Council of Europe raps Italy over difficulty in obtaining abortions


Isla Binnie, Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) – Women’s rights are being violated in Italy by the serious difficulties they face in trying to obtain safe abortions due to many doctors refusing to carry out the procedure, the Council of Europe said on Monday.

Terminating pregnancies has been legal in Italy since 1978, but the council’s social rights committee found that the situation in Italy violated both the women’s right to protection of health and the doctors’ right to dignity at work.

In a significant number of Italian hospitals, even if a gynecology unit exists, there are no or very few doctors who do not object to performing abortions, the committee said. . . [Full text]


UN Special Rapporteur Favours of a Right to Conscientious Objection

News Release 

European Centre for Law and Justice

On the occasion of a conference organized by the ECLJ at UN headquarters in Geneva, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, spoke in favor of the right of medical staff to refuse to participate in performing an abortion or euthanasia. He mentioned the case of a midwife who was harshly sentenced in Sweden for having refused to participate in an abortion and was forced into “professional exile.”

He considers that this right, based on freedom of conscience, should extend to the medical staff directly involved in the matter, as long as their objection is well-founded on a strong and deep conviction. . . [Full text]


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.


Maria Hildingsson, Secretary General, European Federation of Catholic Family Associations  (FAFCE)
+32 4 70 20 39 18

Ruth Nordström, President, Provita 
+46 70 725 1917

Tomas Seidal, Vice-President, Christian Medical Doctors and Students (KLM)

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.

Conscientious objection: a good for humanity

News Release


Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae (CCEE)

While in Europe, strongly marked by secularism and liberalism, there is an increasing tendency to multiply the rights of individuals, especially at the beginning and end of life, proportionally,  freedom of conscience – a fundamental right at the foundation of democracy and the Rule of law of our European countries – is increasingly struggling, especially in the medical and educational field. On the contrary conscientious objection is not used against anyone or to undermine the legal system but for the common good. In Bratislava, the legal advisers of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe talked about the real applicability of conscientious objection in the light of the current debate in European States and the consequences-challenges to church institutions.

The meeting was held from 4th to 6th of March in Bratislava, Slovakia. This was the second meeting of legal advisers, organized by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). The first one was held in Strasbourg in 2013. Representatives of the Holy See, England, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine attended the conference. The meeting was hosted by Msgr. Stanislav Zvolensky, Archbishop of Bratislava and President of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, who opened the conference. Msgr. Mario Giordana, Apostolic Nuncio in Slovakia and Jan Figel, currently Vice President of the Slovak Parliament, greeted the participants during the meeting.

The main address was given by Prof. Marek Šmid, Rector of the University of Trnava (Slovakia) who focused on the legal regulation of conscientious objection. There is a diversity of situations in the states of Europe. The common element of their legal systems is the fact that the regulation of conscientious objection has an important impact in a number ethically sensitive areas.

In the case of members of the Catholic Church, conscientious objection should be instituted as a legal possibility that gives people the right to refuse duty, which is contrary to the general principles of doctrine and morals of the Church. This does not mean the right to disregard the laws of the country, but to enable the individual to comply with the laws of the State and avoid compromising their conscience at the same time.

Conscientious objection is in the interests of the individual and of the state which aims to be pluralistic, democratic and respectful of the rule of law. It enables citizens to enjoy the right to freedom of conscience and religion, which is one of the core values ​​of  society. In particular the effects of conscientious objection should extend to the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death and also related health services. Its effects should also extend to the field of teaching on sexual morality in public school, marriage as a life community of one man and one woman and the exercise of freedom of religion in public life, particularly through the use of religious symbols.

In health care the right to conscientious objection doesn’t belong only to doctors but also to other professional personnel (eg. nurses, psychologists, social workers). In particular, it must be possible in the following procedures: abortion, euthanasia, artificial insemination, research and organ transplants, as has been shown by Prof. Eva Grey, of St. Elisabeth University of Health and Social Work (Bratislava). However, conscientious objection may not outweigh the duty of medical personnel to protect or save human lives.

