.- A European Union advisory panel, The EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights has issued a statement that threatens the rights of medical professionals to refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures that may violate their religious beliefs. The opinion states that denying access to abortion may be a violation of international human rights.
The EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights, a panel commissioned by the European Comission to review the conditions of human rights in the Union, released in the last week of December its annual 40-page report. Each year since 2002, the network produces a report on how fundamental rights are safeguarded in practice. It may also give opinions on specific questions upon the request of the European Commission.
While the Network acknowledged the right to conscientious objection, it warned that such a right was not "unlimited." "Indeed, the right to religious conscientious objection may conflict with other rights, also recognized under international law. In such circumstances, an adequate balance must be struck between these conflicting requirements, which may not lead to one right being sacrificed to another."
The opinion declares that the "right to religious conscientious objection".."should be regulated in order to ensure that, in circumstances where abortion is legal, no woman shall be deprived from having effective access to the medical service of abortion. In the view of the Network, this implies that the State concerned must ensure, first, that an effective remedy should be open to challenge any refusal to provide abortion; second, that an obligation will be imposed on the health care practitioner exercising his or her right to religious conscientious objection to refer the woman seeking abortion to another qualified health care practitioner who will agree to perform the abortion; third, that another qualified health care practitioner will be indeed available, including in rural areas or in areas which are geographically remote from the center."
The opinion on the right to conscientious objection sheds light on a proposed treaty between the Vatican and Slovakia. The treaty would guarantee that Catholic hospitals and medical professionals would not be legally obligated to "perform artificial abortions, artificial or assisted fertilizations, experiments with or handling of human organs, human embryos or human sex cells, euthanasia, cloning, sterilizations, [and] acts connected with contraception . . ." The Network was charged with determining whether or not such an agreement would be a violation of EU law. The report recognizes that its findings are recommendations and "not binding."
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