Objections Without a Conscience: Healthcare Professionals Restricting Access to Legal Reproductive Health Services

Over the past few years, there has been some uproar about U.S. pharmacists refusing to dispense prescription contraceptives due to their personal beliefs. This week in Europe, a political tussle has been taking place over the same issue. As reported today by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the European anti-choice movement has made an impact on policy in this matter, blocking the passage of a resolution that was intended to regulate the use of conscientious objection by reproductive healthcare providers. Though there are some regulations in place to protect women, there are also loopholes:

In a number of European countries, including Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Croatia, there are laws requiring doctors to inform patients of any conscientious objection to a procedure and refer the patients to another provider, but there is no oversight mechanism. For example, the Center is currently working closely with the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and the Warsaw University Law Clinic on a lawsuit against Poland in the European Court of Human Rights for the death of a woman who was refused treatment for colon disease because doctors feared it would harm the fetus. Edyta* was two months pregnant when she was diagnosed with the painful colon disease which was aggravated by her pregnancy. When she sought medical care in her Polish hometown and other cities, however, doctor after doctor refused to treat her illness because she was pregnant. They repeatedly expressed concern about the fetus, but none of them formally raised a moral or religious objection so they did not have to refer Edyta to a doctor that would treat her. Edyta’s symptoms grew worse until she miscarried and eventually, died. The lawsuit aims to ensure that Poland maintains enough healthcare workers who are willing to provide all legal health services and that patients get timely referrals. The suit also asks the court to prohibit hospitals and other institutions from invoking conscientious objection or using it to deny patients information or emergency care.

Health professionals who engage in conscientious objection to legal prescriptions are deliberately blocking a woman’s right to access sexual and reproductive health services. When they also refuse to give a referral, they are violating the woman’s right to make decisions about her health and well-being.



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