Conscientious Objection Strengthened: Spanish Constitutional Court Rules Against Recommendation of Commission On `Morning-After-Pill´

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July 10, 2015

An important ruling regarding the protection of the conscience rights of pharmacists in Spain was issued July 8 by Spain’s Constitutional Court. The decision strengthens the right of pharmacists who refuse to sell the “morning after pill” on the basis of conscientious objection and is in accord with the EU commission´s clarification on Directive 2001/83/EC from March 2015, which reaffirms medical prescriptions. The landmark ruling is bound to encourage the debate in Europe on the easy availability of contraceptives with an abortifacient effect. The Court’s decision is based on Article 16 of the Spanish constitution which reaffirms the freedoms of religion and of conscience. 

The case involved a pharmacist in Seville who had been fined by the city council of Andalusia for refusing to follow local laws that obliged him to sell the abortion-inducing “morning after pill”.

The Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision could have a model effect on other EU Member States now faced with the prescription-free sale of ellaOne, a contraceptive with an abortifacient effect. At the beginning of this year, the European Commission had urged Member States to act according to a Commission Implementing Decision allowing the prescription-free sale of this pill. Many countries, which prohibited the sale of the pill without a prescription, took this as an EU recommendation to weaken their national legislation. But in April, the Commission clarified that there is in fact no obligation for Member States to sell emergency contraceptives without a prescription.

The Spanish Court’s decision on Wednesday in favour of the right to conscientious objection further strengthens the autonomy of Member States and could prompt many of them to reconsider their quick abolishment of regulations on the sale of ellaOne. Since it acts as an abortifacient, it contradicts several national laws that prohibit abortion.