Conscientious objection obstacle to safe terminations: Qld Government

Concerns have been raised that increasing numbers of doctors with objections to abortion may threaten a woman’s ability to seek a termination


The head of the State Government’s healthcare improvement agency, Clinical Excellence Queensland, recently wrote to the RACGP calling for better management of conscientious objection to termination of pregnancy.

But the RACGP [Royal Australian College of General Practitioners] maintained its view that conscientious objection is necessary. . . [Full text]

Doctors issued with new ethical guidelines on providing abortion

Medical Council guide sets out obligations for doctors with conscientious objections

The Irish Times

30 August, 2019

Martin Wall

The Medical Council has issued revised ethical guidance for doctors following the introduction of abortion legislation earlier this year.

A new version of its ethics document provides updated guidance for doctors who have conscientious objections to particular forms of treatment, procedures or care, not just in relation to abortion.

The amended guide to professional conduct and ethics for doctors says termination of pregnancy is legally permissible within the provisions of legislation introduced in 2018. . . [Full text]

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.

Why the abortion bill is a threat to freedom of conscience


Michael Quinlan

Professor Michael Quinlan is Dean of Notre Dame Law School and a Freedom For Faith board member

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 which was introduced into the New South Wales Parliament on 1 August 2019 has attracted some media attention.

Since 1971 in NSW, it has been lawful to terminate a pregnancy where an honest belief is held that the procedure is “necessary to preserve the women involved from serious danger to their life, or physical or mental health.”

This Bill provides that the termination of any pregnancy up to 22 weeks will be permitted without restriction.

After 22 weeks, the Bill proposes that pregnancies may be terminated subject to certain conditions taking into account the woman’s “current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.”

Freedom of Conscience and Religion

One part of the Bill which has not attracted much attention is the impact it has on the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion of registered health professionals.

In NSW, no referral is required to obtain a termination of pregnancy and information on the availability of such services is widely available on the internet.

Despite these facts, the Bill imposes a referral obligation on all registered health professionals who have a conscientious objection to disclose their conscientious objection to a person who asks them about those matters.

They must then refer the person or transfer their care to another health professional who they believe can provide the service and does not have a conscientious objection. In this way the Bill requires registered health professionals – which is a very broad group of people – who have a conscientious and often religiously grounded objection to participate in the procedure at least to the extent of a referral.

This is so, whether they object to abortion at all, or to abortion after a particular stage of gestation, or for sex-selection or disability grounds.

These obligations impact on all registered health professionals with conscientious objections but they are particularly onerous for Catholic health professionals because, in that tradition, participation in abortion causes an automatic excommunication from the Church.

If the State wishes to further liberalise the law in relation to the termination of pregnancy, it should not do so at the expense of health professionals with a conscientious or religious objection to participating in the procedure.

Abortion debate: Woman told she’s ‘immoral and risking hellfire’

New Zealand Herald

Emma Russell

A woman left her general practice in tears after a doctor told her she was “immoral and risking hellfire” for seeking an abortion. Discreetly, the female receptionist rushed after the woman and slipped her a card for a doctor who could help her.

Another woman visited three different doctors for an abortion – and each time was shown the door. . . [Full text]

Over 30 percent of hospitals in Romania are refusing legal abortions

Doctors invoke conscience clause to avoid performing abortions.

The Black Sea

Lina Vdovii and Michael Bird

Romanian medical student Bianca was in South Korea in March this year when she discovered she was pregnant.

At the time she was taking part in a short work placement in Daegu in the south-east of the country, and was soon to return to Germany to resume her Erasmus programme.

“The news freaked me out,” she told The Black Sea. “I knew a baby would complicate my career and I was not ready for it.”

The next few weeks and months were crucial. She’d not only her Erasmus responsibilities in Germany to consider, but Bianca was also due to sit a series of final-year medical exams at her university in Romania before beginning a hospital residency.

Bianca took the decision to end her pregnancy quickly, and from her temporary home in Daegu she considered the least complicated way to do this. . . [Full text]

Medical Referral for Abortion and Freedom of Conscience in Australian Law

Joanne Howe, Suzanne Le Mire


Journal of Law and Religion This article examines legislative changes related to abortion regulation in Australia that create obligations of medical referral on practitioners who have a conscientious objection to abortion. Despite a significant Australian history of accepting secularized conscience claims, particularly in the field of military conscription, the limitation of conscience claims about abortion can be traced to a failure to appreciate the significant secular arguments that can be made to support such claims. We draw on arguments of plurality and pragmatism as capable of providing a firm foundation for legislative protections of freedom of conscience in the case of medical referral for abortion. These justifications are not dependent on religious grounds, and therefore they have the potential to be relevant and persuasive in a secular society such as Australia. Acceptance of a pluralistic argument in favor of freedom of conscience is a powerful commitment to the creation of a society that values human autonomy and a diversity of opinion. It sits comfortably with the democratic values that are enshrined in the Australian political system and institutions. It avoids the potential damage to the individual that may be wrought when conscience is overridden by state compulsion.

Howe J, Le Mire S.  Medical Referral for Abortion and Freedom of Conscience in Australian Law. J Law and Religion. 2019 Apr;34(1):85-112 DOI: Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 July 2019

Conscience fight moves to the political arena

The Catholic Register

Michael Swan

Having lost twice in court, the battle for conscience rights for health care workers in Ontario is now a political battle.

“We feel we really need legislation,” said Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada executive director Deacon Larry Worthen. “It’s basically for us a call to action.”

The latest setback came May 15 when the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling upheld a College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) requirement that doctors in the province must give referral for medical services such as assisted dying and abortion that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs. . . [Full text]