the right to access procedures for the termination of pregnancy.”

The law, they said, “does not indicate the precise means through which hospitals and regional authorities are to guarantee the adequate presence of non-objecting medical personnel in all public hospitals, so as to always ensure the right of access to procedures for the termination of pregnancy.”

“Due to this lack in the normative framework, there exists an inadequate application of Law no. 194 of 1978, as demonstrated by the facts relating to practice, which in turn compromises the rights to life, health and self-determination of women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.” [Full Text]

Protection of conscience bill in New Hampshire

A protection of conscience bill has been proposed in New Hampshire, one of only three states that lack protective legislation for health care workers.  House Bill 1653 offers protection for individuals, though not for institutions.  It is opposed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Association. [Nashua Telegraph]

 

The campaign to force hospitals to provide abortion

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Forty-five states and the federal government protect the right of health care providers to
decline involvement in abortion. Pro-abortion  groups seek to abolish these legal protections.

Consider the following:

Abortion Access Project

Operating in twenty-four states, the project’s goal is “increasing access to abortion services by expanding . . . the number of hospitals offering abortion services.” The project admits that its tactics include “pressuring hospitals” and it does so through both political and legal pressure. The “Hospital Access Collaborative” division reports on the state projects’ legal and regulatory interventions challenging mergers. [Full text]

Project Letter to The Daily News

Nova Scotia, Canada
27 December, 2002

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

This response to your article Bacon, eggs and peace of mind: Pharmacists, Planned Parenthood push for prescription-free morning-after pill (17 November, 2002) has been delayed by the need to consult the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists.

With respect to the ‘morning-after-pill’, your article attributed the following quote to Kelly Grover of Planned Parenthood: “Nobody is forcing pharmacists to prescribe this. There is a code of ethics that requires them to refer patients.”

In fact, the College’s Code of Ethics does not require referral. A pharmacist who objects to providing a drug for reasons of conscience is to advise an employer of that fact when being hired. It then becomes the obligation of the employer, not the pharmacist, to find an alternative means to deliver the drug.

The disclosure requirement in the Code of Ethics is intended to ensure that the freedom of conscience of pharmacists is fully respected, without preventing patients from getting drugs or services that they want.  Unscrupulous employers could misuse the disclosure requirement by using it to identify conscientious objectors and deny them employment. One hopes that the College will defend pharmacists against this form of discrimination, as it would be a pity to see Nova Scotians forced to leave home to seek employment in more tolerant environments.

The Unfree

 The National Review
25 September, 2002

Reproduced with permission

Katherine Jean Lopez

It’s still legal to oppose abortion, isn’t it?

You might think that any piece of legislation with the word “non-discrimination” in it is just about automatically headed for easy congressional passage. What politician wants to be on record as being in favor of discrimination?

Well, it’s just not so. At least if the issues involved are religion and abortion.

The House of Representatives is set to take up the (ANDA) this week. The goal of the bill is to protect Americans’ right to not have to pay for or otherwise  participate in abortions. Specifically, ANDA seeks to protect religious hospitals and other health-care providers (clinics, insurers, nurses, doctors) who are opposed, in conscience, to abortion, from having to have anything to do with them.

This has been one of the hottest “reproductive rights” issues over the last few years. Very few statehouses haven’t seen coercive bills seeking to force religious – often Catholic-hospitals to provide the whole gamut of so-called “reproductive health” services, including abortion, all in the name of “access.” Currently 49 states (the exception is Vermont) have some kind of conscience protection for health-care providers, though none of them are as comprehensive as the proposed ANDA bill-which covers all health-care “entities.”

In this regard, one of the favorite topics among abortion advocates recently has been hospital mergers. Planned Parenthood argues, in an action alert send out to supporters this week, that health-care institutions, whatever their affiliation, “operate in a secular sphere, and employ and serve people of diverse backgrounds and faiths. Thus, their claimed right to refuse to provide these services imposes serious burdens on people who do not share their religious views.”

The ANDA bill, says PP, “would allow the ‘conscience’ of the entity to  trump the ‘conscience’ and needs of the women they serve. . . . This is  wrong.”

What is not wrong, however, in Planned Parenthood’s estimation, is “the  entity” – i.e. actual private organizations and Americans – being forced by law to provide services that the people who make up the organizations  believe to be morally prohibited. In fact, these hospitals often believe the very essence of their work is founded on an opposition to the taking  of a human life. It’s a principle that all of medicine – whether the practitioners were religious, agnostic, or atheist – once considered at its very core.

Even a nonsectarian hospital can get in legal trouble  under the current regime. In Alaska, Valley Hospital’s (elected) board decided that it did not want to continue letting a community OB/GYN use hospital facilities to perform abortions. The board’s decision meant that abortion was no longer available at the hospital except in cases of “rape, incest, and danger to  the life of the mother – exactly the same policy the federal government  has had in Medicaid and its other health programs for many years,” as       board member Karen Vosburgh told the House Energy and Commerce committee this summer.

