Spanish Ombudsman Ángel Gabilondo “warned” that in Madrid abortions are not performed in public hospitals, a situation that “should be subject to analysis.” / Credit: Congress of Deputies (Spain)

Denver Newsroom, Jul 14, 2022 / 20:00 pm (CNA).

The ombudsman of Spain, Ángel Gabilondo, said he is concerned that because doctors are exercising their right to conscientious objection, there are places in the country where no abortions are performed in public medical facilities.

Gabilondo’s comments were revealed in a letter he sent to Mónica García, a leftist congresswoman in the legislature of the autonomous region of Madrid, which was leaked to the El País newspaper July 12.

El País, whose editorial line supports abortion, pointed out that Gabilondo, a member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and former minister of education, “warns that in the community of Madrid, voluntary interruptions of pregnancy (i.e., abortions) are not performed in public hospitals.”

Gabilondo also says that this situation “should be subject to assessment and analysis.”

Gabilondo acknowledges in his letter that conscientious objection is an individual right but considers that its application cannot prevent a woman from having an abortion in public facilities.

The president of the Madrid College of Physicians, Manuel Martínez-Sellés, after reviewing the El País article, said health care professionals are “surprised” by the ombudsman’s intentions.

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Martínez-Sellés said that doctors in the Spanish capital “are surprised by how they intend to force abortions to be performed in some public hospitals.”

He said that “in many public hospitals in the community of Madrid, the reason why abortions are not performed is that all their gynecologists have unanimously declared themselves conscientious objectors.”

Martínez-Sellés also criticized the “intent to force abortions to be performed in these hospitals if all the gynecologists have declared themselves conscientious objectors.”

In his opinion, “the only way to do so would be either by forcing these professionals to go against their right to conscientious objection or by specifically hiring non-objecting gynecologists, something that would be illegal discrimination against objecting gynecologists.”

The letter from the ombudsman is based on the case of a woman who in 2020 went to a public hospital in Madrid asking for an abortion due to  complex medical circumstances and who was referred to a private facility due to the conscientious objection of the doctors.

Martínez-Sellés clarified that this case was studied “by the ethics commission of the college, and the actions of the gynecologists who had the patient and made the decisions regarding the case were not seen as anything susceptible to sanction or any action that was inappropriate from the ethical point of view.”

Constitutional right?

The National Association for the Defense of the Right to Conscientious Objection by Biomedical Personnel (ANDOC) underscored in a statement to ACI Prensa that the constitutional function of the ombudsman is “to defend the fundamental rights and public freedoms of citizens by supervising the activity of public administrations.”

The association pointed out that abortion “is not a fundamental right; it doesn’t appear in our magna carta or in any universally recognized declaration of rights,” whereas the right to conscientious objection is included in the Spanish Constitution, “linked closely to freedom of conscience and ideology recognized in Article 16 and that all citizens have, whom it must serve and protect.”

“We think that the ombudsman will also be willing to listen to the objectors and the health care professionals in general and to so many women who, due to lack of means, are forced to have an abortion,” ANDOC added.

“We want to think that he isn’t acting at the request of (another) party, something quite contrary to the high responsibility that his position entails,” the association said.

Abortion in Spain

The reality is that, in Spain, abortion has been considered a (non-fundamental) right since 2010 and is included in the list of public medical services.

However, since the first abortion law was passed in 1985, the vast majority of abortions — not only in Madrid but also at the national level — are performed through the private abortion industry. Between 2011 and 2020 alone, according to data from the Ministry of Health, between 84.5% and 96.6% of abortions were performed in private facilities each year, the vast majority of them in outpatient centers.

The numbers are due to the fact that the vast majority of health care professionals exercise their right to conscientiously object to taking the life of an unborn human being.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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