Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 72(2) May 2022

Conscientious Objection is a central issue in Europe

Dr Adrian Treloar

The election of Roberta Metsola [1] as president of the European Parliament revived a debate on its position on abortion but sets out an even more fundamental issue on conscientious objection. Roberta is the youngest-ever President and the first person from Malta, to lead an EU institution. Malta is the only country in Europe with a total ban on abortion, for any reason. Unsurprisingly, questions about her position on “reproductive rights” dominated the news about her election.

In reply to such questions, Metsola said that she will support the EUP’s existing policies, although she does appear to be personally opposed to abortion. “My position is that of the European parliament,” she told journalists. “And on this issue, this European parliament, on all sexual and reproductive health rights, it has been unambiguous, it has repeatedly called for these rights to be better protected.”

At the same time, President Macron has called for abortion to be added to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. [2]

“Twenty years after the proclamation of our Charter of Fundamental Rights, which notably enshrined the abolition of the death penalty throughout the Union, I hope that we can update this charter, notably to be more explicit on environmental protection or the recognition of the right to abortion. Let us open this debate freely with our fellow citizens of great Euro-pean conscience to give new life to our set of rights that forges this Europe strong in its values, the only future of our common political project.”

So abortion is a fundamental human right.

When the European Parliament voted to support abortion, it also voted to force doctors to provide it. Here [3] are the words of the resolution:

Even when legally available, there are barriers in the access to abortion. This leads to the violation of SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights], but also to inequalities in achieving women’s rights across the EU.
One of the most problematic barriers is the denial of medical care based on personal beliefs, where medical professionals often do not perform abortions, calling upon their personal beliefs. This not only denies women of their right to health and medical procedures, but also raises the question of public referral systems.
According to the EP Study on Implications of Conscientious Objection on SRHR national legislation often allows for health care professionals to opt out of providing goods and services to which they are morally opposed, including performing abortions or prescribing, selling or advising on contraceptive methods through ‘the refusal to participate in an activity that an individual considers incompatible with his/her religious, moral, philosophical or ethical beliefs.
Moving forward it should be addressed as denial of medical care rather than the so- called conscientious objection. [our emphasis] A large number of Member States (20+) provide for the right to the so -called conscientious objection, which is also recognised by UN instruments and the European Convention on Human Rights. Notably, this is not an absolute right and the ECtHR has held that it should not be used to block the access to services to which they are legally entitled.
In practice, this is exactly what happens on a daily basis across the EU – women do not have access to their legally granted right to abortion as the medical sta  denies them of that medical care, with public hospitals not putting public referral systems in place. This is an evident and multi-dimensional violation and practical denial of exercising an already achieved legal right.

Moving forward it should be addressed as denial of medical care rather than the so-called conscientious objection. European Parliament

And so the summary of that is that, if abortion is ordinary medical care, doctors must provide it. Conscientious objection has ceased to exist. If you are employed you will have to do what you are told.

And in the EU parliament she is also bound, as president, to silence her views and support the views of the organisation.

But there is at least a glimmer of hope. In the February edition of the quarterly, we supported the opposition to mandatory vaccination in Europe and among NHS and care staff. Widespread opposition to that was heard and UK policy was changed. The arguments of ourselves, and many more, along with refusal to cooperate with an unjust law won through.

Defending Conscientious Objection is very important. If we lose, doctors and nurses become agents of the state. And will do the harms and wrongs the state demands.


  1. Cook, M (2022). Conscientious objection to abortion is at risk in Europe. Published Mercatornet Jan 24, 2022.
  2. Catholic News Agency (2022) Emmanuel Macron calls for abortion to be added to EU rights charter, Jan 19, 2022
  3. EU Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (2021) Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health (2020/2215(INI)).
    Published European Parliament 21/5/2021.