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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Irish bishops urge Government to allow healthcare professionals to opt-out of abortion

Irish bishops are urging the Government and wider society to respect the right of all healthcare professionals to exercise conscientious objection.

Their call comes as the Termination of Pregnancy Bill is introduced before the Dáil.

The Irish Bishops’ Conference has released a statement warning that the bill, which proposes to make abortion widely available in Ireland within the coming months, ‘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’.

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

The draft legislation also 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. The bishops note that such a requirement may have the appearance of respecting freedom of conscience but, in reality, it requires a healthcare professional to co-operate 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,’ the bishops say in their statement.

‘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.’

The bishops suggest that the Irish Government should follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, where 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.

The bishops highlight the fundamental right to freedom of conscience, as 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,’ they say.

The bishops are encouraging all Catholics to pray for healthcare professionals and politicians so that they may have the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do what is right.

Picture: A healthcare professional walks down a hospital ward. (Peter Byrne/PA).