A majority of Norwegian mayors said they’ll deny doctors the right to refuse to refer patients for abortions. The government’s proposed changes to abortion laws aim to give doctors the right to opt out of both performing and referring the procedure, but would leave a veto power in the hands of municipalities.
Last week Conservative (Høyre) Party Health Minister Bent Høie released the government’s consultation paper on the proposed legal changes. While a doctor has been able to refuse to perform a termination since the abortion act came in almost 40 years ago, there was confusion over referrals. Under the changes, a doctor could both refuse to terminate a pregnancy and refuse to refer a woman for an abortion. Those doctors’ names would be publicly registered.
Municipalities would be given power to refuse to hire such doctors, or deny them the right to opt out, especially if there are no other doctors in the area with room for new patients. Newspaper VG conducted a survey, and received responses from 187 mayors. Of those who answered, 165 mayors said they would vote against doctors’ reservation rights.
The Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) pushed the abortion law changes as part of their deal to support the Conservative government. “This study strengthens our point that municipalities must have criteria for the cases in which they may refuse a reservation right for GPs,” said acting leader Dagrun Eriksen. She criticized the government’s proposal, saying it does not provide a real reservation right. Eriksen vowed to hold the Conservatives to terms of the agreement they made.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten the Conservatives would not have made any changes to the laws if it hadn’t been for the deal with the Christian Democrats. “But I think we have reached good solutions which balance between the woman’s needs, that is the main thing, and a booking reservation right for doctors where women are well taken care of,” she said.
Of the 20 Conservative mayors who responded to the survey, though, 19 refused to let doctors opt out and only one municipality said they would grant doctors the right. “It is rarely a good idea to require people to do something that goes against their conscience,” said Kristiansand mayor Arvid Grundekjøn, but KrF paradoxically doesn’t think the mayors should be able to vote their conscience even if doctors can. It claims the proposal as it now stands undermines what it thought was a victory on the issue last fall. KrF, which has less than 6 percent of the vote in Norway, is the only party pushing for a doctor’s right to refuse abortion referrals but seems intent on prevailing nonetheless.