Achieving transparency in implementing abortion laws

Int J Gynaecol Obstet. (2007) 99, 157-161

Rebecca J. Cook, JN Erdman, Bernard M. Dickens


National and international courts and tribunals are increasingly ruling that although states may aim to deter unlawful abortion by criminal penalties, they bear a parallel duty to inform physicians and patients of when abortion is lawful. The fear is that women are unjustly denied safe medical procedures to which they are legally entitled, because without such information physicians are deterred from involvement. With particular attention to the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, the Constitutional Court of Colombia, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, and the US Supreme Court, decisions are explained that show the responsibility of states to make rights to legal abortion transparent. Litigants are persuading judges to apply rights to reproductive health and human rights to require states’ explanations of when abortion is lawful, and governments are increasingly inspired to publicize regulations or guidelines on when abortion will attract neither police nor prosecutors’ scrutiny.[Full Text]

The Ever-Expanding Health Care Conscience Clause: The Quest for Immunity in the Struggle Between Professional Duties and Moral Beliefs

34 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 779, 816 n.237 (2007) 

Maxine M. Harrington

Introduction:  During the past few years, the debate over whether health care professionals should be required to provide services that conflict with their personal beliefs has focused primarily on pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions.1 According to one media account, during a sixmonth period in 2004 there were approximately 180 reports of pharmacists refusing to dispense routine or emergency oral contraceptives. 2 This controversy, however, extends beyond the pharmacy into every facet of the heath care system. . .[Full Text]

Ethical misconduct by abuse of conscientious objection laws

Med Law. 2006 Sep;25(3):513-22. PubMed PMID: 17078524

Bernard M. Dickens


This paper addresses laws and practices urged by conservative religious organizations that invoke conscientious objection in order to deny patients access to lawful procedures. Many are reproductive health services, such as contraception, sterilization and abortion, on which women’s health depends. Religious institutions that historically served a mission to provide healthcare are now perverting this commitment in order to deny care. Physicians who followed their calling honourably in a spirit of self-sacrifice are being urged to sacrifice patients’ interests to promote their own, compromising their professional ethics by conflict of interest. The shield tolerant societies allowed to protect religious conscience is abused by religiously-influenced agencies that beat it into a sword to compel patients, particularly women, to comply with religious values they do not share. This is unethical unless accompanied by objectors’ duty of referral to non-objecting practitioners, and  governmental responsibility to ensure supply of and patients’ access to such practitioners. [Full Text]

Conscientious objection in medicine

BMJ. 2006 February 4; 332(7536): 294–297. doi:  10.1136/bmj.332.7536.294

Julian Savulescu

Shakespeare wrote that “Conscience is but a word cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe” (Richard III V.iv.1.7). Conscience, indeed, can be an excuse for vice or invoked to avoid doing one’s duty. When the duty is a true duty, conscientious objection is wrong and immoral. When there is a grave duty, it should be illegal. A doctors’ conscience has little place in the delivery of modern medical care. What should be provided to patients is defined by the law and consideration of the just distribution of finite medical resources, which requires a reasonable conception of the patient’s good and the patient’s informed desires (box). If people are not prepared to offer legally permitted, efficient, and beneficial care to a patient because it conflicts with their values, they should not be doctors. Doctors should not offer partial medical services or partially discharge their obligations to care for their patients. . .[Full Text]

Dawson’s licence revoked for sexual misconduct

Physician who refused birth control to unmarried had sex with patient

 Sean Murphy*

On 9 May, 2005, the Discipline Committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario revoked Dr. Dawson’s registration as a physician for having engaged in the sexual abuse of a married female patient. He was ordered to appear before a panel to be reprimanded and to pay costs to the College in the amount of $2,500.00. A  summary of the judgement is available on the College website. [Full text]

Project Letter to the Western Standard

14 May, 2004

Sean Murphy, Administrator
Protection of Conscience Project

Should doctors be forced to abandon their faith?  by Terry O’Neill  draws attention to the problem of freedom of conscience in health care.

A bit of history is instructive. The first protection of conscience clause debated in the House of Commons was introduced by M.P. Robert McCleave as an amendment to the Omnibus Bill that legalized abortion in Canada in 1969. Mr. McCleave believed that abortion should be  legalized, but also believed that ‘freedom of choice’ should be extended to health care workers.

Compare Mr. McCleave’s notion of ‘choice’ with that espoused by Joyce  Arthur. Speaking for the “Pro-choice Action Network,” she refuses to  respect the choices of health care professionals who do not wish to participate morally controversial procedures. She seems to believe that freedom of conscience is a problem to be solved by abolishing it, at least  in the case of those who don’t agree with her. Arthur’s position is doubly ironic, since Henry Morgantaler justified his defiance of Canadian abortion law in a 1970 article titled, A Physician and His Moral Conscience.1

Referral is not a satisfactory solution for many physicians who have grave moral objections to a procedure. Objecting physicians hold  themselves morally culpable if they facilitate an abortion by referring a  patient for that purpose. Nor is this an unusual view. Consider the controversy in Canada over the deportation and torture of Maher Arar. This suggests that few believe that one can avoid moral responsibility for a wrongful act by arranging for it to be done by someone else.

