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On Sunday last, 2nd December, up to 50 GPs walked out of an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners, complaining that their voices have not been heard ahead of the introduction of abortion services in January.

The group of largely anti-abortion doctors wanted to vote on a series of motions but were refused that request.

More than 300 doctors attended the meeting.

Responding to this walk out, Minister of Health Simon Harris tweeted: 'Doctors and healthcare professionals have a right to conscientious objection. Women also have a right to healthcare though. One right cannot trump another. Just like all citizens, doctors have different views and that’s ok. But the people have spoken and the campaign is over'.

But what did the people speak? It is true that the majority of the people of Ireland voted to remove the right to life of the unborn child but 34% of the electoral did not. This was 723,632 people to be precise. These are the people who spoke otherwise. So Minister Harris should be more accurate in what he says and not alienate the almost three quarters of a million citizens who voted 'no' in the referendum on 25th May this year.

The second problem with what Mr. Harris says is that 'the campaign is over'. By this I presume he means that because the majority of Irish people voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, the moral argument is settled - that the unborn simply have no rights and that's the end of it. The truth is that the campaign is not over or can it ever be. The tragedy of abortion continues to be a scar on the collective conscience of humanity including countries where abortion services have been legal for decades. No politician, no laws or no government has the right to say to a conscientious objector to providing abortion services that 'it's no big deal, the matter has been settled, get on with it'. Just because something is legal, it doesn't mean that it is right'.

Below is a recent statement from the Irish Bishops on this issue of abortion referral:

The Oireachtas has begun to debate a bill which proposes to make abortion widely available in Ireland within the coming months. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 poses a very real practical and moral dilemma for healthcare professionals who believe in the fundamental human right to life and in their own responsibility to serve life. In this context our concern for pharmacists, and separately for doctors, nurses and midwives, is as follows:

  • The draft legislation envisages that, in the first twelve weeks, abortion generally will be drug induced. This presumes that pharmacists, whether in hospitals or in private practice, will routinely stock and dispense drugs whose specific purpose is to end human life. No provision is made for pharmacists to opt out on the grounds of conscientious objection.

  • The draft legislation provides for doctors and nurses to opt out of providing abortion, but requires that, in such cases, they refer the patient to a colleague who will perform the procedure. This requirement may have the appearance of respecting freedom of conscience but, in reality, it requires a healthcare professional to cooperate in what he or she sincerely believes is doing harm to one patient and taking the life of another.

We ask the Government, and wider society, to respect the right of all healthcare professionals and pharmacists to exercise conscientious objection not only by refusing to participate actively in abortion but also by declining to refer their patients to others for abortion. Healthcare professionals, pharmacists and ancillary healthcare workers, should not face legal, professional or financial penalties or any form of discrimination for their commitment to respect life.

In New Zealand, healthcare professionals “opt in” to the provision of abortion if they so wish. In the case of conscientious objection, however, they are not obliged to refer their patients to others for abortion. We believe that the Government, by following this approach, could demonstrate respect for the freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals. We ask politicians, whatever their position on the termination of pregnancy, to work towards this.

The fundamental right to freedom of conscience is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Conscience is that private space in the heart of every person in which the truth is discovered and accepted. For men and women of faith, conscience is the reflection in their own heart of the voice of God, supported by faith and reason. To strip a person of the right to freedom of conscience is to undermine his or her fundamental dignity as a person.

At this challenging time, we encourage all Catholics to pray for healthcare professionals and to pray for politicians that they, and we too, may have the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do what is right.


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