Doctors in Portugal have rejected a government order to strike out an ethical code prohibiting abortions from the bylaws of Portugal's Medical Association.
The association's current ethical code states that "doctors must maintain respect for human life from its beginning" and that "the practice of abortion constitutes a grave ethical failure."
Portuguese Health Minister Antonio Correia de Campos said the code conflicts with a law enacted in July that decriminalizes all abortions during the first ten weeks of pregnancy.
With the support of Portugal's attorney general, Campos recently mandated that the 35,000-strong association remove the ethical code or face legal action.
According to LifeSiteNews, the decision appears to follow a recent strategy used by pro-abortion efforts in Latin America, which considers the decriminalization of abortion tantamount to a legal "right" to an abortion.
Pedro Nunes, the head of Portugal's Medical Association, has refused the order and was quoted by Reuters as saying, "Having an opinion and ethical principles is what separates rational beings from a flock of sheep."
Despite the government's threat to take him to court, Nunes upheld the right of doctors to object morally to an abortion.
"This has nothing to do with abortion. It has to do with doctors having the right to have their own opinion," he said Thursday.
"The health minister threatened to take us to court if we did not change our code ... but the code can only be changed by doctors and not by a health minister," added Nunes, who represents around 35,000 doctors.
Referring to the language of the ethical code, Nunes said doctors were entitled to believe human life begins upon conception or after a series of weeks inside a woman's body.
If it's the former, "he shouldn't perform abortions," said Nunes.
The ultimatum by Campos has drawn fire from doctors and lawyers alike.
Daniel Serrao, a doctor who previously headed the Ethical Commission of the Portuguese Medical Association, said "any type of interference is completely unacceptable, from whomever it comes outside of the profession, regarding the way that doctors think they should relate to each other."
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Bar Association, in a written statement, called the mandate "arrogant and overbearing."