The following statement and analysis was issued yesterday bt the Iona Institute.
The proposed abortion bill will limit the conscience rights of pro-life doctors
Hospitals with maternity units will have to carry out ‘lawful terminations’ regardless of ethos
The restrictions on conscience rights and religious freedom go further than most countries with more permissive abortion laws than our own
THE Government’s proposed abortion bill is first and foremost an attack on the right to life of unborn children. But there is another aspect of it that also deserves attention, namely its frontal assault on freedom of conscience and religion.
Head 12 of the proposed bill deals with conscientious objection. (See full text below).
It allows doctors not to perform abortions unless they are presented with a ‘medical emergency’.
However, the right of conscientious objection recognised by the proposed law is limited in other ways. For example, if a patient seeking ‘a required medical procedure’ (that is, an abortion) goes before a pro-life doctor, the pro-life doctor must refer her to a pro-choice colleague.
In addition, and even more worryingly, every maternity unit in the country must be willing to perform ‘lawful terminations’ regardless of their ethos. There is no exemption for hospitals with a religious ethos.
This is simply stunning. Even countries with much more permissive abortion laws than our own rarely go this far.
For example, Britain does not require hospitals with a religious ethos to perform abortions, nor does British law, so far as we can ascertain, require pro-life doctors to refer patients seeking an abortion to pro-choice doctors.
In this regard it is relevant to refer to a Resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2010. The European Court of Human Rights is another of the institutions of the Council of Europe.
The resolution is called ‘The right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care’.
Paragraph one is a sweeping and robust statement of the right of conscientious objection both of individuals and institutions.
It reads: “No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”
The explanatory note to Head 12 describes how the European Convention on Human Rights must be balanced against other rights. This is fair enough.
But the proposed law does not balance it properly, very far from it. The above quoted resolution, which will have taken into account the Convention on Human Rights as well, strikes the balance in a very different way.
In fact, Head 12 is extreme in its philosophy and its scope and as mentioned goes much further than other countries with more permissive abortion laws than our own.
This is simply one more reason to reject the proposed bill.
A final thought; would the proposed limitations on conscience rights and freedom of religion violate the Constitution?
Nothing in this Bill shall be construed as obliging any medical practitioner, nurse or midwife to carry out, or to assist in carrying out, a lawful termination of pregnancy.
(2) Nothing in subhead (1) shall affect any duty to participate in treatment under Head 4.
(3) No institution, organisation or third party shall refuse to provide a lawful termination of pregnancy to a woman on grounds of conscientious objection.
(4) In the event of a doctor or other health professional having a difficulty in undertaking a required medical procedure, he or she will have a duty to ensure that another colleague takes over the care of the patient as per current medical ethics.
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