Doctors who object to abortion face 'harassment and abuse', say MPs

Doctors say they are penalised for refusing to take part in abortions.Pixabay

Doctors who object to abortion are not promoted and face "harassment and abuse", a report by MPs revealed on Thursday.

Healthcare professionals told an all-party pro-life group of MPs that those who oppose abortion face a glass ceiling in their careers and are subject to "widespread and increasing pressure" to participate in the abortion process.

The Abortion Act of 1967 makes clear that "no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which (s)he has a conscientious objection".

But the MPs' inquiry found that the right to conscientiously object was not made clear in medical training and often meant that doctors and nurses were barred from whole areas of medical practice if they refused to perform abortions. Dr John Pilling told MPs "it is virtually impossible to become a consultant [in some specialities] without agreeing to perform abortions".

The MPs report pointed to a "culture of exclusion" for doctors who did not feel they could carry out abortions. Indeed one medical college for obstetricians and gynaecologists made it clear that no one with a religious or moral objection to abortion could complete the training necessary.

One witness, Dr Arianne Shahvisi, lecturer in medical ethics and humanities at the University of Sussex, told the inquiry young people should not study medicine if they can't participate in abortions.

She said: "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."

In conclusion the MPs said they heard "multiple examples of situations where healthcare professionals feel pressured, harassed or at considerable disadvantage in their career prospects because of their conscientious objection to abortion".

They suggest that the increasing pressure doctors are under over abortion provision is down to "to inadequate observance of the current legislation". Partly this was because "insufficient time is given to moral and ethical questions" in doctors' training, the MPs said. They added they were "concerned that students are not receiving adequate training from medical schools regarding their right to conscientious objection or training on how to exercise this right responsibly".

The report calls specifically on the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists to publish a statement clarifying its position on this issue.

Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton and chair of the all-party group, said "freedom of conscience" was a fundamental part of a democratic society.

"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," said Bruce, who is a Christian.

"It is essential that our hardworking doctors, nurses and midwives are given the protection the law requires if they do not want to participate in abortions."

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been approached for comment on this story.