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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Update 2013-05-01

1 May, 2013

Covering the period from 1 March, 2013 to 30 April, 2013

1.  By Region/Country

Developments relevant to freedom of conscience.

2.  News Items

Links to news summaries.

3.  Recent Postings

Links to resources added to Project site.

4.  Action Items

Support protection of conscience initiatives near you.

5.  Conferences/Papers

Seminars, conferences and workshops relevant to conscience advocacy.

6.  Publications of Interest

Relevant to freedom of conscience issues.

1.  By Region/Country
Visit the Project News/Blog for details.

In the state of Victoria, a former health services commissioner who was among those behind the passage of a controversial abortion law  is complaining that the law is "being thwarted at the service provision level" because most physicians seem unwilling to provide abortions from  16 through 24 weeks gestation and beyond, especially for "psychosocial reasons."  Meanwhile, Dr. Mark Hobart, a physician in Melbourne, refused to refer a couple for an abortion at 19 weeks gestation for a psychosocial reason.  The couple wanted the abortion because they had learned that the woman was carrying a girl.  They wanted a boy, not a girl. He may face charges of professional misconduct for refusing to refer.

In Tasmania, a proposed bill threatens objecting professionals and counsellors with $65,000 fines if they refuse to faciliate aboriton by referral.   


An appeal against the judgement of the BC Supreme Court in Carter v. Canada (which found in favour of physician assisted suicide and the judge ordered Canada to change the law to permit it) is now underway.  Oral arguments and links to the factums filed by the parties and intervenors are available at British Columbia Court of Appeal live stream

European Union

A resolution passed by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly is being lauded as an important - although limited -  recognition of religious and conscience rights in the public sphere.


The UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has provided the U.N. Human Rights Commission with a report that claims that lack of "access" to abortion is legally equivalent to torture. The report demonstrates ongoing efforts among "reproductive rights" activists to make it appear that conscientious objection to abortion and other morally contested services are violations of human rights law.


A coroner's inquest was held in Galway into the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old woman.  She was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented at the University Hospital, Galway, with a miscarriage. She spontaneously delivered a stillborn daughterthree days later, and died from sepsis early on 28 October.  The circumstances of her death generated a hurricane of controversy in Ireland and around the world about Irish abortion law.  This resulted in the classification of Savita's death as a "medical misadventure." 

In response, the Irish government promised to introduce legislation and regulations concerning abortion. Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has rejected motions seeking its approval of regulations for circumstances in which there is a "real and substantial risk to the mother," abortion in the case of rape or incest, and abortion when a foetus is diagnosed to have a fatal abnormality. Moreover, one third of Irish psychiatrists who treat adults have rejected a draft government proposal that psychiatrists should assess women seeking an abortion who are threatening suicide.  All of these developments suggest that the issue of freedom of conscience in healthcare is liable to come more to the fore in Ireland.


 Conscientious objection to abortion among Italian obstetrician-gynaecologists is reported to be the majority position, reaching 80 or 90 percent in some parts of the country.  Most of the objectors are younger practitioners, so it would seem that the situation is unlikely to change.  An Italian group called Gynecologists for the Application of Law 194/78 (LAIGA) is demanding "regulation" of conscientious objection in response, by which it obviously means the use of some regulatory mechanism to suppress or restrict freedom of conscience. 


The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has accused Malta of violating the Convention Against Torture and other alleged obligations because Maltese law prohibits abortion.  The ICJ describes itself as "60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world. "

New Zealand

The New Zealand Health Care Professionals Alliance Te Hononga Mãtanga Haurora O Aortearoa has launched a website highlighting the interest of the Alliance in freedom of conscience in health care.  The new site features a Best Practice Guide, Patient Support and Resources, and an introduction to the Alliance's Mentorship Programme.

The Alliance is a non-denominational organization that welcomes members from all health care professions, including nurses & midwives, doctors, radiographers, pharmacists, laboratory technologists, anaesthetic technicians, and radiation therapists.  Hospital chaplains may also join.  Membership is open to professionals in training, practice and retirement who support the purposes of the organization.


The Philippines Department of Health signed the  Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10354, otherwise known as the "Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law of 2012" (RPRH Act of 2012).   The regulations would have had an immediate impact on the exercise of freedom of conscience by health care workers.  However, the Philippines Supreme Court has temporarily suspended the operation of the law pending a hearing into the constitutionality of the law that will be held in June.


The Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) has lodged a collective complaint against Sweden for violation of the European Social Charter.  The complaint alleges that Sweden lacks respect both for the fundamental freedom of conscience laid down by the European Convention on Human Rights and for the democratic proceedings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.  The complaint is based on the fact that the Swedish parliament repudiated a motion by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe supporting freedom of conscience in health care.

