ZARAGOZA, Spain — Dr. Mercedes Sobreviela, a gynecologist in this city in northeast Spain, believes it is a woman’s choice whether she has an abortion. She says the “right decision” for a woman is “always the one she wants.”
But as a physician in Spain, Dr. Sobreviela believes she has the right to choose as well, and she has chosen not to perform abortions.
Her public hospital, University Clinic Hospital of Zaragoza, does not perform them either. In fact, no public hospital in the surrounding region of Aragón, which includes 1.3 million people, will do the procedure.
“We are doctors, our calling is as physicians, and we are here to help people live, not to decide this one lives and this one dies,” Dr. Sobreviela said.
Spain liberalized its abortion laws in 2010. In the years before, it allowed women to get abortions in only extraordinary circumstances, but the new laws allow all women to get the procedure in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy, without restrictions.
But the map of where abortions are available is drawn up less by national law than by Spain’s doctors. In large numbers and across the country, doctors refuse to perform them.
The situation in Spain offers a window into what may await other countries at a time when sharply different measures in Texas and Mexico have revived the debate on abortion access. Conservative lawmakers in Texas have all but banned abortion in the state, while across the border, the Supreme Court in Mexico this month ruled to decriminalize abortions there.
The uncertainty in Mexico is whether doctors will provide the service — a question that has already been answered by many doctors in Spain.
They call themselves “conscientious objectors,” a term coined by pacifists who refused military service. And like those who claimed a moral duty not to go to war, many doctors in Spain say performing abortions would violate their oath to do no harm — a pledge, they say, that extends to the fetus.
“It’s one thing if you think abortion is right or wrong; each person will have their own criteria,” says Dr. María Jesús Barco, another gynecologist from Zaragoza who is an objector. “It’s another thing if I have to do it. That’s different.”
Conscientious objection has gained ground in other countries, like Italy, where it was cited by doctors working in hospitals that largely do not perform abortions. And in Argentina, it has limited attempts to liberalize an abortion law passed there last year.
In five of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain — the equivalent of states — no public hospital offers abortions, according to the most recent government statistics. Women may still receive an abortion in a subsidized private clinic, but in many cases, they must travel across state lines to obtain one.
That was what Erika Espinosa, 34, had to do in 2015 when her gynecologist in the city of Logroño would not perform an abortion after she asked for one.
“The doctors try to convince you that you don’t love your child for wanting an abortion,” said Ms. Espinosa, who went to the neighboring Navarra region to end her pregnancy. “It felt like I was doing something clandestine.”