Current policies and laws

Most western countries allow healthcare professionals some degree of CO through medical policies or codes of ethics— often called ‘‘refusal clauses’’ or ‘‘conscience clauses’’. Typically, healthcare personnel can opt out of providing non-emergency care, but only if they promptly refer the patient to someone else who can help them. The Code of Ethics of FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) states (FIGO):

Assure that a physician’s right to preserve his/her own moral or religious values does not result in the imposition of those personal values on women. Under such circumstances, they should be referred to another suitable health care provider. Conscientious objection to procedures does not absolve physicians from taking immediate steps in an emergency to ensure that the necessary treatment is given without delay.

Many countries have enshrined CO into law (Heino et al.,2013):

  • Austrian law states: No one may be in any way disadvantaged . . . because he or she has refused to perform ortake part in such an abortion. (Government of Austria,1975)
  • France’s law says: A doctor is never required to per-form an abortion but must inform, without delay, his/her refusal and provide immediately the name of practitioners who may perform this procedure. . . No mid-wife, no nurse, no paramedic, whatever is required to contribute to an abortion. . . . A private health establishment may refuse to have abortions performed on its premises. (Government of France, 2001)
  •  Even though the Australian state of Victoria decriminal-ized abortion in 2008, the new law retains a CO clause:If a woman requests a registered health practitioner to advise on a proposed abortion, or to perform, direct, authorise or supervise an abortion for that woman, and the practitioner has a conscientious objection to abortion, the practitioner must refer the woman to another registered health practitioner [who] does not have a conscientious objection to abortion. (Australasian Legal Information Institute, 2010)
  •  In the United States, almost every state has passed refusal clauses allowing physicians to opt out of providing abortions and other services. In addition, federal law protects doctors and nurses who do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations, and allows health workers to file complaints if they feel discriminated against (Huffington Post,2011).Source: Fiala C, Arthur JH. ‘‘Dishonourable disobedience’’ — Why refusal to
    treat in reproductive healthcare is not conscientious objection. Woman – Psychosom Gynaecol Obstet (2014),