Other fundamental points underlined during the meeting were:

  • the fact that nowadays a new dimension of conscientious objection arises with respect to aggressive promotion of gender ideology through education and antidiscrimination legislation;
  • the need to bear in mind the role of ethics code in healthcare;
  • the need to promote the institutional aspects of conscientious objection: not just individuals but also institutions (hospitals, schools) should be allowed to object;
  • the role of families in creating conditions for conscientious objection;
  • and finally, the fact that Freedom of conscience inevitably provides awareness and recognition of the fundamental values ​​of society and of individuals. The States together with the civil societies, Churches and religious communities should cooperate in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. This principle is particularly promoted by the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

On the afternoon of Thursday 5 March participants moved to Vienna. There, they visited the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Then, they were introduced to the challenges for Church organisations in the current discussion on development of antidiscrimination laws by Ms Gudrun Kugler, President of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe.  In the Austrian Capital they also met with Mgr. Janusz Urbańczyk and Mgr. Marinko Antolović from the Holy See’s Permanent Mission at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Through a video recorded address from Judge Marta Cartabia, Vice President of the Italian Constitutional Court, participants were also introduced to the theme of freedom of expression. The Church strongly defend this fundamental right being aware, however, that nowadays freedom of expression, especially when it concerns the religious dimension of people, might need a reasonable accommodation between the State and religious communities. In case of conflict, experiences show that a better regulation of this right is reached where a Concordat – Agreement between the State and the Church has been established. Bilateral Agreement, in fact, remains the more reasonable solution in a pluralistic society preserving this pluralism without provoking the annulment of the differences or creating homologation.

In Bratislava, participants took also note on the recent redefinition of marriage in Slovenia and supported together with Slovenians bishops the efforts of civil society to overrule the complete assimilation of same-sex unions with the different-sex ones by the people in a referendum.

The final session saw a reflection followed by a dialogue with Msgr. Paul Gallagher, Secretary for the Relations with States (Holy See’s Secretariat of State) on The challenges for today’s Church in Pope Francis’ addresses to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Msgr. Gallagher stressed Pope Francis’ reflection on the need that we should rebuild “a Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals”.

At the end of the meeting José Jesus López Nieto, legal adviser of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, presented the conclusion of a short questionnaire that CCEE disseminated earlier this year. According to the responses received, it is important that CCEE fosters this network of Legal Advisers and to engage more with the specific invitation that Pope Francis has addressed to CCEE in Stasbourg to follow more deeply the activities of the Council of Europe, with the help of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the Council of Europe, represented during the meeting by Mgr. Paolo Rudelli, its Permanent Observer.

Dying Dutch: Euthanasia Spreads Across Europe


Winston Ross

In one of the last photographs my family took of my grandmother, she looks as if she’s been in a fistfight. Jean Bass Tinsley is lying in a hospital bed in Athens, Georgia, wearing a turquoise button-up shirt and staring blankly at the camera. A bandage obscures her fractured skull, along with the bridge of her bloodied nose. She is 91 years old.

My grandmother essentially did this to herself. In June 2013, she fell out of her wheelchair headfirst, after ignoring her caregivers’ warnings not to get out of bed without help. Earlier that year, she’d broken both of her hips, in separate falls. Before that, her pelvis-all while trying to do what for most of her life she’d managed just fine on her own: walk.

In her last year, dementia crept into my grandmother’s mind. The staff at her long-term-care facility plotted ways to protect her from herself. It’s against the law in Georgia to restrain patients in such facilities, so they lowered her bed to the floor and put a pad down next to it. They even installed an alarm that went off if she left her mattress. My grandmother disabled the alarm, moved the pad and freed herself, repeatedly. In the end, she was both too weak and too strong. [Full text]


Babies born alive during abortion will receive no help from the Council of Europe, documents show

LifeSite News

LifeSite News Staff

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is unwilling to take up the issue of babies who are born alive and left to die or killed after an unsuccessful late-term abortion.

Reports from medical workers suggest that many of children born alive during botched abortions are “evacuated” along with hospital waste or left to die in another hospital room or in a storeroom, despite signs of life. Others receive lethal injections or are smothered.

Documents furnished to LifeSiteNews show that a written question from a Spanish member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe submitted to the Committee at the beginning of this year will receive no answer, because the ministers could not reach consensus about what should happen in such an instance. [Full text]