At UN HRC, WEA Calls for Recognition of the Right to Conscientious Objection to Abortion

Deerfield, IL – March 4, 2020

In a statement read at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) took note of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief’s recently published report to the UNHRC and commended it for a number of its findings. However, speaking on behalf of more than twenty organizations, the WEA raised concerns about some of the report’s suggestions when it comes to conscientious objection in the context of abortion.

“The World Evangelical Alliance, on behalf of 21 organizations, takes note of the Special Rapporteur’s report, and fully supports his view that violence, coercion and discrimination in the name of religion are never justified nor should they be condoned,” the statement reads. “However, we express concern at the report’s suggestion that religious individuals are engaging in harmful conduct by supporting policies and legislation that limit abortion. The report also appears to question the right to conscientious objection by health-care providers and institutions unwilling to perform abortions.”

“Indeed, we believe that the full recognition of religious freedom, as well as several other fundamental human rights, must include recognition of the right to protect life in the womb, and to advocate against its termination both in words and deeds,” it continues and states that “no one should be forced to choose between joining the medical field to help the vulnerable and living by one’s deeply-held moral, religious or philosophical convictions, or more simply by one’s scientific ethics.”

WEA also expressed concerns about “the report’s suggestion that international law may have some role in defining the doctrinal positions of religious groups regarding the role of its members.”

Last year, the WEA together with the Swedish Evangelical Alliance has raised the same concern in the context of a Swedish midwife who was denied continuation of her employment because she refused to perform abortions. Even though the clinic in question could have reasonably accommodated the midwife’s request, no compromise was found. As the Swedish government does not provide protection for conscientious objection, the case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights where it is still ongoing.

In their report to the UNHRC, the WEA and SEA pointed out that “Sweden is one of the rare countries where conscientious objection for medical personnel unable to participate in abortions due to their convictions, is not respected.” They then called upon Sweden to “respect the freedom of conscience of medical personnel by applying a principle of reasonable accommodation with their requests not to contribute to acts going against their inner convictions and provide for the right to exercise conscientious objection.”

Bp Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the WEA, commented: “We appreciate the important work of the United Nations in general and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in particular in raising issues of religious freedom around the world and providing a platform where faith bodies like the WEA can speak up on behalf of those we represent. We do find it unfortunate, however, that in this case we had to shift our focus from advocating against persecution, discrimination or violence, to defending the values we uphold and pushing back against attempts to shift the boundaries of international human rights law to limit the freedom of conscience and freedom to exercise our faith.”

“We also believe that justice demands laws that protect the lives of unborn children,” Bp Tendero added, and said: ”we will continue to use our voice at the United Nations to speak up on behalf of the voiceless. We are grateful to all the organizations who at short notice came together in an ad-hoc coalition to co-sign our statement and together speak up on this important issue.”

> Watch the statement being read at the UNHRC
> Follow WEA’s United Nations team on Twitter @WEA_UN

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Over two billion Christians in the world today are represented by three world church bodies. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is one of those, serving more than 600 million evangelicals. Launched in 1846 to unite evangelicals worldwide, the WEA continues to be a dynamic movement with 9 regional and 134 national Evangelical Alliances, and over 150 member organizations. WEA’s mission is to establish and strengthen regional and national Evangelical Alliances, who in turn enable their national Church to advance the Good News of Jesus Christ and effect personal and community transformation for the glory of God. For more information, visit