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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Update 2013-09-01

1 September, 2013

Covering the period from 1 July, 2013 to 31 August, 2013

1.  By Region/Country

Developments relevant to freedom of conscience.

2.  News Items

Links to news summaries.

3.  Recent Postings

Links to resources added to Project site.

4.  Action Items

Support protection of conscience initiatives near you.

5.  Conferences/Papers

Seminars, conferences and workshops relevant to conscience advocacy.

6.  Publications of Interest

Relevant to freedom of conscience issues.

1.  By Region/Country
Visit the Project News/Blog for details.

An abortion bill being considered in the Tasmanian legislature includes a provision that demands objecting physicians refer for the procedure.   A representative of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Association told a Tasmanian legislative committee that this was required by professional codes of ethics.  However, the Australian Medical Association Tasmania had previously made a submission contradicting the claim.


Two recent research papers based on a 2011 survey of physicians providing abortion in British Columbia assert that "rural abortion services are disappearing in Canada."  However, the the urban-rural dichotomy defined by the authors is inadequate.  Among other things, the papers define "rural" areas to include cities of over 90,000 people.  The authors do not complain about freedom of conscience as a contributing factor, though there a number of observations demonstrate that abortion remains a morally contested procedure.

Only 26 per cent of doctors surveyed by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said they would be "very or somewhat likely" to participate in physician assisted suicide or euthanasia, and 54 per cent were "very or somewhat unlikely" to do so. Delegates at the CMA's annual general meeting rejected a motion to change the CMA's current position (against euthansia and assisted suicide) but accepted a motion affirming that physicians opposed to the procedures have a right to conscientious objection should the procedures be legalized.  The Calgary Herald, calling doctos "the forgotten ones" in the assisted suicide/euthanasia debate,  noted that physicians "do not want to help kill people."


29 year old Jaga Stojak, a midwife with 27 years experience, has been dismissed by authorities at the "Hrvatski Ponos (Croatian Pride)" hospital in Knin because she refused to assisted with abortion.  The Croatian Code of Ethics for Midwives states that midwives must "respect human life from its beginning until death" and recognizes freedom of conscience, but the governing statute is silent on the issue.  Stojak has retained a lawyer with a view to challenging her dismissal. 


Despite criticism by the Irish Catholic Bishops' conference, the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) passed an abortion law that requires objecting physicians to refer for the procedure and allows the Minister of Health to designate demoninational hospitals to provide abortion, regardless of denominational objections.  Responding to a statement by a member of the board of the Mater Hospital in Dublin that the hospital cannot comply with the law, an unnamed official of the Irish Department of Health stated that hospitals will not be permitted freedom of conscience with respect to the law.  Meanwhile, a cardiologist at the Mater Hospital is suggesting that acute care hospitals should be included in the list of designated facilities.  If acted upon, this would likely increase the potential for conflicts of conscience among health care workers.

New Zealand

Dr. Joseph Lee, a physician in Blenheim, New Zealand, has been criticized by abortion activists because he refused to prescribe contraceptives for a 23 year old patient.  The Abortion Law Reform Association NZ (ALRANZ) wants the General Medical Council to force objecting physicians to refer patients or otherwise assist them to obtain morally contested services.  The president of ALRANZ, Dr. Morgan Healey, claims that a High Court decision in 2010 has made the question of referral legally ambiguous. However, in that decision, Justice Alan MacKenzie of the High Court in Wellington, New Zealand,unambiguously ruled that that the General Medical Council could not force objecting physicians to refer abortion. 


As a result of legal challenges to the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Law, the Philippines Supreme Court has indefinitely extended an order to suspend the implementation of the law while it considers the claims.  In the closing hearings, judges questioned a provision in the law that makes it a crime to provide "incorrect information" about contraceptives, which, it seems, could lead to the imprisonment of physicians who disagree with the government's medical assessement of drugs .  The government continues to demand that objecting  physicians have a "professional obligation" to facilitate the provision of the services to which they object by referral. The court gave lawyers for both sides 60 days to submit memoranda concerning their arguments.


