Conscientious objection a hot topic in Slovakia
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. But what about doctors who oppose abortions but work in hospitals that perform them? In Slovakia, a treaty between the state and the Holy See on the Right to Exercise Objection of Conscience has been causing uproar among many citizens. But in the process of solving the problem of rights and respecting one's beliefs, where should the line be drawn?
The director of one of the largest hospitals in Bratislava confirms that their hospital doesn't perform abortions, the right of every woman granted by the constitution:
"This is how we have been doing it for many years. If a woman wants to get an abortion, there are many other hospitals she can go to."
Yes, but this is not the only case in which a hospital has issued such a ban. For example the hospitals in the big Slovak towns of Trnava and Nitra have the same policy: they too refuse to perform abortions, on the grounds of conscientious objection.
So while on one hand a woman has the right to decide whether or not she wants to abort her pregnancy, on the other doctors also have the right to their beliefs. But when does exercising one's rights limit another person's rights? Slovakia has decided to resolve this deadlock by means of a treaty with the Vatican. A prepared treaty on conscientious objection has led to a great deal of debate in Slovakia in recent weeks.
Representing voices against the treaty are many NGOs including the pro choice organisation. Their chairwoman Olga Pietruchova says they are strongly against it because ...
"Treaty with the Holy See gives more rights to citizens of Slovakia who are Catholics, or who agree with catholic teachings."
The pro choice organisation goes even further - it suspects the real thinking behind the proposed treaty lies elsewhere, and it is not just a question of respecting the conscience of doctors. Olga Pietruchova:
"We noticed since couple of years an effort of Christian Democrats to cut access of women to reproductive rights services, particularly to abortion, sexual education, etc. In our opinion this treaty should be a legal way of how to refuse to provide those services to women in Slovakia."
"This treaty will only name areas in which legislation will set rules for exercising objection of conscience."
And those should be health care, military service, education and law. So in practice this means if you decide to exercise your conscientious objection and not work on a Sunday, against your boss's will you will most probably get fired. Then you can go to court challenging the lay off under the current legislation, in this case the labour code.
In the already fragile coalition there is strong disagreement over the treaty, with the Christian Democrats - who are proposing it - clashing with the liberal New Citizen's Alliance. As their deputy Eva Cerna says:
"Even today without this agreement signed there are doctors who to refuse to perform abortions, on the basis of a gentlemen's agreement, which is applied at most work places. We strongly believe Slovakia doesn't need this kind of law. I dare say Slovaks have been using their conscience up till now."
As Cerna claims, the prepared treaty is the result of some very unfavourable agreements that were signed with the Vatican in the last election period.
The prepared treaty has raised concern also in the European Parliament. Fifty-four MEPs have sent a letter to the Slovak prime minister requesting him to review the document once again.
"I was a little surprised by the letter. It comes from false information provided by certain Slovak NGOs. No one has asked me for an explanation, or for my opinion to this treaty. I consider this letter as interfering with internal Slovak issues and creating an unfriendly atmosphere among Slovak citizens."
Reacts Anna Zaborska, a Slovak MEP and chairwoman of the gender equality and women's rights committee in Brussels.
A lot of different views on a document that has not even been proposed to parliament. On one hand there is strong concern over the possible misuse of the treaty, its contradicting the EU non-discrimination policy and a big question as to whether Slovakia is a secular country. On the other hand it is something that Slovakia had committed to signing in previous treaties with the Vatican, a treaty similar to those many countries have with the Holy See. What will happen if everyone exercises their right to conscientious objection? No more abortions, open supermarkets on Sundays, or financial benefits for the substitute workers? These are just some of the questions it raises.