As Vosburgh told the committee, an Alaska court’s subsequent decision (upheld by the state supreme court) to prohibit Valley Hospital from  making such a decision “potentially places all hospitals in our state in a  ‘Catch-22’ situation. If you are a non-religious hospital you have no First Amendment claim of religious freedom, so you must provide abortions.  If you are a religious hospital with a ‘free exercise’ claim, respect for your right of conscience may be seen as showing favoritism to religion, so you may still have to provide abortions.”

It’s just not Planned Parenthood and the overt abortion-advocacy groups  actively opposing ANDA. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project sent a representative to the Hill earlier in the summer to argue that the bill would unfairly restrict women from abortion, contraception, and even simple counseling.

The groups lobbying against ANDA have grabbed the talking points from their anti-abortion folder without focusing on the actual legislation they are so enthusiastically opposing. In fact, if this were not the narrow clarification that ANDA is, pro-lifers would likely be debating amongst themselves, some saying that the bill does not go far enough into specifics, into the realm of abortifacient so-called contraception, for instance. But these are battles for another day-having nothing to do with this piece of legislation.

Simply put, this isn’t a bill about abortion politics. It’s a bill about freedom. What abortion advocates have been arguing when it comes to “access” is that they would see rather a hospital merger not go through-and a hospital potentially shut down – than allow a hospital to choose not to participate in what its employees and founders believe to be  murder of a human life. For them, this is not about freedom. Their opposition to ANDA is a backdoor way to oppose any restrictions on women getting abortions whenever, wherever. As Brigham Young University Law School professor Lynn Wardle has put it, “zealous abortion activists continue to try to use the powers of government to compel participation in and payment for and coverage of abortion. Specifically, they try to compel hospitals, clinics, provider groups, and health-care insurers to provide facilities  for, personnel for, and funding for abortion.”

In fact, despite the scare stories from those opposed to ANDA, federally funded abortions would still be possible under ANDA. Nor is this a bill that seeks to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that okayed abortion.  As a  fact sheet put out by the Catholic Bishops’ pro-life department notes, “States can ensure access to any abortions they fund without forcing specific providers against their will to provide these particular  abortions. A requirement that a state will contract only with a provider that offers absolutely every reimbursable service would be an enormous barrier to patients’ access to care, as few providers in any state could meet such a test.”

The case for the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is a simple one, despite the heated rhetoric. As Pennsylvania congressman Joe Pitts put it at a hearing in July, “Abortion is an elective surgery. It is not prenatal care.  It is not basic health care, as some of our friends would like us to believe. Private hospitals should be able to decide what types of elective surgery they wish to offer. If they don’t want to provide abortions, they shouldn’t have to.”

That simplicity might give the bill a decent shot at passage. Tough sells on pro-life issues, like Republicans Tom Davis and Fred Upton, are cosponsoring ANDA. And some leading pro-life members – along with the Catholic bishops, an important voice on this issue in particular, given that there are over 600 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. (never mind other Catholic health-care entities) – are willing to push for this as a top priority for passage before the end of the year (likely as part of a lame-duck session, after the election). Rep. Pitts tells NRO: “I think there will be overwhelming support for the bill when it comes up for a vote.” In fact, as Pitts points out, even President Clinton signed a less comprehensive conscience-clause bill in1996. Cases like the Alaska one, however, make the need for ANDA clear.

In fact, for some members, ANDA is not at all different from what they voted for in 1996. Senator Olympia Snowe said on the Senate floor in 1996:   “[The amendment] does protect those institutions and those individuals who do not want to get involved in the performance or training of abortion when it is contrary to their beliefs . . . I do not think anyone would disagree with the fact – and I am pro-choice on this matter, but I do not  think anybody would disagree with the fact that an institution or an  individual who does not want to perform an abortion should do so contrary to their beliefs.”

She didn’t foresee how courts would interpret the law: as not including hospitals, because they are “quasi-public” entities. Of course, prospects in the Senate – as is so often the case – are murkier than in the House.

As Lynn Wardle noted in his testimony this summer, ANDA “is a very small,  but very important, step in the right direction.” Wardle tells NRO, “The  basic issue in the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is forced abortion. A forced abortion occurs not only when a woman is forced to have an abortion  she does not want, but also when a health-care provider is forced to provide or participate in an abortion against her will. Even the Supreme  Court abortion cases are based on protecting voluntary choice. The right of individuals and organizations of individuals to choose in accord with their conscience to not have and to not participate in abortion must be protected against extremists who are trying to coerce others to provide abortion services that extremists want but which others find morally  repugnant.  That is what ANDA is about. It protects freedom of choice, the freedom not to be forced to perform or support abortion  against one’s moral beliefs.”

But then, for some, there are issues much more important than choice and non-discrimination: like making sure abortion is anything but rare. That’s why National Organization for Women calls ANDA “one of the most harmful  bills yet proposed.”