(Unforeseen uses and responses to conscientious objection in legal abortion)
by Agustina Ramón Michel, Sonia Ariza Navarrete
REDAAS (Safe Abortion Access Network Argentina), No.10, August 2019
According to an internet-based survey of more than 260 health professionals in Argentina, legal termination of pregnancy is the health practice to which there is, by far, most objection.
Conscientious objection is an exceptional legal condition. As a general rule, the legal system demands and aspires to obedience to the rules by everyone whose position obliges them to do so. Conscientious objection is an unusual case in which the State allows a person to exempt themselves from a legal obligation because of their moral convictions, provided that they meet the requirements of the law and follow the procedures laid down, and do not violate the rights of affected third parties. Conscientious objection emerged as a way to protect religious and cultural minorities, who are usually ignored by the provisions of the laws.
However, today there is a huge disharmony between the provisions of the law and the practice: the version of conscientious objection as the thoughtful, sincere and humble act of a person who is a member of a minority has been superceded by other much more problematic behaviours, which are far less ethical.
Public policy responses
1. Focus on improving access to legal abortions; do not give conscientious objection an important role.
2. Build healthcare teams and add new health professionals willing to provide legal abortions.
3. Nurture professional networks as an antidote to stigma and isolation.
4. Demand and adopt concrete measures such as training, promoting spaces for reflection on values and against disinformation, ignorance or prejudice on the part of doctors who support conscientious objection.
5. Show the harmful effects of denial of services and the harmful behaviors of those who object. Conscientious objection must not be used with impunity.
6. Insist on the State’s obligation to adopt measures to respect, protect and guarantee the freedom of conscience of professionals who provide legal abortions or who would be willing to do so.
7. Create incentives (economic and non-economic) for those who agree to provide legal abortions.
8. Strengthen the vertical and horizontal mechanisms (judicial and non-judicial) of accountability.
9. Define legally the scope, limits and conditions of conscientious objection in healthcare.