“Dishonourable disobedience” – Why refusal to treat in reproductive healthcare is not conscientious objection
Arthur, Joyce H.
In medicine, the vast majority of conscientious objection (CO) is exercised within the reproductive healthcare field – particularly for abortion and contraception. Current laws and practices in various countries around CO in reproductive healthcare show that it is unworkable and frequently abused, with harmful impacts on women's healthcare and rights. CO in medicine is supposedly analogous to CO in the military, but in fact the two have little in common. This paper argues that CO in reproductive health is not actually Conscientious Objection, but Dishonourable Disobedience (DD) to laws and ethical codes. Healthcare professionals who exercise CO are using their position of trust and authority to impose their personal beliefs on patients, who are completely dependent on them for essential healthcare. Health systems and institutions that prohibit staff from providing abortion or contraception services are being discriminatory by systematically denying healthcare services to a vulnerable population and disregarding conscience rights for abortion providers. CO in reproductive healthcare should be dealt with like any other failure to perform one's professional duty, through enforcement and disciplinary measures. Counteracting institutional CO may require governmental or even international intervention.
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