CMF praises 'climb-down' allowing UK medics religious exemption from contraception prescription

UK medical professionals who work in sexual health will now be free to 'conscientiously object' on religious or moral grounds to prescribing contraception, including the morning-after-pill, to patients.

The move comes after the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) publicly lobbied for the exemption and warned of legal action; they called the 'climb-down' a 'step in the right direction'.

The new guidelines come from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH), the body responsible for training Consultants, GPs, and nurses in the NHS, part of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Those who object to prescribing contraception on the grounds of conscience are now free to do so, within certain parameters.

Previously those seeking a professional diploma with the FSRH had to be 'able to prescribe all forms of contraception', including the morning-after-pill which acts after fertilisation and can be taken five days after sex.

CMF had previously spoken up against the requirement, saying it discriminated against those for whom the morning-after-pill is a form of abortion, taking place after conception and subsequently 'killing human embryos'.

The FSRH's 'climb-down' was announced in August, but the faculty's president Dr Asha Kasliwal and chief executive Jane Hatfield explained the position change in an editorial of the British Medical Journal, published online yesterday.

NHS professionals are exempt from having to prescribe contraceptive medication under new guidelines.Reuters / Srdjan Zivulovic

CMF's chief executive Peter Saunders has consistently spoken up on the issue since his organisation made its initial criticisms in 2014, and had raised the threat of legal action, citing a 'breach of equality legislation', with the FSRH.

He told Christian Today that the 'sensible' change in position was 'absolutely' a positive one, calling it a 'step in the right direction'.

Though CMF's only intervention had been its public comment on the issue, Saunders said: 'It looks as though the criticism we made led to a consultation of members which led to a change in policy.'

He said there would have been a 'strong legal case' against the faculty if it had not made the change.

Despite the 'more relaxed posture' he said there remained 'an element of discrimination' since though medical professionals who objected to some types of contraception could now get a diploma they are still barred from receiving full, consultant-level fellowship with the FSRH. The previous guidelines were deemed particularly problematic because by barring diploma access they denied the speciality training required for treating cases such as infertility, cervical cancer and HIV, thus forcing 'thousands of doctors' with moral objections out of this type of medical care.

The BMJ article said that the faculty's members' consultation had found a 'wide spectrum of views' regarding emergency contraception, but said that patients 'should never be put at any disadvantage as a result of the views of any healthcare professional they see', according to The Independent.

However, it added: 'A doctor wanting to qualify for or re-certify the FSRH diploma could decide not to prescribe a particular form of emergency contraception, but would have to agree to be open about this to their service or employer, to enable arrangements to be made to ensure that there was no delay to the patient in being provided with that care.

'So the heart of the new guideline is that we welcome members with a range of views, and we will award the relevant Faculty qualifications to those who fulfil all training requirements and are willing to show that they will put patient care first, regardless of their personal beliefs.'

The UK's medical practice licensing body, the General Medical Council, said the guidelines followed 'good medical practice', so long as conscientious objectors explained their objection to their patient, underlining 'their right to see another doctor, and make sure they have enough information to exercise that right'.

Saunders wrote in August: 'Whatever the reason, the climb down is most welcome and will enable many more doctors and nurses to obtain diplomas in sexual and reproductive health. That can only be good for patient care.'