European Pro-Lifers Celebrate Council of Europe Vote on Abortion, Conscience

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 14, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

European Pro-Lifers Celebrate Council of Europe Vote on Abortion, Conscience

by Terrence McKeegan, J.D.
October 14, 2010 Note: Terrence McKeegan writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.

Strasbourg, France ( — A dramatic legislative reversal reaffirmed the conscience rights of medical professionals and institutions in Europe last week.

The Council of Europe’s legislature considered a resolution calling for onerous restrictions on conscientious objection, including stripping protections for doctors who object to performing abortions.

Led by two politicians from Italy and Ireland, a coalition of legislators secured the passage of 29 amendments that transformed the resolution into one that upheld universally recognized rights to freedom of conscience.

The original resolution, known as the McCafferty report, sought to punish medical professionals for refusing to perform procedures against their conscience. It even called for a new registry of conscientious objectors.

Christian McCafferty, a British politician and main author of the original resolution, said during deliberations that she sought to force private and religious hospitals and clinics to perform abortions.

A committee voted for McCafferty’s original resolution, but was overruled by the final legislative vote. Most observers assumed the draft resolution would pass in substantially the same form, and the final resolution shocked nearly everyone, especially McCafferty. She ended up voting against her own resolution.

The adopted resolution says that no “hospital, institution or person may be subject to pressures, or be held liable or suffer discrimination of any kind for refusing to perform, allow or assist an abortion…”

“This resolution will have a real impact on case law of the European Court of Human Rights,” said Gregor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice. He said the court often quotes resolutions of the European legislature as a reflection of opinion in the continent’s broader society.

Puppinck told the Friday Fax that the legislature often holds votes on the most contentious issues on Thursday evening or Friday. As more conservative members tend to live further than liberals from the Strasbourg meeting site, travel arrangements often make it more difficult for them to stay for votes late in the week. Puppinck credited much of the success of the final resolution to efforts to keep the conservative members in the room for the Thursday evening vote.

The amendments’ backers widely credited the final result to the leadership of Sen. Luca Volonte of Italy, chairman of the European People’s Party, and Sen. Ronan Mullen of Ireland.

“Mrs. McCafferty and her supporters should ask themselves why so many healthcare professionals object to being involved in abortions in the first place,” said a press release from Mullen. “It’s because they regard abortion itself as a breach of human rights, and not part of responsible medical treatment.”

Several binding international agreements guarantee the right to conscientious objection, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

A number of medical associations, including the French National Medical Council, condemned the original McCafferty report. Prominent figures, including a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights and a former professional conduct chairman of the United Kingdom’s chief medical council, spoke out against the original resolution at an event held the day before the vote.


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