Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 65(3) August 2015



Many years ago, there was a doctor who was based at a teaching hospital. He would openly tell his students that he was a devout Catholic and that he had no moral problems performing abortions. As this caused scandal and confusion, a group of students attempted to correct him. As he ignored them, they went to see his bishop. We applaud our religious leaders for defending life at great cost to themselves. In this particular case, the doctor concerned continued his campaign of confusion for years to come.

Many medical students were distressed after witnessing abortion procedures. But they were persuaded that doctors had contractual obligations in performing abortions and such obligations cannot be overcome.

 Another doctor considered herself a fully believing Catholic who refused to be involved in abortion. But she had no problems with phoning another doctor to get her patients ready for abortion.

Unsurprisingly, "pro-choice" campaigners have pounced on our weakness. You may not like getting involved in abortion,they say, but you have an obligation to overcome your personal repugnance or at least refer onto someone who does not share your views. Professor Sally Sheldon is one such "prochoice" campaigner and she is honest enough to refer to abortion as an act of killing. When discussing various justifications for late terminations, she writes:

"It is worth stressing this point in order to distinguish the replacement argument from the foetal interests argument. The latter proposes killing the foetus in order to benefit it, whereas the former proposes killing the foetus in order to increase overall welfare." ( Medical Law Review, 9, 85-109, 2001)

In a subsequent submission to Parliament on conscientious objection, she states:

"If the right to conscientious objection is to be retained in a reformed abortion act, it should be made clear that this does not absolve the doctor from his or her duty to refer a woman seeking termination ..... either directly to a service provider or to someone else able and willing to make such a referral."

Note the ominous word "if " at the beginning of the quote. Professor Sheldon is also persuaded that there is some kind of difference between those who perform acts of killing and those who do the referral. We disagree and we believe that robust conscientious objection laws require to be promoted.