United Kingdom

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the state regulator of the profession of pharmacy in the United Kingdom, will be reviewing its standards of conduct, ethics and performance, "including Standard 3.4 which sets out what pharmacy professionals must do if their religious or moral beliefs prevent them from providing a service."  Preliminary work is to be done in 2013, and there will be public consultation and engagement in 2014/2015.  Those concerned about freedom of conscience among pharmacists in the United Kingdom should follow and participate in the review.

A panel of judges of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland, has ruled in favour of two midwives appealing a 2012 decision by a judge of the same court.  Lady Dorrian,  Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan have ruled that the midwifery sisters, Mary Doogan, and Concepta Wood, cannot be compelled to supervise the provison of abortion by the National Health Services of Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

United States

There are now 59 court cases involving over 190 plaintiffs who are suing to prevent the U.S. federal government from imposing controversial birth control regulation on objecting businesses and religious employers.  25 of 30 businesses have obtained protective injunctions.  Most of the 30 cases filed by non-profit groups have been dismissed on the grounds that the regulation has not yet been finalized. [Becket Fund HHS Information Central]

The Arkansas Legislature is considering HB 98, the Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act, which provides protection for freedom of conscience for individuals and institutions with respect to artificial birth control, assisted reproductive technologies, human embryonic stem-cell research; and contraceptive sterilization.  Meanwhile, Dr. Pegge Bell, Director of the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing at the University of Arkansas, opposes the exercise of freedom of conscience as a violation of the principles of healthcare.  

Senate Bill 136 has been approved by the Michigan Senate Health Policy Committee and will move to a vote in the state senate.  The bill provides protection for health care payers, purchasers, providers, and institutions.

The Missouri House of Representatives passed HB 457.  A second vote is required before the bill can move to the state senate for consideration.  The bill provides protection for individuals and institutions with respect to abortion, sterilization that is not medically necessary, embryonic stem cell research, assisted reproduction and contraception.

A  former president of the Nebraska Psychological Association, has criticized the proposed Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act because it does not force health care workers to refer for services or procedures to which they object for reasons of conscience.  The bill requires an objector to disclose that moral or religious beliefs prevent him from providing treatment so that the patient can seek assistance elsewhere, but does not force them to assist patients to find someone willing to provide the contested service. 

2.  News Items

You can search news items by date, country and topic in the Project News/Blog. 

3.  Recent Postings

Protection of conscience initiative launched by New Zealand health care professionals

Should medical staff be able to opt out on grounds of conscience?

Global Charter of Conscience: A Global Covenant Concerning Faiths and Freedom of Conscience

Appeal succeeds in Scotland: freedom of conscience upheld for midwives

Rights of conscience must be preserved

Conscience vs. Religion

Protect rights for health workers

Religion: A Public or a Private Right?

Claims of Conscience

New book questions preferential treatment of religious liberty

Australian physician threatened with discipline for refusing to refer for sex-selective abortion

Can Atheists and Muslims Support Freedom of Conscience Together?

Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience

Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act

Missouri House Bill 457 (2013)

Sweden discriminates against conscientious objection

Victims of President Obama's HHS Mandate Speak Out

Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act (Arkansas)

Testimony of Anna R. Franzonello | . . .I have thoroughly reviewed LB 564, which provides protection-and an adequate enforcement mechanism-for healthcare providers' freedom of conscience.  I am testifying in this proceeding as an expert in constitutional law and as an expert on laws respecting the freedom of conscience.  I appreciate this opportunity to testify as to the constitutionality of LB 564 and the necessity of protecting the freedom of conscience of healthcare providers. . .
Full Text

Testimony of Clyde R. Meckel, MD |
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of LB564- the Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act.  The purpose of this bill is to respect and protect the fundamental right of conscience of licensed individuals who provide health care. This is a critical matter of protecting one of our most fundamental liberties.
Full Text

Council of Europe Hailed for Religious-Freedom Resolution

UN Human Rights Council equates lack of access to abortion with torture

4.  Action Items

None noted.

5.  Conferences/Papers

The Project will post notices of conferences that are explore and support the principle freedom of conscience, including the legitimate role of moral or religious conviction in shaping law and public policy in pluralist states or societies.


6.  Publications of Interest

Kimberley Brownlee
Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience.
Oxford University Press, 2012, 260pp., (hbk), ISBN 9780199592944

Brian Leiter
Why Tolerate Religion?

Princeton University Press, 2012, 192 pp. ISBN: 9780691153612


7.  Video


8.  Audio