Medical Body in Spain: Threat to Conscientious Objection on Abortion ‘Unacceptable, Illegal, and Unjust’

Montero declared on July 8 that “the right of physicians to conscientious objection cannot be above women’s right to decide."

Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero speaks after the Council of Ministers, March 3, 2020.
Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero speaks after the Council of Ministers, March 3, 2020. (photo: La Moncloa - Gobierno de España via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) / La Moncloa - Gobierno de España via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

MADRID, Spain — A body representing Spain’s medical colleges said on Monday that a government minister’s threat to conscientious objection on abortion is “unacceptable, illegal, and unjust.”

The General Council of Official Medical Colleges (CGCOM) was responding to proposed changes to the country’s abortion law announced by Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero.

Montero declared on July 8 that “the right of physicians to conscientious objection cannot be above women’s right to decide,” ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, reported.

The CGCOM, the governing body representing 52 local medical colleges, defended the right to conscientious objection in a July 12 statement.

“Forcing the conscience of physicians in order to expand the number of physicians available in all communities is, in addition to being unconstitutional, a bad solution, which from the perspective of the medical profession would be considered unacceptable, illegal, and unjust,” it said.

Montero’s announcement came just two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a report seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The CGCOM said: “Making it difficult to exercise the right to conscientious objection by rules or regulatory instructions is inappropriate, but it is also particularly unfair.” 

“It makes physicians the target of the displeasure of patients and of sectors of society when they are not to blame, and when the opportunities to solve the problem lie elsewhere.”

ACI Prensa said that the Constitutional Court of Spain recognizes that doctors have a fundamental right to conscientious objection “when it derives from a moral imperative linked to life, such as abortion and euthanasia.”

Doctors are required to declare in advance, in writing, that they are conscientious objectors. 

Spain legalized abortion in 1985. The law, which was last amended in 2015, permits abortion on demand up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks for fetal abnormalities and serious risk to a mother’s health.

Spain’s Ministry of Health reported that 99,149 abortions were performed in 2019, 3,232 more than in 2018.

Montero, a member of the Podemos party, a junior partner in a ruling coalition with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), has said that she is seeking to decriminalize abortion. 

Other proposed changes to the law include the elimination of a mandatory three-day waiting period for women seeking an abortion, penalties for pro-lifers helping women outside abortion clinics, and the repeal of a law requiring parental consent for children aged 16 and 17 who want to procure an abortion.

The GCGOM, which is part of the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization (OMC), also criticized the timing of Montero’s comments about conscientious objection. 

It said that the public authorities owed “an enormous moral debt to the medical profession” for its sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“A bad way to honor this debt would be to provoke dormant conflicts or to use a very damaged and mistreated collective as an alibi for policies that have not been designed with the necessary technical competence or material resources,” it said.

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