Conscientious objectors to abortion


Sir, – Dr Bernadette Flood MPSI (Letters, November 28th) makes a strong case for the inclusion in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 of provision for the exercise of conscientious objection by pharmacists.

She notes that the Bill provides for such a right for doctors and nurses. However, even doctors and nurses have their rights circumscribed by the obligation, 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 may be necessary to enable the woman to avail of the medical procedure concerned”. 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.

The scope of the conscientious objection provision is extremely narrow and needs to be looked at again by Minister for Health Simon Harris and our legislators who seem to believe that the only people in the health services who have consciences are the elite health professionals. A receptionist who objects to making an appointment for an abortion will have no right to exercise his or her conscientious objection. 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 are the product of every abortion will also have no rights. Others whose rights are ignored in the Bill include administrative and laboratory staff as well as paramedics, ambulance staff, etc.

The medical and nursing unions have quite rightly highlighted the need to strengthen their members’ rights to conscientious objection. There has, however, been a deafening silence on this subject from Siptu and Fórsa, the unions representing the vast majority of workers at every level in the health services. It is high time that they stood up for these essential workplace rights of their members. – Yours etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Bernadette Flood (November 28th) makes a case for the rights of conscience, but forgets one thing. Pharmacists are licensed by the State to dispense on foot of prescription. They can, and should, offer advice in the consumption of these medicines, according to their training. They should not, nor cannot, appoint themselves the moral arbiters of society, by opting out of dispensing certain medications. I have seen this in the past, where my wife was berated by pharmacists for presenting a prescription for a birth control pill!

Condoms the same. That too passed. So what next?

Without trivialising the debate, or refusing Bernadette Flood the right to exercise her conscience, must we rely on the conscience of individuals to secure that which we are guaranteed in law?

Likewise, there are obligations/actions placed on persons by virtue of their profession/licence, which, although they may be repugnant to them, must be undertaken and performed in order to retain that licence.

There was a time when only certain pharmacists dispensed methadone, and look where that ended.

Let your conscience be your guide. But not mine. – Yours, etc,


Inchicore, Dublin 8.