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The Right to Freedom of Conscience under Attack

Some academics have recently suggested that conscientious objection is an unwarranted barrier to the provision of reproductive health care. In April 2013, the American Journal of Public Health published an article “Abortion Law Around the World: Progress and Pushback.” The authors perceive that there has been a rise in “unregulated conscientious objection”. They consider that this is a barrier for women trying to access lawful abortions. NZHPA believes that one inference that can be drawn from the article is that health professionals should be expected to “leave their conscience at the door” while they work. Surely that proposition is preposterous!

Another recent article “Abortion and Conscientious Objection: The New Battleground” http://ssrn.com/abstract=2262139 is equally contentious. The authors believe that the “obligation to refer” should be an integral part of any legal provisions dealing with conscientious objection. They state that international practice and laws in other jurisdictions, including the State of Victoria, reflect this approach to conscientious objection. What the authors neglect to say, is that in New Zealand there is no “obligation to refer”. The maximum obligation for a health professional who has a conscientious objection to the provision of a reproductive health service is to advise the person that they can go to another doctor or a family planning clinic.

NZHPA supports the New Zealand legal situation. This is because it protects the health practitioner’s right to freedom of conscience. This is a progressive and ethical approach to the provision of health care. It allows health practitioners to be free to practice with a clear conscience. It also expects of practitioners that they respect their patients’ autonomy and that they provide honest, professional care at all times.



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