Doctors can’t opt out of abortion duties: ministry

All doctors must be prepared to refer patients to abortion clinics even if the wilful termination of a pregnancy runs counter to their own beliefs, Norway’s health ministry has confirmed.

Doctors can't opt out of abortion duties: ministry
Robin Kåss (Photo: Arbeidarpartiet)

The issue flared in October after the ministry issued a circular informing general physicians that they cannot under any circumstances decline to carry out or recommend treatments to which they are personally opposed for religious or ethical reasons. As examples, the ministry cited abortion, as well as fertility treatments for lesbian couples.

Some 170 physicians reacted by signing a petition protesting against the terms of the circular. They were joined in their objections by around 30 medical students and 60 other healthcare workers.

But the health ministry has vowed not to budge on the issue, Christian newspaper Vårt Land reports.

“Doctors have to be ready to do their duty. There are plenty of duties for physicians working in the municipalities and at hospitals that don’t involve abortion referrals,” said Robin Kåss (Labour Party), secretary of state at the health ministry.

Kåss told news agency NTB that the department had also occasionally encountered doctors who refused to prescribe contraceptive medicines.

“If you’re a pacifist, you can’t work as a police officer. If you refuse to perform a blood transfusion, you can’t be a surgeon. If you deny a patient contraception or a referral for an abortion, you can’t be a general physician,” said Kåss.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office