After its approval by the Standing Committee on Social Affairs,  Rwandan Member of Parliament Ignatienne Nyirarukundo has brought a proposed Rwandan reproductive health law before the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies for consideration.  The English text of the bill is incoherent and inconsistent, and includes a provision that would make conscientious objection to abortion illegal.

United States

As a result of continuing concerns about the Dept. of Health and Human Services preventive service mandate, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and over 100 prominent national religious leaders and scholars have signed an open letter to the Obama administration entitled Standing Together for Religious Freedom. The letter calls on the Administration and Congress to respect conscience rights  and religious freedom.  Some Catholic organizations, including Georgetown University and the Catholic Health Association, have broken with the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and announced that they consider the administration's revised contraceptive mandate acceptable.  Some courts have granted injunctions to protect private businesses from the mandate, while others have refused. 

Pressure on denominational hospitals to provide or facilitate abortion and assisted suicide seems to be growing in Washington state, as reflected in an editorial in the Seattle Times.

Parts of a new law passed in North Carolina strengthen the state's protection of conscience law for health care workers.  The revisions extend protection against coerced participation in abortion to nurses and other health care workers and to health care institutions other than hospitals. 


2.  News Items

You can search news items by date, country and topic in the Project News/Blog. 

3.  Recent Postings

Philippines government demands referral by objecting physicians even if not “right”

Letter: If society wants to legalize euthanasia, physicians should not be the ones to carry it out  

Australian regulator misrepresents physician obligations

Doctor-ethicist sees ongoing efforts to weaken conscience protections

The problem of unregulated conscientious objection

Canadian Medical Association affirms physician freedom of conscience

Irish government signals intention to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortion

Code of Ethics for Midwives (Etički kodeks primalja) (Croatia)

Now Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is not radical enough to work at Rite Aid

Editorial- Rx- No to assisted suicide

Mater board priest says hospital can’t carry out abortions

Most Canadian doctors unwilling to partake in physician-assisted suicide if legalized, survey suggests

Ostala bez posla u kninskoj bolnici- “Dali su mi otkaz jer nisam pristala sudjelovati u pobačaju”

Midwife fired for refusing to assist in abortion

Conscientious objection- the struggle continues

North Carolina strengthens protection of conscience law

Update on American HHS controversy

Ireland- Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Proposed Rwandan law would legalize abortion, make conscientious objection illegal

Abortion in “rural” British Columbia

What Is Religious Freedom?

Philippines Supreme Court hearings on the Reproductive Health Law

Seattle Times issues warning- Catholic hospitals won’t provide assisted suicide, abortion

Abortion & Conscience

Philippines Supreme Court extends suspension of RH Act

New Zealand abortion activists complain about physician freedom of conscience

Irish Bishops’ briefing note on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013

People need to be free to act on their conscience

4.  Action Items

None noted.

5.  Conferences/Papers

The Project will post notices of conferences that are explore and support the principle freedom of conscience, including the legitimate role of moral or religious conviction in shaping law and public policy in pluralist states or societies.


6.  Publications of Interest

Campbell CS, Black MA.  Dignity, Death, and Dilemmas: A Study of Washington Hospices and Physician-Assisted Death.  J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Jul 3. pii: S0885-3924(13)00270-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.02.024. [Epub ahead of print]

Anna Heino, Mika Gissler, Dan Apter, Christian Fiala. Conscientious objection and induced abortion in Europe. The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 2013; 18: 231–233

Berger M.  Termination of pregnancy as emergency obstetric care: the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women. An analysis of the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and similar cases.  Reproductive Health Matters 2013;21(41):9–17

  • ". . .any Catholic health professionals and/or hospitals refusing to terminate a pregnancy as emergency obstetric care should be stripped of their right to provide maternity services."


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