Friday March 11th, with the support of ECLJ, a Spanish physician has submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the violation of his right to freedom of conscience. The applicant has always refused to participate in abortions, for conscience reasons. In 2008, as a new programme of screening of congenital abnormalities was implemented in Andalusia, his head of department forced him to give prenatal diagnosis consultations every day. However, this diagnosis constitutes the first step in the process which leads when a disease or malformation are detected, to an abortion caused by the genetic heritage or the state of health. The procedure requires two physicians to make the diagnosis, then a third one to perform the abortion. The link between screening and abortion is established both in law and in practice, since 90% of detected affected foetuses are aborted.
As medical ethics requires physicians always to act in conscience, the applicant asked Spanish courts to recognise his right to conscientious objection, without success. He refuses not only to participate in an abortion, even in the first step of the procedure, but also to proceed to the eugenic selection of unborn children.
If refusal directly to participate in an abortion is generally admitted, the European Court of Human Right has never ruled on conscientious objection to eugenic antenatal diagnosis yet. This application occurs as the ECLJ has just organised a conference in Geneva on conscientious objection in the medical area. The United Nation Special Rapporteur on freedom of conscience and religion spoke in favour of a broad right to conscientious objection in the medical sphere.
The ECLJ has long been working on the issues of eugenics and conscientious objection in the medical area. The ECLJ wrote a report on this issue for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2010. In addition to third party interventions in numerous cases before the ECHR (among which A. K and Costa and Pavan in 2012), the ECLJ organised a conference in the Council of Europe in 2011 on the situation of the freedom of conscience of medical staff in Spain. The applicant took part in this conference. In this occasion, the ECLJ and the ANDOC (Spanish association of defence of freedom of conscience) presented a report on the violations of the freedom of conscience of medical staff in Spain. In 2015, the ECLJ sent an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of conscience and religion about the situation of medical staff in Sweden, where conscientious objection to abortion is banned.