Paula (2012) – Spain

“The doctors’ right to object nearly cost me my life”
El Pais, Nov 9, 2016, Cristina Huete

The Galician public health service in Spain was ordered to compensate a woman €270,000 for her suffering and permanent injuries after a hospital refused to perform an abortion because of “conscientious objection”, even though the fetus was incompatible with life.

“Paula” learned that the fetus she was carrying had a fatal anomaly only seven months into her pregnancy, due to errors during antenatal diagnosis. She was unable to find anyone who would terminate the pregnancy, either in her own town in Galicia or in any other nearby public hospital. Eventually, the Galician public health service, SERGAS, declared that “in order to respect the professionals’ right to objection on moral grounds”, the authorities would pay for termination of the pregnancy in a private clinic in Madrid, by which time she was into her 32nd week of pregnancy.

She had to make the 570km trip to Madrid by by car with her partner. She had been having vaginal pains for some days but was told by the hospital it was just wind. In fact, the pain was due to an irregularity in her uterus, affected by the pregnancy. By the time she arrived at the clinic in Madrid, she was bleeding heavily and had to be transferred to a hospital for an emergency caesarean section to remove the fetus, which died soon after. Her uterus had to be removed to stop the bleeding, so now she is unable to have any more children.

In July 2017, the Galician Health Service was found guilty of intentionally concealing from Paula the fact that her fetus was suffering from severe life-limiting anomalies that included “cri du chat” syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes serious mental disability. During the High Court proceedings, it also emerged that her doctors had deliberately delayed the required prenatal diagnostic testing. When she finally got the correct diagnosis, a gynaecologist then delayed authorization for an abortion, claiming that further diagnostic tests were necessary, when in fact they were not. The High Court’s ruling made it clear that what had occurred was a “severe failure of the health system.”  The president of the regional government, Albert Nuñez Feijoo, resolved not to appeal the initial decision of the county court and apologized for what had happened, attributing blame to the fact that a very high proportion of doctors in the region are “conscientious objectors” to medical abortions.


“The doctors’ right to object nearly cost me my life”:
Read also:
Compensation was granted but nothing has changed in Galicia, Aug 11, 2017:
Spain: Health Service held accountable for objectors’ abortion delays and loss of uterus, Oct 31, 2017: ReproHealthLaw Blog