[Austen Ivereigh] Doctors and nurses who refuse to take part in abortions are facing increasing hostility and often find their career prospects harmed, a UK parliamentary inquiry has found.
In their report, ‘Freedom of Conscience in Abortion Provision’, parliamentarians led by Fiona Bruce call on the Government to introduce the principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ into UK legislation in order to ensure the career prospects of conscientious objectors to abortion do not suffer.
A conscience clause in the 1967 Abortion Act The clause makes clear that ‘no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection’.
Although the clause is sometimes respected, the Inquiry heard many reports from nurses, midwives and doctors who had been pressured and discriminated against after refusing to take part in abortions. The British Medical Association has confirmed that doctors have complained of being prejudiced as result of their stance.
The All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group says that that a reasonable accommodation provision would prevent doctors from becoming “state agents” by obliging the employer (the hospital or clinic) to make room for healthcare professionals who oppose abortion. Such clauses would in no way restrict women’s legal access to the procedure.
“Freedom of conscience is a key part of living in a diverse and democratic society,” said Fiona Bruce MP. “It is essential that our hardworking doctors, nurses and midwives are given the protection the law requires if they do not want to participate in abortions.”
The report calls specifically on the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists, which refused to give evidence to the enquiry, to clarify its position on the issue.