Conscientious-Objection Opposition to Ireland Abortion Legislation

On September 18, President­ Michael D. Higgins signed the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018, officially removing the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution and paving the way for the Irish parliament to legislate for abortion. In mid-November, the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill passed its committee stage, but both antichoice and prochoice parliamentarians continue to seek amendments to the bill when it gets considered for the final time by the Dáil later this month before moving on to the upper house, the Seanad, if passed. Groups of general practitioners have lobbied for freedom-of-conscience provisions that would allow medical professionals who object to providing or referring for abortion care to choose not to do so. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has asserted that the legislation is “an affront to conscience” and must respect the fundamental right of healthcare professionals and pharmacists to opt-out of provision or referral due to conscientious objection. The Irish bishops cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “to strip a person of the right to freedom of conscience is to undermine his or her fundamental dignity as a person.” Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris is pushing for legislation providing for free abortion services to be in place by early 2019 at the latest. In November, the Irish health ministry reached an agreement with the Irish Medical Organization to operate abortion services in 2019 whereby doctors who accept the contract will be paid €450 by the government. The agreement involved the introduction of a stand-alone contract, which allows each doctor to make an individual choice as to whether or not to provide the service. A survey by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) found that a quarter of doctors will not provide an abortion service and would be reluctant to refer a pregnant woman to a colleague. Harris has stated he is considering creating a list of doctors who will provide abortion services in order to spare women the “extra distress” of being turned down by multiple medical professionals.

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