Doctors fear state law may veto their objections

The Australian

30 August, 2019

Rosie Lewis

Religious doctors in Victoria and Queensland may still be compelled to refer a patient for an abortion under the Morrison government’s proposed religious ­discrimination bill if they conscientiously object to the procedure, triggering concerns among some legal experts.

The exposure draft bill, released yesterday by Attorney-General Christian Porter, is designed to ensure health practitioners do not have to participate in an abortion or euthanasia, or prescribe contraception to a patient, if they are opposed on religious grounds. . . [Full text]

Abortion bill in New South Wales a global first

Freedom of conscience conditional upon gestational age

Sean Murphy*

The Legislative Assembly in New South Wales, Australia, has passed a bill decriminalizing abortion. It is obviously modelled on Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 permits abortion up to 22 weeks gestation for any reason; no medical indications are required (Section 5).  Abortion after 22 weeks gestation may be performed for any reason that two practitioners find acceptable (Section6(1)a), including current and future “social circumstances” (6(3)b).

A provision for conscientious objection requires disclosure of objections to abortion by a practitioner when asked by someone (not necessarily a patient) to perform or assist in the performance of an abortion on someone else, to make a decision about whether an abortion should be provided for someone else who is over 22 weeks pregnant (Section 6), or to advise about the performance of an abortion on someone else.

When a woman up to 22 weeks pregnant wants an abortion or advice about an abortion, an objecting practitioner is required to explain how she can contact a non-objecting practitioner, or transfer the care of the patient to a practitioner willing to provide an abortion, or to an agency (health service provider) where an abortion can be provided. 

If the woman is over 22 weeks pregnant, a practitioner is obliged to disclose objections to abortion but, if not convinced that the abortion should be performed, is not obliged to facilitate the abortion by explaining how she can contact a non-objecting practitioner or by a transfer of care to a willing colleague (Section 9(3)).

Practitioners who object to abortion in principle and those who object in particular cases are often unwilling to facilitate the procedure by referral, transfers of care or other means because they believe that this makes them parties to or complicit in an immoral act.  Thus, the provision for conscientious objection in the bill actually suppresses the exercise of freedom of conscience by these practitioners with respect to abortions up to 22 weeks gestation.

On this point Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Act, while it also suppresses the exercise of freedom of conscience by physicians who object to referral for abortion, at least does so consistently from conception to birth.

It is possible that the wording of this provision has been been muddled in New South Wales either in an attempt to put an end to the idea that only women can become pregnant, or to avoid the possibility that abortion might not be available to a woman who believes that she is a man, or who believes that she is neither a woman nor a man, but who becomes pregnant.

In any case, New South Wales may become the first jurisdiction to make the exercise of freedom of conscience in relation to abortion conditional upon the gestational age of an embryo or foetus.  If the bill passes, a physician will be free to fully exercise freedom of conscience at 22 weeks plus one day, but not at 22 weeks minus one day.  The inexact calculation of gestational age contributes further to the arbitrariness of this restriction of fundamental human freedom.

Canadian protection of conscience bill progresses

David Anderson, M.P.

Two years ago, taking a patient’s life was culpable homicide. Although the law now permits physician assisted suicide, many doctors’ consciences will not. The Supreme Court of Canada has explicitly said that the legalization of euthanasia did not entail a duty of physicians to provide it.

However, regional associations have introduced regulations compelling conscientiously objecting physicians to provide effective referrals for physician assisted suicide, contravening this assurance. This happens, without any penalty.

I believe it’s time to stand up for doctors and health care providers who aren’t willing to leave their core ethics behind when they’re at a patient’s bedside. The protection of conscience rights for medical professionals is part of protecting the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed to all Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Bill C-418 amends the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for compelling them to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.

It also makes it an offence to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the reason only that they refuse to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.

I expect Bill C-418 will be debated on May 29, 2019.

