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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Pro-choicers deny doctors right to choose life

Calgary Herald
13 March, 2009
Reproduced with permission
Susan Martinuk *
Abortion on demand may soon take on a whole new meaning in Alberta.

The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons has rewritten its guidelines covering the standard of care that doctors must provide. Most of the changes are unremarkable, but some doctors and members of the general public are balking at proposed changes that essentially ask physicians to set aside their moral beliefs, conscience objections and medical opinions to ensure women have unfettered access to abortion.

The proposed changes are being debated this week and, if accepted as drafted, doctors who oppose abortion (for whatever reason) will no longer have the option of refusing to assist a woman requesting abortion. The college claims doctors won't have to refer her directly to abortion providers, but they will have to ensure she has "access to information and assistance in making an informed decision and access to available medical options."

At best, this demonstrates that the college has no understanding of moral conviction. If you have a friend whom you know wants to kill someone, it doesn't matter if you give him the gun or tell him the gun's in the front closet. Morally, you are equally culpable because you helped bring about the end result. Similarly, if you believe a child is about to be killed, it doesn't matter if you refer her to a middle man or directly to an abortionist. Moral conviction says doctors who facilitate the abortion are culpable.

At worst, this demonstrates that the college has no qualms about squelching the moral convictions of others. The irony is that the college has acted according to its own moral framework (believing that abortion is a right) in telling its doctors that they cannot act according to their moral framework. Ultimately, it means having a moral framework for making medical decisions isn't wrong--but having a particular moral framework (where abortion isn't a right) is.

Any time policy obligates health professionals to set aside their conscientious beliefs (no matter what side of the issue they support), our society becomes less free. As citizens, we should all be concerned when freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution (e. g. freedom of conscience and religion) are blithely swept away.

As patients, we should be equally concerned that the body regulating medical practices in Alberta is willing to force its doctors to make medical decisions based on policy instead of their own medical assessment of the situation. (Think of how we would react to this idea if the medical procedure was anything but abortion.)

Some doctors rightly reject abortion as a necessary medical procedure because they are concerned about its medical and psychological impact. Decades of research on a woman's mental and physical health after an abortion reveals a whole new set of realities that have the capacity to bring harm to the patient. Consequently, it shouldn't be wrong to give these concerns greater consideration than her potential inconvenience or even her 'right' to choose.

Research has documented an increase in the rate of suicide, a five-times increase in hospitalization for psychiatric problems within three months of an abortion, an increased risk of premature births, reduced fertility, a 30 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer, and a four-and fivefold increase in hospital and surgical admissions, respectively, after abortion.

Doctors who believe that the fetus is also a patient in their care knows that advances in understanding brain development and neo-natal science have shown that the unborn respond to pain by 16 weeks and perhaps as early as 11 or 13 weeks of gestation. Such doctors would obviously be reluctant to refer their tiny patients for a procedure that would cause them indescribable pain and would rightly reject any policy that requires them to shut their eyes to such realities and write a referral that facilitates abortion.

We have given abortion a unique and sacrosanct place in our society; we can't question it and we have implicitly decided to ignore all medical and psychological concerns in the name of a woman's right to choose.

This has now led us to doctors being forced to subjugate what is best for women's health to women's rights. It's abortion on demand-- but is it really what we want?


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