Abortion decriminalisation and statutory rights of conscience

BMJ Opinion

Mary Neal

On 13 March 2017, the House of Commons voted by 172 to 142 in favour of a second reading for the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill. The bill, introduced by Diana Johnson MP, would decriminalise abortion until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy, meaning that abortion could be performed until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy without the need to satisfy any statutory grounds, or to obtain two doctors’ authorisation. Many campaigners see this bill as a first step toward the longer-term goal of fully decriminalising abortion. [1]

The prospect of decriminalisation raises a number of interesting and important issues, including an issue which has been neglected in the debates over decriminalisation so far, namely what any change in the law might mean for the right of health professionals to withdraw from participation in abortion on grounds of conscience, under section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967. . . .[Full text]

 

Catholic midwives must supervise abortions, Supreme Court decides

Catholic midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood lose case against being made to supervise other staff carrying out abortions

The Telegraph

Patrick Sawer

Two Catholic midwives who refused to take part in any abortion procedures have lost their legal battle to be treated as ‘conscientious objectors’.

The UK’s highest court overturned a previous ruling made in favour of the two midwives, after a Scottish health authority urged it to overturn last year’s decision of the Court of Session, in Edinburgh, in the case of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood.

The ruling is likely to mean that Ms Doogan and Ms Wood will now have to supervise abortions carried out by other staff, as part of their terms of employment, although they will still be free to refuse to carry out the terminations themselves.

The case centres on the scope of the right to conscientious objection under the Abortion Act 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection”. . . [Full text]

 

Should midwives opposed to abortion have the right to refuse any involvement in cases?

Landmark decision ‘could have severe impact on women’s care’, experts warn

Daily Mail

Lizzie Parry

Midwives who object to abortions could be allowed to opt out of any involvement with women who choose to terminate their unborn babies.

The UK’s Supreme Court will today hear an appeal after two Catholic midwives won a landmark case for the right to refuse any involvement in abortion procedures in 2013.

Mary Doogan, 58, and Connie Wood, 52, argued that being required to supervise staff involved in abortions was a violation of their human rights.

The women had no direct role in pregnancy terminations, but claimed they should also be able to refuse to support staff taking part in the procedures.

If the court upholds that decision it could set a legal precedent, allowing other midwives who object to abortions to take the same stance.

But the Royal College of Midwives and the women’s charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) warned today that such a ruling could have severe implications for the care of women choosing abortions.

Ms Doogan and Ms Wood took their case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to the Court of Session in Edinburgh in 2012, but lost.

But in April last year, three appeal judges at the same court ruled their appeal should succeed.

Judges at the court will tomorrow hear an appeal by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

A spokesman for the RCM and bpas said the two bodies are ‘deeply concerned’ that the judgement ‘extends the right of conscientious objection beyond the provisions intended by the Abortion Act’. . . . [Full text]

British Pregnancy Advisory Service head says abortion is just birth control

Sean Murphy*

In a column published in The Independent, Ann Furedi, CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, argues that the existing English abortion law should be scrapped because abortion is simply another form of birth control.

Today, abortion is understood to be a fact of life. We expect to plan our families using the contraception that is freely available cost-free on the NHS. But we know that contraception is not infallible, and nor are we. We draw comfort from knowing that abortion is available as a back up to our chosen method of birth control. The existing laws are not fit for purpose – and the way abortion is provided today begs a simple question: why have a law at all?

This is consistent with earlier statements she has made.  In 2010 she told New Zealanders that abortion is required as a part of family planning programmes because contraception is not always effective. She noted that abortion rates do not drop when more effective means of contraception are available because women are no longer willing to tolerate the consequences of contraceptive failure.[TVNZ]

Furedi’s comments indicate that pressure to provide abortion is likely to increase even where contraception is readily available, thus increasing potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers who do not wish to be involved with the procedure.  They also demonstrate a categorical refusal to acknowledge a critical factual distinction: that preventing the conception of an infant by contraception is not the same as killing an infant by abortion.  This distinction central to the reasoning of health care workers and others who refuse to participate in abortion, though they may have no objection to contraception.