UPDATED: Gynecologists at a local hospital in Flekkefjord, south Norway, were reported to have refused to perform abortions because of fears of attacks by anti-abortion opponents. It was later confirmed that this was a joke that was misreported to the media by the hospital’s head of surgery.
Marcus Gürgen, leader of the surgical department at the hospital, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that one of the doctors in particular fears reprisals and “does not want to get stones through his windows at home if he decides to carry out an abortion.” While Gürgen himself “doesn’t think” this will happen, he commented that “it could well happen that things will be debated in newspapers or the media.” Gürgen suggested that the area around the hospital is very religious and that many women would have traveled farther afield to have abortions in any case in order to avoid others knowing. There has been no “storm” since the news broke, he added.
The Socialist Left Party’s health spokesperson, Geir-Ketil Hansen, told newspaper Aftenposten that he “strongly opposes” the decision and plans to discuss it with the health minister. He described the decision as “taking the right to reserve treatment too far” in that no abortions would be performed at the hospital at all, and said it “is not good enough” that women will have access to such treatment at other hospitals in the region.
‘No complaints in 20 years’
The chief county medical officer of the Vest-Agder region in which Flekkefjord in based told NRK that no one has complained about the provision of induced abortion services in the area for 20 years. Kristian Hagestad said that “Sørlandet hospital has organized the provision of induced abortion services so that they are concentrated at Arendal and Kristiansand hospitals,” describing this arrangement as “a continuation of a set-up that has existed since the 1970s.” He believes this has “clear advantages” both “professionally and organizationally.”
Hagestad confirmed that Flekkefjord does not have its own gynecology department, but that it does have a maternity department and some gynecologists as part of the surgical department. He also rejected the idea that the law compels hospitals to provide abortion services, adding that he was not sure whether it was realistic to suggest the decentralization of abortion services in order to also cover Flekkefjord.
‘An isolated case’
The leader of the Norwegian Gynecological Federation, Bjørn Backe, confirmed to Aftenposten that “the doctors are well within their rights to reserve the right to carry out abortions,” and said that there were “similar issues in the 1970s when abortion law was introduced.” Gürgen had also suggested that many doctors in the area of Flekkefjord had refused to undertake abortions in the past. Nonetheless, Backe was “a little surprised” over the decision and apologized to anyone who would have to travel to other hospitals for an abortion, adding that he believed this would be “an isolated case.”
There are around 15,000 abortions every year in Norway.