(July 2018) Enforcing Conscientious Objection to Abortion in Medical Emergency Circumstances: Criminal and Unethical

by Udo Schuklenk & Benjamin Zolf

American Journal of Bioethics, 18:7, 60-61
DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2018.1478036

Lawrence Nelson discusses cases in which abortion is necessary due to a life-threatening medical emergency. He argues that under American law, health care pro-
viders who conscientiously refuse to perform one in such circumstances are guilty of murder or reckless homicide, if the woman dies as a result of their refusal. A criminal homicide conviction requires an established standard of care that goes unmet, combined with a causal link between the failure to meet that standard and the death that eventuates (Nelson 2018). Physicians and hospitals uncontroversially have a legal duty to care for their patients. If their refusal to render that care causes someone’s death, they seem to clearly meet the criteria for criminal homicide. Nelson shows that this fact cannot be mitigated by claims about earnest moral intentions, or the right to free exercise of religion (Nelson 2018). He contends that expert medical witnesses would establish in court that physicians faced with emergency circumstances have a duty to provide medically necessary care, regardless of their conscientious beliefs. Finally, he argues that statutes exempting physicians from providing abortions in emergencies (which exist in a staggering 45 U.S. states) are unconstitutional.

Read full article: American Journal of Bioethics