Irish Bishops: Lack of Safeguards in Irish Abortion Bill ‘an Affront to Conscience’

The draft bill to legalize abortion in the republic would require pro-life health care professionals to provide abortion referrals.

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DUBLIN — The Irish bishops Friday lamented that the draft bill to legalize abortion in the republic would require pro-life health care professionals to provide abortion referrals, calling the provision “an affront to conscience.”

“The ‘Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018’ poses a very real practical and moral dilemma for health care professionals who believe in the fundamental human right to life and in their own responsibility to serve life,” read an Oct. 5 statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

They noted that the bill envisages that, in the first 12 weeks, abortion will generally be chemically 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 bishops added that while the bill allows doctors and nurses to opt out of providing abortion, it nevertheless “requires that … 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 health care 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 health care 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 said.

They said, “Health care professionals, pharmacists and ancillary health care workers, should not face legal, professional or financial penalties or any form of discrimination for their commitment to respect life.”

A significant number of general practitioners in the Republic of Ireland are appealing not to be forced to refer patients to other doctors for abortions.

The bishops noted that in New Zealand, health care professionals “opt in” to the provision of abortion, rather than opting out; nor are those who object to the procedure obliged to provide referrals for it.

“We believe that the government, by following this approach, could demonstrate respect for the freedom of conscience of health care professionals. We ask politicians, whatever their position on the termination of pregnancy, to work towards this.”

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris criticized the opt-in stance, which is supported by the National Association of General Practitioners. In June, the group of 2,000 practitioners unanimously voted in favor of the “opt-in” method.

The Irish bishops said that freedom of conscience is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that “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 health care 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.”

Ireland faces a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a March survey of Irish health care professionals found that that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar clarified to the Dáil in June that individual medical professionals will be able to opt out of performing abortions, but entire hospitals will not be able to do so. Many publicly funded hospitals have historic ties to the Catholic Church and operate under Catholic ethics.