World Evangelical Alliance calls for protection of conscientious objection to abortion

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to recognise the right to conscientious objection for medical practitioners.

In a statement to the UNHRC this week, the WEA said that no one should be forced to choose between becoming a doctor and following their religious convictions.

It added that any definition of religious freedom must recognise the right to advocate against abortion.

The statement was issued in response to a report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief that was critical of restrictions on abortion access, and which expressed “particular concern” over recourse to conscientious objection.

“The Special Rapporteur notes that in a number of countries around the world, governments continue to maintain partial or total bans on access to abortion, and religious figures have both encouraged these measures and advocated against efforts to reform the laws,” the report reads.

“One area of particular concern regarding accommodations to national law for religious beliefs is the use of conscientious objection by healthcare providers and institutions unwilling to perform abortions or provide access to contraception on religious grounds,” it continues.

“The Special Rapporteur recalls that the Human Rights Committee has called on States to ensure that women have access to legal abortion notwithstanding conscientious objection by medical practitioners, which it has referred to as a ‘barrier’ to access, and has suggested that conscientious objection should only be permitted, if at all, for individual medical providers.”

In its response, the WEA said it was concerned that the report appears to equate support for limits on abortion with harmful behaviour.

“The World Evangelical Alliance, on behalf of 21 organizations, takes note of the Special Rapporteur’s report, and fully supports his view that violence, coercion and discrimination in the name of religion are never justified nor should they be condoned,” the WEA statement reads.

“However, we express concern at the report’s suggestion that religious individuals are engaging in harmful conduct by supporting policies and legislation that limit abortion. The report also appears to question the right to conscientious objection by health-care providers and institutions unwilling to perform abortions.

“Indeed, we believe that the full recognition of religious freedom, as well as several other fundamental human rights, must include recognition of the right to protect life in the womb, and to advocate against its termination both in words and deeds.”

The WEA noted the case of Ellinor Grimmark, a Christian midwife in Sweden who was denied employment at several clinics because of her objection to performing abortions on the grounds of her faith. She has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the WEA, said it was “unfortunate” that the focus of its engagement with UNHRC has “had to shift from advocating against persecution, discrimination or violence, to defending the values we uphold and pushing back against attempts to shift the boundaries of international human rights law to limit the freedom of conscience and freedom to exercise our faith”.

“We also believe that justice demands laws that protect the lives of unborn children,” he said, adding, “We will continue to use our voice at the United Nations to speak up on behalf of the voiceless.”

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