Abortion and freedom of conscience


Sir, – You report that a group of GPs has accused Minister for Health Simon Harris of seeking to railroad through legislation which would force them to refer patients seeking an abortion to colleagues against their conscientious objections (News, September 27th). The doctors are correct in this view and Mr Harris makes no apologies for it. The detail of the draft legislation received little attention during the referendum debate. The conscientious objection provisions are to be modelled on those contained in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 which confines those rights to doctors and nurses.

Even doctors and nurses have their rights circumscribed by the requirement, in cases where they exercise their legal right not to participate in abortion procedures, to “make such arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned as maybe necessary to enable the woman to avail of the medical procedure involved”. In other words, even though their conscience prevents them from intentionally ending the life of an unborn baby, they will be required by law to collaborate in the supervision and organisation of this very act. This is a truly Orwellian form of freedom of conscience.

At this stage there is no reference to the penalties to be imposed for a failure to collaborate with abortion procedures. At the very least we may expect that the terms and conditions of employment of doctors and nurses will be amended to include the necessity to comply with the abortion legislation. The implications of this are truly frightening: doctors and nurses losing their jobs for failure to collaborate in the ending of innocent human lives and hospital recruitment procedures that will discriminate against those who are unwilling to sign up to this requirement. And this at a time when the health services are facing an acute shortage of doctors and nurses!

An alarming aspect of the proposed legislation is its elitist nature: apparently our legislators believe that the only people in the health services who have consciences are the doctors and nurses.

A receptionist who objects to making an appointment for an abortion will have no legal right to exercise his or her right to object on grounds of conscience. A porter who refuses to wheel a pregnant woman into theatre for an abortion or a cleaner who refuses to clean up or dispose of the human remains that result from abortion will also have no rights.

There are also workers outside the health services who may find their consciences compromised, for instance employees of firms that are contracted to provide goods and services to health bodies.

The medical and nursing unions have rightly highlighted the need to strengthen their members’ rights to conscientious objection,

It would be good to hear Siptu and Fórsa, the unions representing the vast majority of workers in the health services, speak up for equality of rights for their members. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.