Doctors and Midwives Demand Conscience Rights


The Irish Medical Organisation has strongly supported the rights of doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion. A spokeswoman for the IMO, the largest medical representative body and trade union in Ireland, said it was “important that medical professionals can, on a conscientious basis, choose not to deliver this service.”


“The organisation expects that given the deeply held views which exist on this issue, the legislation will create a system which facilitates access to abortion services by women while also catering for medical professionals who have deeply held conscientious objections on this matter,” she said.


A spokesman for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said it also supports freedom of conscience on the issue. Dr Edward Mathews, INMO Director of Professional and Regulatory Affairs, said “the right to conscientious objection on various matters has long been part of the professional code of nurses and other health professionals, and it was also recognised in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.” He said the INMO looks forward to working with the Government and employers “to ensure that this right is secured in upcoming legislation and in practice in individual workplaces.”


A spokesman for the Irish Pharmacy Union said the IPU had written to the Minister for Health Simon Harris last February “requesting that any provisions to allow for GPs to conscientiously object to prescribing medicines for termination should be extended to all healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, in order to ensure that individual practitioners would not be compelled to participate in a procedure to which they have fundamental religious or ethical objections.” However, “now the legislation has been published, Section 13 would seem to suggest that the GP supplies the medicines as part of the consultation and there does not seem to be any involvement of pharmacists in the service,” he said.


There are widespread concerns that the proposed legislation does not adequately protect freedom of conscience. A leading member of the Medico-Legal Alliance suggested that the law may face a legal challenge. Senior Counsel Ben Ó Floinn said it would be regrettable if such a challenge became necessary in order to secure a wide-ranging freedom of conscience for doctors who will not provide abortions.


The proposed abortion legislation was to the forefront of many Alliance members’ minds during their inaugural conference. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill obliges GPs with a conscientious objection to abortion to transfer the pregnant women concerned to the care of doctors who are willing to provide abortions.


Mr Ó Floinn told RTÉ News that people would readily see that imposing a statutory obligation to make arrangements for something that your conscience dictates is not the appropriate thing to do is not the right way to approach the issue.


“People campaigned (in advance of May’s referendum vote) on the basis of Freedom of Choice. Now that choice should be to allow a wide-ranging freedom of conscience to those whose consciences tell them they want no part in this,” Mr Ó Floinn said. He said it would be regrettable if a challenge similar to that in the Asher’s Bakery case in Northern Ireland became necessary in order to secure this freedom.


Ireland’s Catholic bishops have described the abortion bill as an affront to conscience. They said the bill poses a very real practical and moral dilemma for healthcare professionals who believe in the fundamental human right to life and in their own responsibility to serve life. The bishops said the government’s proposal requires a healthcare professional to cooperate in what he or she sincerely believes is doing harm to one patient and taking the life of another. And they said healthcare professionals, pharmacists and ancillary healthcare workers, should not face legal, professional or financial penalties or any form of discrimination for their commitment to respect life.


Health Minister Simon Harris has defended his conscientious objection clause. He said planning was underway to ensure that women know exactly which GPs will provide abortions.


Last month, former Taoiseach John Bruton said doctors opposed to abortion should not be forced to “aid and abet” abortion by referring women seeking abortions to other physicians. Mr Bruton said he feared pro-life doctors would be “targeted” by those who wanted to “catch them out”.

RTÉ. October 14. The Irish Times. October 5. The Irish Times. September 8.

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