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Norwegian Supreme Court upholds conscience rights for medics

12 October 2018


Dr Katarzyna Jachimowicz refused to compromise her beliefs. Image: ROMAN KOSZOWSKI /FOTO GOŚĆ

"It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond." 

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Norway set a new precedent on conscientious objection and freedom of conscience in the medical profession. The Court found that Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz, a Polish Catholic doctor who lost her job for refusing to insert abortifacient devices, acted within her rights when refusing to follow through with a medical procedure to which she had a moral objection.

Furthermore, Court told health authorities to respect the right to conscientious objection for medical professionals in their employment.

"She vowed to protect life"

"Today’s Supreme Court decision marks an important step in the right direction, not only for doctors, but for people of faith in all professions," said Håkon Bleken, who represented Dr. Jachimowicz before the Court. "The ruling protects one of the most fundamental rights, the right to act in accordance with one’s deeply held beliefs. Dr. Jachimowicz takes her vocation as a medical professional seriously. She vowed to protect life, and objected to having any part in taking it. The Court established today that she had every right to do so." 

Fired for pro-life stance

In 2015, the Norwegian Government eliminated conscience rights for family doctors, making it illegal for them to refuse any form of birth control, including the insertion of IUDs, which are not considered abortifacients by the government. Katarzyna Jachimowicz, an experienced family doctor, whose ethical stance had caused no problems in her four years working in a clinic in the municipality of Sauherad, was fired after refusing to comply with the demands to agree to insert IUDs or resign.

Dr Jachimowicz lost her first legal case, before winning on appeal last November, marking the first legal victory for freedom of conscience in Norway. The healthcare authorities then appealed that decision and the case was then heard at the Supreme Court of Norway at the end of August 2018.

Will set new standards

ADF International, who supported the case, say the decision has far-reaching implications. "Nobody should be forced to choose between following their conscience or pursuing their profession. We welcome this ruling from the Norwegian Supreme Court. It will set new standards for the protection of fundamental conscience rights in Norway and beyond. The Court’s findings recognize the fundamental right to conscientious objection for medical staff, as protected by international law," said Robert Clarke, ADF Director of European Advocacy.

This international victory comes amid fears that the Irish Government's insistence that GPs will have to refer for abortion will lead to doctors being forced out of healthcare. In the UK, if the campaign to decriminalise abortion is successful, medical professionals could be left with virtually no conscience protection.

Diana Johnson's Abortion 10 minute rule bill will be debated on 23 October. Please order campaign postcards here to defeat the bill.

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