The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an influential advisory body to European Union member states, voted on Thursday to make substantial changes to a resolution which could have curtailed health care workers’ rights to opt out of performing abortions. Representatives from Ireland and Italy pushed for amendments to protect conscientious objectors, forcing the resolution's original authors to vote against the final version of their own proposal.
The new resolution, adopted on Thursday evening by the assembly, represented an almost complete reversal of U.K. representative Christine McCafferty's draft recommendations. Her report had described “unregulated use of conscientious objection” as dangerous, and called for a set of controls intended to “oblige the healthcare provider to provide … treatment to which the patient is legally entitled despite his or her conscientious objection” in cases of emergency or severe inconvenience.
Irish representative Ronan Mullen, and Italy's Luca Volonte, led the opposition to McCafferty's report. Mullen pointed out in the debate that the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognizes the rights of unborn children. The Irish representative also reminded members of the parliamentary assembly that conscientious objection is a basic principle of human rights.
By the end of Thursday's debate, Mullen and Volonte's initiative had brought about a complete reversal of the U.K. representative's intentions. The resolution's new text struck out several paragraphs on the supposed danger of “unregulated” conscientious objections, replacing them with a strong assertion both of caregivers' rights, and the real nature of the procedures to which many object.
The new resolution recommends that “no person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.” Resolutions of the Council of Europe are not legally binding, but have considerable influence on the policies of EU member states.
Another item in the new text explicitly denied McCafferty's assertion that conscientious objection was “inadequately regulated.” Almost none of the recommendation's original language, such as its requirement that objecting physicians “ensure” an abortion has been procured elsewhere, survived to be voted upon Thursday evening. McCafferty and other supporters of the original resolution voted against the new text, but found themselves outnumbered by conscientious objection supporters.
Anthony Ozimic, a spokesman for the U.K.'s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, called the adoption of the new resolution “an incredible victory” for those medical caregivers who “refuse to be complicit in the killing of unborn children and other unethical practices.”
Marie Smith, director of the worldwide Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, described the vote as evidence that “the pro-life network in Europe is growing in strength daily,” galvanized especially “by radical groups” which deny even the right of a doctor not to perform abortions or assist in suicides.
“Today's debate on conscience has shown that pro-abortion lobby groups in Europe can no longer use false arguments and outright lies to win the vote,” Smith said. “The pro-life movement is alive, well and growing.” The French group “Alliance pour les droits de la Vie” (Alliance for the rights of Life) said it had gathered 26,000 signatures - including 4000 health professionals - for a petition against the original resolution.