Abortion

While abortion is legal, vast number of physicians refused to perform them

By Dave Andrusko

When Mexico passed its law decriminalizing abortion,  it took the country by surprise. What also caught the secular press by surprise is that other nation  that as had legalized abortions were having difficult finding doctors willing to perform them.

Nicholas  Casey of the New York Times took the opportunity to see how widespread this pattern was. He began with Spain.

He focused on Dr. Mercedes Sobreviela, who said with respect to abortion, the “right decision” for a woman is “always the one she wants.”

“But as a physician in Spain, Sobreviela believes she has the right to choose as well, and she has chosen not to perform abortions,”he wrote. “Her public hospital, University Clinic Hospital of Zaragoza, does not perform them either. In fact, no public hospital in the surrounding region of Aragón, which includes 1.3 million people, will do the procedure.

“We are doctors, our calling is as physicians, and we are here to help people live, not to decide this one lives and this one dies,” Sobreviela said.

Access is more determined by the wiliness of physicians than by the law of the land . Resister are self-described “conscientious objectors” – “Many doctors in Spain say performing abortions would violate their oath to do no harm — a pledge, they say, that extends to the fetus,” according to Casey.

 “It’s one thing if you think abortion is right or wrong; each person will have their own criteria,” says Dr. María Jesús Barco, another gynecologist from Zaragoza who is an objector. “It’s another thing if I have to do it. That’s different.”

Conscientious objection “has gained ground in other countries, like Italy, where it was cited by doctors working in hospitals that largely do not perform abortions. And in Argentina, it has limited attempts to liberalize an abortion law passed there last year.”

The government has cited its objections. “Conscientious objection can’t be incompatible with the rights of women, nor can it be an obstacle to them exercising their right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy,” the minister said in a written statement. 

Such words, however, “ have been met with sharp criticism from sectors of the Spanish medical community.”

But while some are willing to expand abortion options, they may be the exception. The willingness may be a product of an older generation of ob-gyns.

“Sobreviela said she remembered attending a hospital wide meeting in Zaragoza to discuss the new law, and doctors and others were asked to raise their hands if they objected. “Ninety-nine percent of us were conscientious objectors,” she said. “Nearly everyone: the doctors, the nursing staff, the assistants, the guards.”

Casey ended his story with an oddity for the New York Times. Quoting Sobreviela again, she referred to a woman who wanted an abortion.

“And I said: ‘They’re not going to get rid of your problem, they will just get rid of your pregnancy,’ ” she said. “‘The problem comes when the pregnancy is gone and you have to sit with yourself, with your own conscience. Just you and your conscience.’”

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