2011: Misuse of objection of conscience

Since February 1st all three gynaecological clinics of the University Hospital in Bratislava  (UNB) planned to stop providing abortions upon request before the 12th week of pregnancy which are permitted by law in Slovakia. According the hospital authority the decision has been made because doctors refused to perform abortions because of objection of consience.  Slovakia’s Health Minister Ivan Uhliarik of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) told journalists that he had not issued any decree banning abortions at facilities of the Bratislava University. Uhliarik also stated that the head of the hospital complex, Jozef Sabol, had also ruled out the possibility that such a decision was made by top UNB representatives. Jozef Sabol is the new chief nominated by MoH Uhliarik. “Even the Hippocratic oath refers to this so it’s not caprice by some political party,” the minister said. Uhliarik stated that UNB will continue to perform abortions for health reasons.  “No pressure or recommendation whereby doctors would have been manipulated has been made,” the minister said, while also expressing understanding for doctors who decline to conduct abortions because of their religious beliefs.

However, the message comming form doctors themself was different. Several doctors had told newspapers that this came in the wake of an unofficial decision which doctors must follow, even those gynaecologists who have no moral objection to performing abortions.  The doctors confirmed to the newspapers they will stop performing abortions after a “mysterious unofficial decision” that they must abide with.

There has been a vivid public discussion going on in the media. After media have paid several days attention to the topic and the liberal party SaS has ivited the MoH to a hearing the decision has been overruled. It became obviously that there was no case of objectipon of consience but a political pressure by MoH.

On january 27th the Bratislava University Hospital (UNB) issued a statement that its facilities will continue to carry out abortions if patients request them. “Terminations according to patients’ requests will continue to be carried out, notwithstanding the fact that this runs contrary to a new philosophy in the development of the UNB’s gynaecological and obstetrical clinics,” statement said. The case showed how easily it is to misuse the objection of concsience if a clear regulation is not in place. (more about the case see in the section news).

2010: Pact with Vatican on objection of conscience still pending

The Slovak center-right parties formed a new government emerged from June 2010 elections. Just after the election, a spokesman for the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, Jozef Kováčik, has stated that all political parties said after the June 12 parliamentary elections that they have no problem fulfilling the international commitments between Slovakia and the Vatican. “We are glad that the missing treaties with the Vatican will find broad political support in the new parliament,” Kováčik told the SITA newswire.

Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) chairman Ján Figeľ said, that he believes adoption of two partial agreements linked to the Fundamental Treaty with the Holy See will be part of the next government manifesto. “It’s an international obligation that needs to be carried out,” said Figeľ, adding that he assured the head of state that resolving relations between church and state is in the interests of the whole of Slovakia, not just of the KDH.

One of the agreements deals with conscientious objection, which was the cause of the KDH’s decision to leave the former government led by Mikuláš Dzurinda in early 2006, as the latter’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) had objections to its wording. Figeľ noted that the outgoing government of Prime Minister Robert Fico has not done anything with the issue over the past four years. He added that the matter will be subject to discussions within a new centre-right government and the final agreement of the four parties involved – SDKÚ, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), KDH and Most-Híd – which should be presented next Tuesday. When asked whether the agreements with the Vatican would be a hurdle in talks to form the future government, Figeľ said that the parties would surely find an agreement.

However, the parties had not reached agreement on issues like conscientious objection on religious grounds to state regulations, the relationship between and church and state, registered same-sex partnerships, decriminalisation of marijuana, and a law on minorities. As a result, these points would not be included in the government manifesto.  However, there is still an ongoing pressure from Christian demcorats and Catholic church to adopt the treaty on objection of conscience.

2007: steady pressure to go ahead with the stalled conscience concordat.

Pope Benedict XVI is keen to maintain the work of his predecessor – the first Slav Pope – in extending the Vatican’s influence across eastern Europe.  As the late Pope’s closest confidant, when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict tried directly to influence members of the convention drawing up the ill-fated EU constitution. He is known to have telephoned a senior German MEP on the convention to demand that the constitution refer to a Christian God.

On 13 September 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI received the new Slovak ambassador to the Vatican, he called on Slovakia to sign a conscience concordat and noted that “I am grateful for Your Excellency’s reassurance that the Republic is committed to fulfilling the other two points of the Basic Agreement regarding conscientious objection and the financing of Church activities”.

