Medical Referral for Abortion and Freedom of Conscience in Australian Law

Joanne Howe, Suzanne Le Mire

Journal of Law and Religion

Abstract

This article examines legislative changes related to abortion regulation in Australia that create obligations of medical referral on practitioners who have a conscientious objection to abortion. Despite a significant Australian history of accepting secularized conscience claims, particularly in the field of military conscription, the limitation of conscience claims about abortion can be traced to a failure to appreciate the significant secular arguments that can be made to support such claims. We draw on arguments of plurality and pragmatism as capable of providing a firm foundation for legislative protections of freedom of conscience in the case of medical referral for abortion. These justifications are not dependent on religious grounds, and therefore they have the potential to be relevant and persuasive in a secular society such as Australia. Acceptance of a pluralistic argument in favor of freedom of conscience is a powerful commitment to the creation of a society that values human autonomy and a diversity of opinion. It sits comfortably with the democratic values that are enshrined in the Australian political system and institutions. It avoids the potential damage to the individual that may be wrought when conscience is overridden by state compulsion.


Howe J, Le Mire S.  Medical Referral for Abortion and Freedom of Conscience in Australian Law. J Law and Religion. 2019 Apr;34(1):85-112 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/jlr.2019.14 Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 July 2019

An effective referral is still a referral

Sanasi Jayawardena, Alexandra A Majerski

Canadian Medical Association Journal

We are writing to respond to Dr. Steven Bodley’s letter: “Just the Facts on Effective Referral.” . . . The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPSO’s) effective referral policy for MAiD does not go far enough in protecting the religious freedom of physicians. . . It is unfortunate that the CPSO does not acknowledge that the provision of an “indirect” referral still renders the referring physician complicit. . . . medical students training in Ontario must now seriously consider taking their skills and talents to another province or jurisdiction in which they can practice their vocation in a manner that upholds their integrity. . . [Full Text]


Jayawardena S, Majerski AA. An effective referral is still a referral. CMAJ [Internet]. 2018 Feb 28; 190(7).

Conscientious objection in healthcare and the duty to refer

Christopher Cowley

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract

Although some healthcare professionals have the legal right to conscientiously object to authorise or perform certain lawful medical services, they have an associated duty to provide the patient with enough information to seek out another professional willing to authorise or provide the service (the ‘duty to refer’). Does the duty to refer morally undermine the professional’s conscientious objection (CO)? I narrow my discussion to the National Health Service in Britain, and the case of a general practitioner (GP) being asked by a pregnant woman to authorise an abortion. I will be careful not to enter the debate about whether abortion should be legalised, or the debate about whether CO should be permitted—I will take both as given. I defend the objecting GP’s duty to refer against those I call the ‘conscience absolutists’, who would claim that if a state is serious enough in permitting the GP’s objection in the first place (as is the UK), then it has to recognise the right to withhold any information about abortion.


Cowley C. Conscientious objection in healthcare and the duty to refer.  Journal of Medical  Ethics 2017;43:207-212.

Conscientious objection in healthcare, referral and the military analogy

Steve Clarke

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract:  An analogy is sometimes drawn between the proper treatment of conscientious objectors in healthcare and in military contexts. In this paper, I consider an aspect of this analogy that has not, to my knowledge, been considered in debates about conscientious objection in healthcare. In the USA and elsewhere, tribunals have been tasked with the responsibility of recommending particular forms of alternative service for conscientious objectors. Military conscripts who have a conscientious objection to active military service, and whose objections are deemed acceptable, are required either to serve the military in a non-combat role, or assigned some form of community service that does not contribute to the effectiveness of the military. I argue that consideration of the role that military tribunals have played in determining the appropriate form of alternative service for conscripts who are conscientious objectors can help us to understand how conscientious objectors in healthcare ought to be treated. Additionally, I show that it helps us to address the vexed issue of whether or not conscientious objectors who refuse to provide a service requested by a patient should be required to refer that patient to another healthcare professional.

Clarke S.  Conscientious objection in healthcare, referral and the military analogy. J Med Ethics 2016;0:1–4. doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103777

Referrals for Services Prohibited In Catholic Health Care Facilities

Debra B. Stulberg, Rebecca A. Jackson, Lori R. Freedman

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Abstract | Context: Catholic hospitals control a growing share of health care in the United States and prohibit many common reproductive services, including ones related to sterilization, contraception, abortion and fertility. Professional ethics guidelines recommend that clinicians who deny patients reproductive services for moral or religious reasons provide a timely referral to prevent patient harm. Referral practices in Catholic hospitals, however, have not been explored.

Methods: Twenty-seven obstetrician-gynecologists who were currently working or had worked in Catholic facilities participated in semistructured interviews in 2011–2012. Interviews explored their experiences with and perspectives on referral practices at Catholic hospitals. The sample was religiously and geographically diverse. Referral-related themes were identified in interview transcripts using qualitative analysis.

 Results: Obstetrician-gynecologists reported a range of practices and attitudes in regard to referrals for prohibited services. In some Catholic hospitals, physicians reported that administrators and ethicists encouraged or tolerated the provision of referrals. In others, hospital authorities actively discouraged referrals, or physicians kept referrals hidden. Patients in need of referrals for abortion were given less support than those seeking referrals for other prohibited services. Physicians received mixed messages when hospital leaders wished to retain services for financial reasons, rather than have staff refer patients elsewhere. Respondents felt referrals were not always sufficient to meet the needs of low-income patients or those with urgent medical conditions.

 Conclusions: Some Catholic hospitals make it difficult for obstetrician-gynecologists to provide referrals for comprehensive reproductive services.

Stulberg DB, Jackson  RA, Freedman LR.  Referrals for Services Prohibited In Catholic Health Care Facilities. Perspect Sex Repro H, 48:111–117. doi:10.1363/48e10216

Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control

Wendy Glauser

Canadian Medical Association Journal

Religious groups, doctor’s organizations, ethicists and abortion rights advocates are raising concerns around the review of an Ontario policy that outlines, among other things, physicians’ right to object to patients’ requests for services on moral grounds.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Physicians and Ontario Human Rights Code is up for its five-year review, with both public and expert opinion being sought. . .


Glauser W. Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control. CMAJ September 16, 2014 186:E483-E484; published ahead of print August 18, 2014

Conscientious objection to provision of legal abortion care

Brooke R. Johnson Jr., Eszter Kismödi, Monica V. Dragomana, Marleen Temmermana

International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics

Abstract

Despite advances in scientific evidence, technologies, and human rights rationale for providing safe abortion,a broad range of cultural, regulatory, and health system barriers that deter access to abortion continues to exist in many countries. When conscientious objection to provision of abortion becomes one of these barriers, it can create risks to women’s health and the enjoyment of their human rights. To eliminate this barrier, states should implement regulations for healthcare providers on how to invoke conscientious objection without jeopardizing women’s access to safe, legal abortion services, especially with regard to timely referral for care and in emergency cases when referral is not possible. In addition, states should take all necessary measures to ensure that all women and adolescents have the means to prevent unintended pregnancies and to obtain safe abortion.


Johnson BR, Kismödi E, Dragomana MV, Temmermana M. Conscientious objection to provision of legal abortion care. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2013 Dec;123 Suppl 3:S60-2. doi: 10.1016/S0020-7292(13)60004-1.