Certainly, Joyce Arthur does not consider abortion to be a wrongful act. However, she has not explained why others should be forced to abide by her moral views.

Unfortunately, between the writer’s desk and publication, a couple of factual errors were introduced into the story.

In the first place, the Project followed the case from the outset, and the student was provided with the same kind of service extended to others in similar situations. His relationship with the Project has been cordial,  but it is incorrect to describe me as “a friend of the would-be doctor.” We have never met.

More important, the final paragraph attributes to me statements that I did not make. While I am, nonetheless, in agreement with a number of the points made, I did not suggest that a devout Muslim doctor might refuse to  treat women, nor make any statement to a similar effect.

It would be most unfortunate if this falsely attributed statement were  to contribute to the already adverse social pressures experienced by Muslims in North America. Muslim health care workers and students are welcome to contact the Protection of Conscience Project. One of the  Project advisors is Dr. Shahid Athar, a regent and former vice-president of the Islamic Medical Association of North America and the Chair of its       Medical Ethics Committee


1. The article appeared anonymously in The Humanist. Quoted in Pelrine, Eleanor wright, Morgantaler: The Doctor Who Couldn’t Turn Away. Canada: Gage Publishing, 1975, P. 79

Ethics Profiling in the Health Care Profession

Conscience Legislation  Needed to Stop Abuse of Authority

12 May, 2004

Will Johnston, MD President
Canadian Physicians for Life

The recent near-failing of a medical student at a Canadian university, solely because the student has pro-life convictions, shows how intolerant some people have become about choices they dislike. For years, Canadian     Physicians for Life has received anecdotal complaints from students who suspect that their medical school admission interview went badly after they truthfully answered questions which probed for pro-life beliefs. This recent case was blatant and completely documented, created undue anxiety for the student, and only ended after many months of unsuccessful appeals of the teachers’ intolerant actions. A modern democracy should have a keen interest in protecting vulnerable students from coercion by preceptors and professors who are unaware of, or insensitive to, the concept of freedom of conscience.

We don’t screen immigrants to Canada on the basis of race or religion. Why should such litmus tests be applied to citizens applying to enter key professions? Ethics profiling is no less objectionable than racial profiling.

Freedom of conscience, it seems, is now granted freely only to those whose views are acceptable to an authoritarian, secularist establishment. Others must endure the enormous costs and stress of legal challenges or implore sympathetic fellow citizens to petition those in power on their behalf. Until this situation is corrected, the Canadian experiment in pluralism will remain in a delayed adolescence.

Sincere proponents of multiculturalism and pluralism understand the importance of protection of conscience. But they must come to recognize that too many in positions of power need statutory reminders to treat fairly     those who disagree with them about the damage abortion does to women and children.

Basic conscience protection such as that provided in Bill C-276 begins to address the problems of abuse of authority and ethics profiling which lead to the kind of injustice seen in the recent case of the medical student. Such abuses must be explicitly treated in law, not left to an ad-hoc scramble by the victim and his or her friends.

The time is long overdue for the Parliament of Canada to follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and 46 American states to protect and clarify freedom of conscience for Canadian health care workers. In addition to necessary employment protection, the proposed Canadian legislation corrects deficiencies found in many such laws by explicitly protecting persons of conscience from exclusion from health sciences education and from discrimination by professional licensing bodies.

Canadian Physicians for Life 29 Moore Street, R.R. # 2 Richmond ON K0A 2Z0 ph/fax: 613-728-LIFE (5433)

Alberta pharmacist vindicated for pro-Life stand

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Mike Mastromatteo

A Calgary pharmacist has reached an agreement with her employer and the Alberta College of Pharmacists that will allow her to refrain from providing customers with prescriptions designed to terminate unborn human life.

Maria Bizecki of the Co-op Pharmacy in Calgary became the subject of an internal review by the Alberta College of Pharmacists last year after she refused to dispense the so-called “morning-after” pill and other products to which she is morally opposed.[Full text]

Testimony of nurse re: Wisconsin Assembly Bill 67

Before Wisconsin Senate Committee on Health, Children, Families, Aging and Long-Term Care

Wisconsin, USA

 Beth LaChance, R.N.

. . . I . . . experienced an onslaught of disciplinary reprimands, retaliation, criticism and
ostracism. . . I was no longer assigned to train or mentor new nurses despite my credentials and  qualifications.  . . .I was denied career advancement to clinical nurse three status, as the  research project which qualified me for advancement, was resigned to another nurse without my prior  knowledge or consent. I was grilled as a “second class nurse” or “nobody”. . .[Full text]

The campaign to force hospitals to provide abortion

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Forty-five states and the federal government protect the right of health care providers to
decline involvement in abortion. Pro-abortion  groups seek to abolish these legal protections.

Consider the following:

Abortion Access Project

Operating in twenty-four states, the project’s goal is “increasing access to abortion services by expanding . . . the number of hospitals offering abortion services.” The project admits that its tactics include “pressuring hospitals” and it does so through both political and legal pressure. The “Hospital Access Collaborative” division reports on the state projects’ legal and regulatory interventions challenging mergers. [Full text]