At the same time the Slovak Health Ministry abandoned its plan to cancel the right to exercise conscientious objection for physicians. This means that health care providers, including whole hospitals, now have the “right” to object to performing any services not approved of by the Church.

The Slovak Conference of Bishops greeted this move, but reiterated that the only way to make sure this was set in stone was to “adopt a treaty with the Holy See on conscientious objection”.

2006: Fall of the Slovak Government over the concordat

The refusal of the Slovak Foreign Minister to sign the controversial “conscience concordat” prompted the Christian Democrats to pull out of the coalition and this led to the fall of the government.

On Monday [6 February 2006] the Christian Democrats – the KDH announced that they were pulling out of the Coalition over the SDKU’s refusal to approve the latest treaty on conscientious objection with the Vatican. The Justice Ministry (KDH) broke the rules on international treaties when it drafted the treaty on conscientious objection, said Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan, explaining why he refused to sign the treaty with the Vatican on conscientious objection. The treaty needed Kukan’s signature to be discussed in government. Kukan also criticised the Daniel Lipsic-led Justice Ministry for discussing the treaty with the Vatican before doing so with the relevant ministries, and that the justice ministry had not been officially designated to draft the treaty.

A basic agreement between Slovakia and the Vatican was approved in November 2000 by 100 MPs out of the 113 present in Parliament. Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic (the Christian Democrats – KDH) has repeatedly referred to this agreement during the current dispute between KDH and SDKU, SME Daily reports. Lipsic claims that the basic agreement can’t be criticised, although it is possible to make changes to it, or scrap it if both sides agree. (News compiled from Slovak press agencies TASR and SITA
Slovak Radio
, 8 February 2006)

2005: Harsh public discussion on the objection of conscience´s treaty

Critics contend that the series of agreements with the Vatican contravenes notions of the separation of church and state, while other denominations in Slovakia complain that the Catholic church enjoys a privileged position.

Members of the European Parliament from across political groups and from various Member States wrote a letter to Slovak prime-minister Mikulas Dzurinda to express “deep concern about the Treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See on the Right to Exercise Objection of Conscience.  We ask you to reconsider plans to sign and ratify this Treaty. Our concern is that this Treaty will damage and undermine the construction process of the EU as a unique political entity based on the principles and values outlined in Art I-2 of the European Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  In particular it would violate the principle of non discrimination as stipulated in article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty. Moreover, the Treaty on the European Union declares “the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law” as founding principles of the Union. The Union also requires member states to respect fundamental human rights guaranteed by the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms. The signing of this Treaty with the Holy See would clearly contradict Slovakia´s current legal obligations as an EU Member State…. (Letter of Members of the European Parliament to prime minister)

131 human rights advocates and  groups have urged the Slovak Prime Minister not to sign the “conscience concordat”. They argue that it would set a dangerous legal precedent, contravene the Slovak Constitution’s separation of church and state, violate Slovak commitment to international treaties on women’s rights — and furthermore that it is totally unnecessary in order to guarantee freedom of conscience.

A legal panel appointed by the European commission has attacked a draft treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican that would have restricted sensitive medical treatment such as abortions and IVF.  The group of lawyers warned that the treaty, known as a concordat, could place Slovakia in breach of its obligations as a member of the EU. Slovakia could find itself “violating its obligations”, says the EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights.

The panel’s intervention came in a 41-page report on the draft treaty. Their concerns were backed by the EU group. It said “certain religious organisations” should have the right not to perform “certain activities where this would conflict with [their] ethos or belief”. But it added: “It is important the exercise of this right does not conflict with the rights of others, including the right of all women to receive certain medical services or counselling without any discrimination.”

