The no correlation argument: can the morality of conscientious objection be empirically supported? the Italian case

BMC Medical Ethics 18 (1):64 (2017)
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The legitimacy of conscientious objection to abortion continues to fuel heated debate in Italy. In two recent decisions, the European Committee for Social Rights underlined that conscientious objection places safe, legal, and accessible care and services out of reach for most Italian women and that the measures that Italy has adopted to guarantee free access to abortion services are inadequate. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Health states that current Italian legislation, if appropriately applied, accommodates both the right to conscientious objection and the right to voluntary abortion. One empirical argument used to demonstrate that conscientious objection does not create barriers to abortion is the “no correlation” argument, which the Italian Committee for Bioethics employed to demonstrate that no association exists between conscientious objection and waiting times for voluntary abortion in Italy and to support the weak form of conventional comprise adopted by the Italian legislation to balance the conflict between women’ autonomy and healthcare professionals’ moral integrity. Conversely, we showed how the “no correlation” argument fails to demonstrate the absence of a relationship between the number of conscientious objectors and waiting times for voluntary abortion, and that the limitations of the “no correlation” argument itself demonstrate how it is still difficult to describe the real effect of conscientious objection on the access to abortion services and to evaluate the suitability of conventional compromise to effectively balance conflicting moral principles. Further studies are needed to better describe the relationship between conscientious objection and waiting times for voluntary abortion. If new evidence would show that the increasing proportion of objectors does undermine the efficacy of the Italian law and the right of a woman to freely obtain a voluntary abortion, new ways will need to be found to address the conflict between moral principles and restrict the protection accorded to the principle of moral integrity. This would inevitably imply the need to constrain and to redefine the terms and conditions for claiming conscientious objection.



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