A doctor or medical practitioner who believes abortion is morally wrong and has no wish to be involved in an abortion, will nonetheless be compelled to refer a pregnant woman to a doctor who will carry out the procedure, according to new medical council guidelines.

The guidelines, in relation to conscientious objection, are as follows:

49 Conscientious objection

  • 49.1 You may refuse to provide or to take part in the provision of lawful treatments or forms of care which conflict with your sincerely held ethical or moral values.
  • 49.2 If you have a conscientious objection to a treatment or form of care, you should inform patients, colleagues and your employer as early as possible.
  • 49.3 When discussing these issues with patients, you should be sensitive and considerate so as to minimise any distress your decision may cause. You should make sure that patients’ care is not interrupted and their access to care is not impeded.
  • 49.4 If you hold a conscientious objection to a treatment, you must inform the patient that they have a right to seek treatment from another doctor; and give the patient enough information to enable them to transfer to another doctor to get the treatment they want.
  • 49.5 If the patient is unable to arrange their own transfer of care, you should make these arrangements on their behalf.
  • 49.6 In an emergency, you must make your patient’s care a priority and give necessary treatment.

Pro-Life Doctors have previously warned that they will not refer women to doctors who are likely to carry out an abortion, stating that to do so, in their eyes, would be tantamount to arranging an abortion, something that conflicts with their own conscience.

The guidelines in relation to referral seem to be contradictory in one respect, with section 49.4 simply stating that the doctor must inform a woman seeking an abortion that she has a right to seek an abortion from another doctor, and to provide her with information about how to find such a doctor.

However, section 49.5 is much more explicit, compelling doctors to “make arrangements” for a woman to meet with a doctor who will carry out an abortion.

Speaking earlier this year, Doctor Andrew O’Regan of the Medical Alliance for the Eighth, a medical group that campaigned against the introduction of abortion, said:

“If someone is saying that it goes against my entire conscience and everything I am about, and goes against everything that I understand as good healthcare, then I am not going to refer it either”

“The big buzz word during the campaign was choice. What about the choice of the doctors who say this isn’t what we signed up for?”

Earlier this year, the pro-abortion medical group START said that its members were carrying out between 800 and 900 abortions per month since the legalisation of abortion in Ireland in January. These figures would mean that abortions in Ireland have approximately trebled since the repeal of the 8th amendment last year.

The private company which is responsible for carrying out ultrasound examinations of pregnancies that are to be ended by abortion, Affidea, said that it had carried out about 500 such ultrasounds by May of this year.