Systematic Violation of the Right to Conscientious Objection to Abortion in Sweden: The ECLJ alerts the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Repport European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ)

May 28, 2015

Sede Consejo EuropaThe European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has submitted a complaint about systematic violations of freedom of conscience in Sweden to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Contrary to other European countries, Sweden systematically violates the right to conscientious objection for medical practitioners regarding abortion. In Sweden, abortion is permitted on demand until 18 weeks for any reason, even be it the sex of the child. Doctors, midwifes and other medical staff cannot legally refuse to participate.

Those who do conscientiously object are victims of various discriminations: denial of employment or dismissal and refusal of diploma for students. They cannot work in hospitals, which are the only places for academic research, constituting a heavy personal sacrifice but also a significant loss for the scientific community and, ultimately, the patients.

The complaint to the Special Rapporteur reveals numerous concrete cases of discrimination based on conscience. Many physicians had to renounce to become gynaecologist because they knew they would not be able to exercise it in conformity with the requirements of their conscience. During their studies, they are even warned they will not find a job if they object to taking part in abortions, as Marie Wigander reports. Midwives and doctors have lost their jobs or been denied the job they applied for because of their belief[1], even to the benefit of less skilled people. As media reported, Midwife Ellinor Grimmark was fired and then could not be hired again because of her belief[2]. Similarly, Dr. Annika Landgren was refused at least two jobs as gynaecologist because she said she would not perform abortions. She then specialised in family medicine ; it was the only possibility for her to exercise her profession. Paediatrician Anna-Maria Angerstig and Doctor Sofi Bergren thus admit not having even considered specialising in obstetrics because they knew they would be forced to perform abortions. Students can even have their diploma denied for this reason.

According to the Swedish political and medical authorities, those who respect the life of the child must choose an occupation unrelated to pregnancy. The Swedish Parliament and Government have officially taken a stand against the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1763 (2010), which reaffirms the right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care. Sweden suffers from a shortage of midwifes, but the authorities persist in rejecting skilled staff for ideological reasons.

In front of this deliberate violation of freedom of conscience, a cornerstone of a democratic society, the ECLJ asks the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to call on the Swedish government to fulfil its international obligations respecting the fundamental right to freedom of conscience.

This Special Rapporteur, currently Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, is an independent expert appointed by the Council of Human Rights of the UN. The “individual complaint” initiated by the ECLJ is not judicial. It is a warning mechanism to ensure that the Special Rapporteur formally contacts the government for asking it to explain the facts reported. The exchange between the Rapporteur and the State concerned is published in the report submitted by the Special Rapporteur to the Council of Human Rights, and can be discussed on that occasion.

The European Centre for Law and Justice is an international, Non-Governmental Organization founded in 1998 and dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe and worldwide. The ECLJ holds special Consultative Status before the United Nations/ECOSOC since 2007.

The ECLJ engages legal, legislative, and cultural issues by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education, and litigation. The ECLJ advocates in particular the protection of religious freedoms and the dignity of the person with the European Court of Human Rights and the other mechanisms afforded by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and others.

The ECLJ bases its action on “the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of European peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy” (Preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe).


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