Medics who conscientiously object to abortion are facing pressure to sacrifice their principles or change job, MPs have been told.
Witnesses to the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group gave numerous examples of people who had been sidelined because of their view on abortion, despite conscientious objection being recognised in the 1967 Abortion Act.
In a report, the parliamentarians responded by saying they were “gravely concerned”, and backed the introduction of ‘reasonable accommodation’ of conscience into law.
The inquiry members, seven MPs and one member of the House of Lords, were told by some witnesses that a career in Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O & G) is almost “out of the question” for those with a conscientious objection to abortion.
Medical student Sarah Mason reported that a friend had been offered counselling and time off when she made her views on abortion clear.
“When she explained that her moral standing was not going to change, it was thought best that she work in another department”, Mason said.
A doctor wrote that pressure to take part in abortions since the Abortion Act has been so great that many have been put off from going into a career in O & G.
It is essential that our hardworking doctors, nurses and midwives are given the protection the law requires
The British Medical Association noted that some doctors “have complained of being harassed and discriminated against because of their conscientious objection to abortion”.
The Christian Institute’s response to the inquiry was also quoted in the report. It stated that while the Equality Act gives some protection against discrimination, this is not enough to reassure medical staff that their views will be respected.
In proposed next steps, the parliamentarians supported the principle of reasonable accommodation to strengthen protection for conscience.
This, the group said, would “provide a way to ensure that healthcare professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion can be fully engaged in their chosen professional sphere, while still ensuring that this does not prevent women from accessing abortion services in accordance with the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967”.
Fiona Bruce MP, who led the inquiry, said that freedom of conscience was vital to a democratic society.
She said it was important that medics who object to abortion can be free to do so without fearing “censure, discrimination or abuse”.
“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”, she concluded.
On the issue of referring women for abortions, the inquiry recommended that all professional bodies should adopt General Medical Council guidelines which say no doctor should be required to refer.
It also called for the Government to consider “extending conscientious objection to indirect participation in abortion”.
In 2014, the UK Supreme Court overturned a ruling that said two Roman Catholic midwives did not have to supervise staff involved in abortion.