Conscientious objection to participation in abortion by midwives and nurses: a systematic review of reasons

Valerie Fleming Lucy Frith, Ans Luyben, Beate Ramsayer

BMC Medical Ethics

Abstract | Background: Freedom of conscience is a core element of human rights respected by most European countries. It allows abortion through the inclusion of a conscience clause, which permits opting out of providing such services. However, the grounds for invoking conscientious objection lack clarity. Our aim in this paper is to take a step in this direction by carrying out a systematic review of reasons by midwives and nurses for declining, on conscience grounds, to participate in abortion.

Method: We conducted a systematic review of ethical arguments asking, “What reasons have been reported in the argument based literature for or against conscientious objection to abortion provision by nurses or midwives?” We particularly wanted to identify any discussion of the responsibilities of midwives and nurses in this area. Search terms were conscientious objection and abortion or termination and nurse or midwife or midwives or physicians or doctors or medics within the dates 2000–2016 on: HEIN legal, Medline, CINAHL, Psychinfo, Academic Search Complete, Web of Science including publications in English, German and Dutch. Final articles were subjected to a rigorous analysis, coding and classifying each line into reason mentions, narrow and broad reasons for or against conscientious objection.

Results: Of an initial 1085 articles, 10 were included. We identified 23 broad reasons, containing 116narrow reasons and 269 reason mentions. Eighty one (81) narrow reasons argued in favour of and 35 against conscientious objection. Using predetermined categories of moral, practical, religious or legal reasons, “moral reasons” contained the largest number of narrow reasons (n =  58). The reasons and their associated mentions in this category outnumber those in the sum of the other three categories.

Conclusions: We identified no absolute argument either for or against conscientious objection by midwives or nurses. An invisibility of midwives and nurses exists in the whole debate concerning conscientious objection reflecting a gap between literature and practice, as it is they whom WHO recommend as providers of this service. While the arguments in the literature emphasize the need for provision of conscientious objection, a balanced debate is necessary in this field, which includes all relevant health professionals.


Fleming V, Frith L, Luyben A, Ramsayer B. Conscientious objection to participation in abortion by midwives and nurses: a systematic review of reasons. BMC Medical Ethics. 2018;19:31. doi:10.1186/s12910-018-0268-3.

Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care

M. Mizuno, E. Kinefuchi, R. Kimura

Nursing Ethics

This study explored the relationship between professional quality of life and emotion work and the major stress factors related to abortion care in Japanese obstetric and gynecological nurses and midwives. . . . Multiple regression analysis revealed that of all the evaluated variables, the Japanese version of the Frankfurt Emotional Work Scale score for negative emotions display was the most significant positive predictor of compassion fatigue and burnout. The stress factors “thinking that the aborted fetus deserved to live” and “difficulty in controlling emotions during abortion care” were associated with compassion fatigue. These findings indicate that providing abortion services is a highly distressing experience for nurses and midwives.


Mizuno M, Kinefuchi E, Kimura R. Professional QOL of Japanese nurses/midwives providing abortion/childbirth care. Nurs Ethics January 17, 2013 0969733012463723