Conscientious objection to abortion, the law and its implementation in Victoria, Australia: perspectives of abortion service providers

Louise Anne Keogh, Lynn Gillam, Marie Bismark, Kathleen McNamee, Amy Webster, Christine Bayly, Danielle Newton

Abstract

Background

In Victoria, Australia, the law regulating abortion was reformed in 2008, and a clause (‘Section 8’) was introduced requiring doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer women to another provider. This study reports the views of abortion experts on the operation of Section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act in Victoria.

Methods

Nineteen semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with purposively selected Victorian abortion experts in 2015. Interviews explored the impact of abortion law reform on service provision, including the understanding and implementation of Section 8. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.

Results

The majority of participants described Section 8 as a mechanism to protect women’s right to abortion, rather than a mechanism to protect doctors’ rights. All agreed that most doctors would not let moral or religious beliefs impact on their patients, and yet all could detail negative experiences related to Section 8. The negative experiences arose because doctors had: directly contravened the law by not referring; attempted to make women feel guilty; attempted to delay women’s access; or claimed an objection for reasons other than conscience. Use or misuse of conscientious objection by Government telephone staff, pharmacists, institutions, and political groups was also reported.

Conclusion

Some doctors are not complying with Section 8, with adverse effects on access to care for some women. Further research is needed to inform strategies for improving compliance with the law in order to facilitate timely access to abortion services.


Keogh LA, Gillam L, Bismark M, McNamee K, Webster A, Bayly C, Newton D. Conscientious objection to abortion, the law and its implementation in Victoria, Australia: perspectives of abortion service providers. BMC Medical Ethics201920:11.

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