(July 2018) Seeking to Square the Circle: A Sustainable Conscientious Objection in Reproductive Healthcare

Emmanuelle Bribosia and Isabelle Rorive

Chapter 15 in: The Conscience Wars: Rethinking the Balance between Religion, Identity, and Equality, ed. Susanna Mancini and Michel Rosenfeld (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018) pp. 392-413.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316780053.016

From Book Introduction:

[In this chapter, the authors] focus on the practical and conceptual difficulties in reconciling the reproductive rights of women with the conscience claims of individual health care providers. From a practical standpoint, drawing on national, international, and European measures, cases, and policy papers, they demonstrate that even the most balanced regulatory framework of conscientious objection fails to overcome the strength of the web of religious and patriarchal structures of society, in which women are still caught. This results in a distortion of religious exemption clauses to the detriment of women’s rights.

From a conceptual standpoint, Bribosia and Rorive … maintain that conscience clauses involve not only direct harm to women who wish to access abortion services but also dignitary and symbolic harm. In this light, conscientious objection places the medical doctor in the position of exercising personal power over the patient by imposing his or her beliefs, and that per se constitutes a violation of women’s dignity and equality. In the end, according to Bribosia and Rorive, access to abortion is not enough to protect women from discrimination: what is required is access to health care on an equal footing, without any moral judgment by an authority.