LONDON, England, July 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — British pro-life doctors and nurses face hostility, loss of advancement, and pressure to perform or refer for abortions despite legislation guaranteeing their right to conscientiously object, according to a parliamentary inquiry.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act that established current permissions in England, Scotland and Wales, pro-life doctors, nurses and midwives are protected by Section Four, which states that “No person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorized by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.”
But the Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Conscience in Abortion Provision heard testimony from “nurses, midwives and doctors who had been pressured and discriminated against despite their right to conscientious objection, often seeing their career or training options limited.”
The British Medical Association testified that “some doctors have complained of being harassed and discriminated against because of their conscientious objection to abortion.”
Fiona Bruce, who chaired the All-Party Pro-Life Group that conducted the inquiry, said, “It is vital that conscientious health professionals who do not wish to participate in abortion can be confident in their right to opt out of doing so without fear of censure, discrimination or abuse.”
Ann Furedi, the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, testified that her staff performed 65,000 abortions a year, but those who objected to late–term abortions were allowed to abstain “because we are conscience driven to provide women with the opportunity to make their own decisions and life choices.”
However, Dr. Arianne Shahvisi, a lecturer in Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of Sussex, told MPs that no one should enter the medical profession who wouldn’t do abortions. “If a person finds abortion objectionable, they should not pursue employment in which their only options are to be at one or two removes from abortion provision,” she said.
Shahvisi’s opinion appears to be the unspoken view of many in obstetrics and gynecology. But some individuals said they were virtually barred from the field because of their position on abortion.
Dr. John Pilling offered written evidence, saying, “For some specialities, notably O&G, it is virtually impossible to become a consultant without agreeing to perform abortions. Should you express an objection prior to interview, it is unlikely that you would be offered the job. Should you take the role and then declare a conscientious objection, it would be very difficult to maintain felicitous working relationships with colleagues.”
Others said conscientious objectors were barred from medical school or specialties within OB/GYN. One administrator testified that “the majority” of doctors hired by hospital remembered receiving no instruction on their conscience rights — an observation supported by several doctors.
But others testified that those objecting to performing abortions or providing assistance should not be allowed to place an extra work burden on their colleagues. The inquiry noted that several professional bodies and a Supreme Court judge insisted that doctors must be required to refer patients requesting an abortion to colleagues known to have no objection.
The inquiry disputed these positions and insisted that the right to conscientious objection included the right not to refer. It recommended the British Medical Council reaffirm this position.
The inquiry report also called for a review of how medical students are instructed as to their rights under the conscientious objection clause. It recommended that health administrators be instructed on how they must honor the conscience of pro-life staff, and called for all professional specialties to be required to incorporate conscientious objection in their own ethical guidelines.
The inquiry singled out the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which refused to testify before the inquiry, requesting that it “publish a statement in response to this inquiry to clarify their view on career progression for healthcare professionals who conscientiously object to abortion.”
Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said in a prepared statement that “the inquiry’s report recognizes the damage that the present British abortion system is inflicting on the healthcare profession. Abortion not only does untold harm to unborn children, to women and to the body politic, but it has gravely damaging effects on the moral character of doctors, nurses and others.”
While Tully supported the report, he noted that “the key question is whether as a society we tolerate — and promote – the killing of unborn children in response to our social problems.”