In early August, an international group of abortion advocates met in Uruguay to discuss the potential removal of conscience protections for healthcare providers with regard to abortion.
Religious freedom is an obstacle to women’s health, according to conference organizer International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC). The group encourages advocates to ensure “that professional bodies recognize that personal beliefs can seriously undermine the provision of women-centered, professional health services.”
The IWHC and co-sponsor Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU) chose to host the conference in Uruguay because it has one of the most permissive abortion laws in Latin America. Nevertheless, more than half of Uruguay’s medical providers refuse to perform abortions due to conscientious objection. High percentages of objectors are not uncommon in countries that allow legal abortion, including Ghana (97%) and Italy (70%).
Conference participants claimed that religious or moral objections to providing abortions “must be tackled,” arguing that women unable to obtain legal and “safe” abortions will inevitably seek potentially deadly clandestine procedures. Rather than encouraging women to choose life, they concluded that medical workers must be forced to cause death.
Among the featured speakers was Dr. Christian Fiala, an Austrian gynecologist who has published several articles denouncing rights of conscience. In his most recent article, Fiala said that conscientious objection “gives legitimacy to the religiously-based assumption that abortion is wrong,” and singled out the Catholic Church as an enforcer of “traditional (sexist) beliefs about women and motherhood.” According to Fiala, even if lawmakers are allowed consciences, doctors are not: “[i]f the treatment is legal… there is simply no excuse to refuse.”
Fiala’s commitment to the primacy of abortion led him to denounce what he called “faith-based medicine” and organized religion in general. Fiala expressed doubt that conscientious objection in Latin America may not be possible to “fix” “until organized religion loses much of its influence.”
The World Health Organization estimates that faith-based organizations provide thirty to seventy percent of health care in Africa. Fiala’s vision of excluding religious-based health care could have devastating consequences if realized.
After arguing that it is difficult to determine whether a particular objector’s motivations are truly due to respect for unborn life, Fiala concluded that his aim is not to improve conscience rights with regard to abortion, but to abolish them entirely.
The group in Uruguay concluded, “conscientious objection in relation to health services is not supported by international human rights frameworks” although “sometimes allowed by national law.” In reality, the opposite is true. Abortion is not an international human right, although some countries allow it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes no mention of abortion, but rather states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” including the right “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Despite the fact that foundational human rights documents obligate nations to ensure protections for religious freedom and rights of conscience, a growing number of “expert” groups are working to undermine these safeguards. In the past, when a national law has been revised to allow abortion, often under pressure from groups such as IWHC, attacks on conscience rights have followed, as was the case in Uruguay.
LifeNews Note: Rebecca Oas writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax and is used with permission.