Conscientious objection has been removed from the abortion Bill in all but name. The revised section on conscientious objection is even worse than the previous one. In the first draft it stated that “nothing in this Bill shall be construed as obliging any medical practitioner, nurse or midwife to carry out, or to assist in carrying out, an abortion of pregnancy...” The revised wording states that the Bill does not oblige anyone “to carry out, or to participate in carrying out” an abortion. The replacement of the broad “assist” with the narrow “participate” significantly reduces the freedom of nurses and midwives to refuse their services. Dealing with the woman before or after an abortion, assisting in preparation for the termination, or even dealing with an aborted foetus may not be termed participation.
Subsection 3 of Head 15 applies to doctors who object, requiring them to refer a patient to an abortionist, and remains unchanged. A doctor who has a conscientious objection “shall, as soon as may be, make arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned as may be necessary to enable the woman to avail of the termination of pregnancy concerned.” While this subsection was in the first draft of the bill, the word “assist” might have allowed this obligation to be challenged; “participate” closes a possible loophole.
The intention is clearly to restrict, as much as possible, the scope for conscientious objection and the number of people who might avail of the right to opt out.