July 28, 2017

As countries around the world legalize abortion, health providers are increasingly exempting themselves from providing it by invoking their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. A convening of experts in Montevideo, Uruguay, August 1–3 will devise strategies to ensure the fulfillment and protection of women’s rights.

Brought together by Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU) and the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), approximately 50 policymakers, academics, health professionals, and activists from around the world will discuss the rise of conscientious objection as a significant hurdle to safe and legal abortion. They will examine how health providers are denying women their right to abortion, even in places where it is legal.

Documentation of conscientious objection is limited, but the existing evidence indicates that doctors, nurses, and other health care staff are increasingly citing it. Recent research shows that in Italy alone, 7 out of 10 Italian gynecologists have objected to carrying out abortions. As a result, women, especially those who are marginalized, are denied safe abortion services.

Participants of the convening will review current research about the scope of conscientious objection globally, its effects, and their own experiences. They will explore a strategic response to its use and misuse by health care professionals. By the end of the three-day meeting, they aim to develop recommendations on how to guarantee that women’s rights are protected, including the use of law, protocols, ethical guidelines, training, and education to limit or mitigate the exercise of conscientious objection.