Assistant minister says issue of access to abortion resolved
Assistant Health Minister Dragan Korolija Marinic said at a thematic session of the parliament’s Gender Equality Committee on Thursday that the issue of access to abortion services in five medical institutions where the procedure was not performed because of doctors’ conscientious objection had been resolved and that the procedure was now available in all state hospitals.
The general hospitals in Nasice, Virovitica and Vinkovci have hired external gynecologists to perform such procedures, some of the gynecologists at the Knin General Hospital who previously cited a conscientious objection have changed their opinion, while Zagreb’s “Sveti duh” hospital has signed a contract with the “Sestre milosrdnice” hospital to perform abortions on request, said Korolija Marinic.
The committee’s debate on access to pregnancy termination services was organised in cooperation with the Centre for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI), which recently conducted a survey showing that the right to abortion was not available to women in all medical institutions where such a service should be provided.
During the debate, which involved committee members, representatives of nongovernmental organisations and doctors, it was underlined several times that the concept of conscientious objection in medicine should be defined more clearly, notably in the area of reproductive health.
Biserka Momcinovic of the Women’s Network said that the issue of access to abortion concerned human rights because it was about women’s reproductive rights.
Gynecologist Jasenka Grujic Koracin said that there should be no conscientious objection in medicine given the hundreds of rules that regulate doctors’ ethical behaviour, notably in the area of reproductive health.
Every doctor who specialises in gynecology is aware that their job is to care for women’s health, she said.
Gynecologist Dubravko Lepusic, who works at the “Sestre milosrdnice” hospital where half of the gynecologists who did not cite a conscientious objection will now have to perform abortions instead of their colleagues from the “Sveti duh” hospital, said it would be good if doctors’ associations launched an initiative to have conscientious objection defined.
Lepusic said that the current trend of blanket opting against abortion and a sudden increase in the number of doctors with a conscientious objection could only give rise to suspicion about their sincerity.
The director of the “Sveti duh” hospital, Mladen Busic, and the director of the General Hospital Koprivnica, Petar Stupar, opposed “blanket statements about doctors”, saying that both rights – to abortion and to a conscientious objection – had a legal basis.
Even though it was said during the debate that the law regulating women’s reproductive rights should be changed because it dated back to 1978, the director of the “Sestre milosrdnice” hospital, Vesna Seric, said the law was good but was not being implemented.
“There were no problems for 36 years, they have only come up over the past few months. It is unusual that in some hospitals there are no cases of conscientious objection, while in one hospital all gynecologists have a conscientious objection. Something has obviously changed in people’s heads,” said Seric.
Committee members from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) called for procedures and prices to be defined so that women have equal rights to abortion and that conscientious objection be regulated.
Participants in the debate supported Korolija Marinic’s announcement about the setting up of a special commission to analyse all issues related to women’s reproductive rights.
Summarising the committee’s conclusions, chair Nansi Tireli called on the Health Ministry to take all necessary steps to ensure access to abortion services for all women.