Approximately 70% of the population in Slovakia – which joined the EU in May 2004 – is Catholic. “There is a risk that the recognition of a right to exercise objection of conscience in the field of reproductive healthcare will make it in practice impossible or very difficult for women to receive advice or treatment … especially in rural areas.” (E.U. NETWORK OF INDEPENDENT EXPERTS ON FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS – Main conclusions)

Campaigners welcomed the findings by the EU panel. Keith Porteous Wood, of Britain’s National Secular Society, said: “We welcome this opinion which shows conscience clauses in EU member countries cannot be taken advantage of regardless of the consequences for others. “This concordat would enable those Slovaks wishing to enforce Catholic doctrine, for example, on abortion and contraception in the performance of their duties regardless of the adverse implications on the patients, which could be severe. The draft also discriminated in favour of Christians in certain areas to the detriment of those of other faiths or none.”
Legal expert Dr. Jarmila Lajcakova explains what the Draft Treaty on Conscientious Objection would mean for both Slovakia and the rest of Europe. Following international protests at the end of April 2005 the Slovak Ministry of Justice made amendments to the Draft Treaty which it posted undated in May or June. This compromise is outlined by Jarmila Lajcakova in a separate article at the end of the first one. However, it is the first draft which is important, as it shows what the Vatican was originally planning to push through before Slovakia joined the European Union and came under international scrutiny. (J.Lajciakova: End of Women’s Reproductive Health Freedoms in Slovakia (legal analysis))

Treaty on Catholic education agreed

Treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See about Catholic upbringing and education has been agreed and ratified without any public discussion. This concordat secures full state funding for Church-controlled schools and Catholic religious education, even in state schools is to begin at the pre-school level. The Vatican treaty also allows Church schools, which receive the same funding as state ones, to edit out course material that conflicts with Catholic doctrine.

End of 2004, Ministry od Justice introduced a draft of the third treaty, Treaty between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See on the Right to Exercise Objection of Conscience. If the agreement between the Vatican and Slovakia is passed into law it will have the status of an international treaty because the Holy See is a sovereign state. It would commit the Slovak government to protect only orthodox Catholic scruples, and to let them override any other type of conscience, including that of liberal Catholics. In fact, EU lawyers warned that the claims of “Catholic conscience” as put forth here could even take precedence over certain human rights.

This was an amendment to the Constitution brought in to give concordats precedence over the laws of Slovakia, because they are considered to be human rights treaties.However, this time the Christian Democrats did not succeed to sigh the treaty without any public discussion. It continued due the whole year 2005.

The Vatican has signed similar agreements with Italy, Latvia and Portugal on “religious conscientious objection”, but these have been more limited.

2003: Papal photo-op for the next concordat

In 2003 Pope John Paul II visited Eastern Europe for the last time. His aim was to discourage any liberalisation of Slovakia’s abortion laws, for that would have made it harder to push through the upcoming concordat on “freedom of conscience”. John Paul II said, “In the near future your country will become a full member of the European Community. Dearly beloved, bring to the construction of Europe’s new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition!” In this concordat Saints Cyril and Methodius are reminders of this programme of “re-evangelisation from the East” ― and of the hope that Slovakia will play a role in this. This papal visit, his third to Slovakian territory, was planned as an anti-abortion campaign.It had been announced in the international press a couple of days before that “two five-year-old Siamese twins, now successfully separated, will be presented at a papal mass to reinforce the argument against abortion“, yet apparently their parents had not been informed. Only during the papal mass itself did their mother learn the real purpose. As Bishop Kojnok of Roznava explained, “The Siamese [twin] sisters were chosen to show people that the mother would have killed two beautiful, healthy children if she had decided to abort.”Their mother protested afterwards at what she felt was the “instrumentalisation” of her children by the Church. She claimed that “Catholic priests came to ask us if we wanted to show our daughters to the pope. They said nothing about abortion.”

2000: Basic concordat ratified

A basic agreement between Slovakia and the Vatican was approved in November 2000 by 100 MPs out of the 113 present in Parliament. This irrevocable agreement was ratified sixteen working days after it was tabled. Two of the sections of the original draft, the ones on the financing of the Church and conscientious objection, provoked so much opposition that they were to be turned into later separate treaties. These chapters later turned into partial, more detailed treaties with the Vatican on Catholic education in schools, state financing of Catholic schools, and Catholic chaplains in the police and army.Thus the Basic Treaty provides the framework for four more concordats to follow. It was kept general to get it ratified by the wide-spectrum ruling coalition at the time. The Vatican waited a couple of years until two of the four parties in the new cabinet had the word “Christian” in their names before spelling out the details in later concordats.

Analysis and artciles on the conscience objection treaty avaiable here

  1. Muriel Fraser píše:

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