A bill seeking to allow staff to avoid even the most indirect care of women seeking an abortion is currently at the House of Lords.
The Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL] 2015-16 had its first reading in the Lords on 4th June 2015.
Brought by Northern Irish peer Baroness O’Loan, the bill covers the right to withdraw from: ending “life sustaining treatment”; anything covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act; and all activities regulated by the Abortion Act.
It seeks to extend the right to conscientious objection to cover activities not currently included under conscientious objection legislation. From the bill’s text, this includes “participating in an activity includes any supervision, delegation, planning or supporting of staff in respect of that activity”.
The language of the bill is reminiscent of the recent Glasgow midwives case, where scheduling and supervision of staff carrying out abortions was objected to by two Catholic NHS midwives.
As the Abortion Rights Committee Scotland pointed out in that case, current conscientious objection legislation already allows for those staff who do not wish to directly care for women undergoing abortion.
Moves to extend conscientious objection have massive implications for the provision of abortion services and are a clear anti-abortion attempt to reduce women’s access. It would become almost impossible to offer abortion services to women without conflicting with the right to conscientious objection for a minority of staff.
In the Glasgow midwives case, Concepta Wood and Connie Duggan’s attempt to extend the definition of conscientious objection ultimately failed in a Supreme Court ruling in December 2014. Judge Lady Smith found that the midwives were “sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs.”
At the time of writing Baroness O’Loan’s bill has not yet been scheduled for debate.