Click below to view and download materials to spread the word about C-418 and build support for this important legislation:


Click here to download a copy of C-418 (EN/FR)

Click here to download an informational graphic on C-418 with tear-away letter to the Minister of Justice | Français

Click here to download a letter on C-418 which can be sent to your local Member of Parliament | Français

Click here to download a petition on C-418 | Français


Protection of conscience bill passes in Indiana

Sean Murphy*

Indiana Senate Bill 201, proposed by Senator Liz Brown, passed the Indian Senate by a vote of 38-8 and will be sent to Goveror Eric Holcomb for signature. Existing Indiana law protects freedom of conscience for physicians, nurses and institutional employees in relation to surgical abortion. Bill 201 amends the statute to include medical abortion and extends protection to physician assistants and pharmacists.

Indiana bill extends conscience protection to medical abrtions

Sean Murphy*

Indiana Senate Bill 201, proposed by Senator Liz Brown, has been amended in committee and is progressing through the Indiana General Assembly. Existing Indiana law protects freedom of conscience for physicians, nurses and institutional employees in relation to surgical abortion. Bill 201 amends the statute to include medical abortion and extends protection to physician assistants and pharmacists.

Isle of Man abortion reform bill passed by House of Keys

BBC News

Plans to change the Isle of Man’s abortion laws have been approved by the House of Keys by a margin of 22-2.

The Abortion Reform Bill would allow women to have terminations within the first 14 weeks of their pregnancy, with other restrictions also being eased.

Under existing Manx law, abortions can only be carried out if a pregnancy is the result of rape or because of mental health concerns.

Members of the Legislative Council will now consider the bill. . . [Full text]

    • Note: the Abortion Reform Bill as passed by the Keys includes a simple  protection of conscience provision covering all “relevant” professionals (registered medical practitioners, nurses, or midwives) and pharmacists.  It requires objecting practitioners to provide information, but not  referral.

Protection in the Bill for health staff with conscientious objection

Isle of Man Today

Health staff who have a conscientious objection to abortion will receive protection when the law is reformed.

Members approved an amendment, tabled by Chris Robertshaw (Douglas East), to set out the protection available to staff.

The final version of the amendment was the result of consultation between Mr Robertshaw and Dr Alex Allinson.

The bill already stipulated health workers could not be forced to take part in abortion treatment if they had a genuine conscientious objection. . . [Full text]

 

Protecting conscience: Why this House of Lords bill is aimed at defending healthcare professionals

Christian Today

Laurence Wilkinson

With the Brexit legislation receiving the lion’s share of attention in Parliament, there has been little to no coverage on the progression of any other bill in recent months. This is usually the time of year where activity on private members’ bills (which have only a small chance of passing into law) winds down. However, with the current Parliamentary Session being extended to two years to deal with the magnitude of the Brexit legislation, we are in extraordinary times.

There is one such private member’s bill before the House of Lords which has seen a surprising ramp-up in activity over the last few months. The bill is sponsored by Baroness O’Loan – a widely respected legal mind from Northern Ireland who was the first Police Ombudsman – and will have its committee stage today, Friday. It is focused on the relatively niche area of protection of conscience for healthcare professionals. . . [Full text]

 

Medics should not be forced to do procedures they object to on ethical grounds

The Conversation
Reproduced with permission

David S. Oderberg*

For most people, the term “conscientious objection” evokes images of Quakers and pacifists registering to avoid military service. Many countries have a long and honourable tradition of accommodating such conscientious objectors. It might not be about bombs and bullets, but healthcare professionals often find themselves fighting a conscience battle of their own.

In the UK, Canada, Sweden and other countries, conscientious objectors in healthcare have found themselves discriminated against in various ways – whether through dismissal, lack of promotion, or more subtle forms of coercion. Most cases involve doctors, nurses or midwives refusing to perform abortion or euthanasia (or to assist with either). Yet these happen, through historical accident, to be the flashpoint of current controversy. . . [Full text]

Bill to give medical staff right to refuse role in abortions condemned

The Guardian

Tim Wyatt

Pro-choice groups have condemned an attempt to create new laws that would allow doctors and nurses to refuse to take part in abortions on moral grounds.

A private bill going through the House of Lords that would expand rights of conscientious objection for healthcare professionals has been dismissed as unnecessary by abortion providers and campaigners.

Those in favour of the bill, sponsored by the Northern Irish crossbench peer Nuala O’Loan, insisted their aim was not to restrict abortion but to uphold freedom of belief and religion they claim is under threat in hospitals since a contentious supreme court ruling in 2014. . . [Full text]