European Committee of Social Rights Protects Swedish Women’s Rights to Access Reproductive Health Services

(PRESS RELEASE) The European Social Charter does not entitle health professionals in Sweden to invoke personal or moral objections as an excuse to deny women reproductive health services, according to a recent decision by the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the body that oversees states’ adherence to the Charter. 

In its decision, ECSR rejected claims made by the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) that health care providers in Sweden should be able to claim a “right to conscientious objection” and refuse to provide abortion services under the Charter. The Committee unambiguously confirmed that states are not obligated to recognize or protect any right of health professionals to refuse care on grounds of personal conscience under the right to health of the Charter. It firmly rejected FAFCE’s attempt to limit and restrict international legal protection of women’s reproductive rights and found that Sweden’s abortion laws and practices are wholly in compliance with the Charter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) submitted joint observations to ECSR concerning FAFCE’s complaint, urging the Committee to reject the complaint and to safeguard Sweden’s strong commitment to provide women with reproductive health services and information, including abortion services.

“States must ensure that health care professionals’ religious or moral objections do not jeopardize women’s access to quality reproductive health services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We commend the Committee for rejecting this attempt to limit women’s right to reproductive health care.”

ECSR also rejected attempts to interpret the Charter as providing protection to fetal life. Instead, the Committee affirmed that Sweden’s abortion laws and policies, which offer strong protection to women’s reproductive rights, are fully in compliance with the Charter. The Committee’s decision was adopted in March 2015, and published on June 17, 2015, per standard procedure.

Sweden’s abortion laws and policies are strongly protective of women’s reproductive rights,” said Kristina Ljungros, President of RFSU. “We are delighted that, in refusing to recognize an entitlement of health care professionals to refuse care on the basis of personal conscience, the Committee has rejected an attempt to weaken these protections and threaten women’s access to abortion services.”

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