Protecting Conscience for All

The article “Driving Women around the Bend: What’s Really Going on with Abortion Access in Italy?” highlights the conse­quences of a terrible combi­nation resulting from the lack of political will and the indifference of doctors. Although clearly the victims are women, in this case there is another victim: the conscience. In its name, they are violating the rights of women. When only the conscience of the objectors is protected, when they declare that abortion is not a right but an “unfortunate decision,” when it is not even required to document requests for abortions, a lower moral status is assigned to those who decide to abort or who perform abortions despite the fact that they, too, have made their decisions according to their conscience.

Imposing waiting times, as if a woman’s conscience takes longer than that of the doctors who decide to ignore the requests of their patients in a few minutes of consultation, undervalues the ethical capacity of the required to reflect if their denial really stems from a religious and moral decision or from the fear of stigma, or simply from not agreeing with the decisions of their patients? Are the objectors required to ensure that their patients receive the attention that they need? No, on the contrary, the system in place validates their decision not to perform abortions as a morally superior position.

In Colombia, abortion was partially decriminalized 10 years ago. Even though access is still very limited, there are rules that ensure protection for both the objector and the person requiring the abortion: Objectors are required to give unbiased information to justify their reasons individu­ally and in writing, and to refer patients to a provider. Action must be taken within five days. When these rules are not met, the conscien­tious objection ceases to be and becomes an unjustified denial of services and, of course, compromises profes­sional ethics. Establishing rules that protect access is a good starting point, but the real solution is to move toward the recognition of the role of conscience in women’s decisions and in the provision of abortion services. In this way, both policymakers and doctors find the deliberate denial of services, and the antithetical masking of it as conscientious objection, as unacceptable and dangerous.

LAURA GIL URBANO
Director de Proyecto
Fundación ESAR
Bogotá, Colombia

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