A few days ago, I posted about a woman who died in Italy of sepsis after miscarrying twins. Her family claimed that she died because the doctor on call was a conscientious objector, and refused to complete the abortion she needed to save her life because he could still detect a foetal heartbeat. The hospital denies the charges, but a manslaughter investigation is still underway to assess whether or not the family’s claims have merit.
While Italian law allows for conscientious objection only in the matter of the voluntary termination of a pregnancy, I pointed out that it should not be allowed under any circumstances, particularly in public hospitals. If performing an abortion goes against your moral values, I argued, you need to go into a different specialization or profession. Similarly, if you are a pacifist and owning or firing a gun goes against your moral code (and Italian law also permits conscientious objection to firearms), you cannot be a police officer. I pointed out that no one was really talking about the deep problems with conscientious objection in the medical field, and how our country has a two-fold problem of Catholic hospitals with emergency rooms, which can lead women needing emergency pregnancy-related care to be brought to those hospitals, and conscientious objectors being hired in non-Catholic public hospitals as well.
Well, the elephant in the room has been spotted at last. The controversy surrounding that poor woman’s death is sparking debate and outrage which is not dying down, and I am finally seeing articles addressing the problem of conscientious objection. A study has been conducted to investigate just how many conscientious objectors there are working in hospitals across the country, and the results are mind boggling.
On average throughout the country, only 3 out of 10 gynecologists perform abortions. Broken down by region, you see a large variability, from 13.3% of doctors registering as conscientious objectors in Valle d’Aosta, to 93.3% of doctors registering as conscientious objectors in Molise.
While these data combine doctors that work in all hospitals, including private Catholic ones, this is still a completely unacceptable situation.
Originally, conscientious objection was allowed when abortion was legalized in Italy so as to not force private Catholic hospitals to perform voluntary abortions. While this measure was introduced in order to “soften the blow” of legalized abortion and ensured that it was passed, it has gotten completely out of hand. Not only have we evolved on the issue of reproductive rights over the past four decades, leaving less room for acceptance of Catholic sensibilities, conscientious objection has been perverted, abused, and should never have been allowed in public hospitals. Catholics in this country have hidden behind their moral standards to continue to provide sub-par treatment, and it needs to stop. Either we have legal abortion, or we don’t. Either we openly admit that women are second class citizens who don’t deserve to be treated with the best care available, or we reject that double standard.
Initially, I would have been happy with simply banning the concept of conscientious objection in public hospitals and let the private Catholic hospitals be, if they had actually only confined themselves to not providing voluntary abortions as the original law intended. However, the Catholic hospitals took that loophole and ran with it, twisting and expanding it to include performing invasive and unnecessary salpingectomies, denying women potentially life-saving sterilization procedures, and having ERs which women might accidentally find themselves in under emergency circumstances, having no idea they are in a Catholic institution which will put its own perverted morals over their health and well-being. Given the current state of affairs, I think conscientious objection to abortion needs to be banned completely.
Give Catholic hospitals a choice: either give women the care they need, or close your ER and become a private clinic that provides other, non reproductive-related services. All doctors must perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, and no personal religious morality can supersede their patients needs.