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Royal College of Obs & Gynae abortion guidelines recognise issues on Conscientious Objection

The RCOG have been consulting on good practice on abortion. There is much that a Catholic doctor or nurse would disagree with, but it is good that they recognise the issues of conscientious objection and that opting out of abortions is accepted. That said, the issue of debate is what poeple with a Conscientious Objection are allowed to opt out of.

The Abortion Act itself simply set out a right not to be involved in the process. It is clearly agreed that filling in abortion forms and also signing consent forms as well as assisting in abortions is something that can be opted out of. In addition it is clear that medical students do not have to observe abortions either. And the strong Catholic view is that once the abortion has taken place, no doctor should fail to support any woman who is in need medically or psychologically after abortion. Indeed support after an abortion can, for many women be an important part of the healing process.

But the BMA does suggest that doctors and nurses may have to be involved in pre-op care and must refer to a colleague if they will not refer themselves for abortion. What would a GP do?

The General Catholic view is that in General Practice that means telling the patient you wil not refer because you have a Conscietious Objection and enabling them to see a partner etc. But if a doctor simply does not believe that abortion is right for that person he cannot, in conscience sign an abortion form. If referral is made to an abortion clinic, it is clear that that will, almost certainly lead to an abortion and so the GP would, it is thought be able to state that he has a conscientious objection to that level of participation and ask the patient to see another GP for a second opinion.

Happily, we know that many GP's and others object to referral for abortion and they are able to work well and safely in General Practice. Beyond that there is also some good news about help for those who suffer as a result of abortion. We know that abortion carries with it a high likelihood of emotional distress soon after the termination, and that enduring distress is common too. A comparison of emotional disorders in women who abort or miscarry showed that 5% of those in the abortion group continued to suffer substantially five years after the abortion. Indeed, (although the RCOG denied this and did not even mention the RCPsych statement on this) there is substantial evidence of psychological distress including increased risks of self harm, suicide and substance misuse after abortion.

But it is also the case that doctors who do not refer for abortion may well find themselves seeing and helping women who suffer as a result of abortion. We have heard of such GP's who were sought out in surgery by women who had real regrets and were suffering. In that circumstance, doctors who do not refer for abortion may be especially able to help. The healing process may be enabled by the knowledge that the doctor seeing you does think the abortion that the woman now regret was serious. Not only that the Christian model of regret, reconciliation and renewed values and attitudes is a strong model.

Working very humbly and without imposing, doctors who do not refer for or do abortions, may bring diversity and be a real asset in General Practice.